The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined. – Isaiah 9:2 (KJV)
Last week in our Education for Ministry (EfM) group’s theological reflection, we started with the word darkness. The word seemed relevant since the days are shorter and the nights longer. Many people suffer from such a reversal of light to dark. They become depressed, and sometimes they can be rather unpleasant to be around because there’s so much darkness. Short of propping themselves up underneath a particular lamp that simulates daylight, there are either two choices: either putting up with it or moving to a sunnier climb that climate. Of course, even in the hot sunny places like Arizona, we still have more darkness than light, and this week we’ve had overcast skies and even some rain, thank God, but other places have had lots of snow, freezing temperatures, and inconveniences like delayed flights, slippery roads, traffic pileups, and snow days closing schools.
Another thing about darkness is how it’s used to speak of depression, whether chemical or sometimes emotional or sometimes circumstantial. It seems like, for me anyway, a lot of losses that I have been in the mid-winter before and after Christmas and have been family and friends, and it makes it hard not to be a little bit down when contemplating those losses. It’s hard to lose loved ones no matter when, but it seems hardest to bear when accompanied by darkness physical darkness and cold.
Darkness also is seen as a contrast to light. It’s a symbol that is often used, like in the Star Wars movies, to represent the dark side, the evil that can lie inside people, organizations, and countries. It often represents a set of opposing beliefs or practices to a system that attempts to produce good things and right actions to benefit as many as possible.
What comes to mind for me is a verse from Isaiah, familiar to those of us who to the Handel oratorio, Messiah. Sung by a bass, it sounds deep, seeming to bring the illusion of darkness to the piece and color to emphasize the feeling of the verse.
Isaiah, of course, was referring to the Israelites during their captivity in Babylon. That captivity was a punishment for the who had disobeyed and even forgotten about God and turned more towards the material things of the world. They walked in darkness, but God and God’s grace did not wipe them out but instead put them in captivity much as we would a apply a prison sentence for someone who has committed a crime or, as we think of it, a great sin. They realized what they had missed by being materialistic. They eventually recognized the importance of God and obedience to God’s commands, so even though the Babylonian captivity may not have been all peaches and cream, yet, as the captivity in Egypt centuries before, it came to an and.
During Advent, the darkness outside is probably a perfect time to think about where I am walking in darkness, what caused that darkness, and also what that darkness means. Sometimes you have to I have to walk in a dark place to understand where I am and what I am lacking. It may seem to last a very long time, but then, it may be that I need that time to figure out where I have messed up and how I can make amends.
This week, I am hoping the darkness that comes from having things happen, like the washer breaking down, or losing a program on my computer that I depend on quite a bit, or, Lord knows, what else could go wrong. I have to learn not to let these things get in the way of my walk towards the light of faith and obedience. It is a good exercise during Advent to look for the light but to also be aware that there is a darkness that can be overwhelming. Maybe this week I’m being tested by different kinds of darkness all mixed into one, then there are dark things that are utterly wonderful, like dark chocolate. So darkness doesn’t always have to be a bad thing; in fact, it can be excellent because it reminds us that we are people who tend to wander away from the truth sometimes and from the way that we should be living. I’ll have to keep my mind on that.
This week I have also to realize that the darkness and coldness are giving the opportunity to do other things, like look at the lights on the Christmas tree and enjoy the little tiny bulbs that show many colors. It gives me a chance to sit in my rocker and look at my fake fireplace. It would kind of strange to do that in summer, although I can. At this time of year, it’s another kind of light that shines in the darkness. And then again there’s the chocolate.
This week may we all walk towards the light. May we all seek to be a light to others who may be walking in their own form of darkness. As we light another candle on the Advent wreath tomorrow, may we seek to find ways to make things better for the whole world and not just ourselves. We pray for those in trouble, sorrow, ill health, or any adversity, and not forget to give thanks for the good things that we ourselves enjoy. It’s going to be a busy week of thinking, but luckily sitting in the rocking chair, with the tree, the fireplace, and, of course, the cats on the lap, there’s time and space to do that.
Image: D’Arenberg, Phillip, Dark Sky at Lac Léman. Found at Wikimedia Commons.
Linda Ryan is a co-mentor for an Education for Ministry group, an avid reader, lover of Baroque and Renaissance music, and retired. She keeps the blog Jericho’s Daughter. She is also owned by three cats.