Darkness and Light

Forest stream in our backwoods

I opened the book to Chapter one.[1] The first sentence read – Prayer began in darkness. I was hooked. I knew I needed to read on.

For the author, the sentence begins his journey at a monastery as a guest on a retreat. The prayer for him begins in the very early morning darkness of 3am to join the monks in prayer at the chapel.

Prayer begins in the dark hours of early morning often for me these days. I find myself awake by 5 or 5:30 no matter what time I make it to bed. It is quiet. I drink a glass of bubbly water as I wait for the coffee to brew. I might go out onto our back deck and watch and listen. Or in the front of our home I might look and see the cows eating (always it seems they are eating!) and if the sky is clear perhaps glimpse the mountains in the distance. Fog adds to the beautiful mystery. The wind may be blowing, and I can just make out the trees swaying in a breeze before the sun makes its presence known. I can often hear the wind as it rustles through the leaves. The birds are beginning their orchestral songs. Or the morning can be very still, calm and quiet.

Some mornings I will retreat to a platform rocking chair (actually it is ‘Katie’s’ chair, but since the virus has robbed us of her visits, I feel at liberty to sit there!) and sit and slowly rock. And all this time, wherever I might plant myself I am in prayer. I may not greet God, the “Energy source of all that is” in the manner of “Dear God”, but I greet the Divine in wonder, in awe and often enough with questions. I am a visual person and I may paint a picture or two of the Divine presence before me. Pictures in my mind of light, shade and shadow and darkness. My mind paintings almost always have music within them, and I move and sway with the music.  

I find that like Paul (Romans 8) in the early morning darkness and in the darkness of my soul and mind my prayer is embedded within me from my earliest recollections.  And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. The Lord is a part of my DNA which will not go away. It may hide, but I am unable to cease my searching.

Prayer begins in Darkness metaphorically also. A darkness in my soul, a wondering, a wandering, a measure of hope and despair. These are dark and shadowy times. It feels as though The Light is hidden or at least hovering in the shadows waiting to be placed or found on the lamp-stand. But then, prior to the virus I felt that we were living in darkness, the shadows. Yet, prayer does come.

I try to sit, walk and gently sway to the movement of the Spirit. The Spirit is present. I have come to realize that it is really me who hides it or has it hover in the shadows. I can create many reasons and excuses, but that is just avoidance of the fact that I become distracted with stuff of the ego, worries of the present and the future and reflections of the past – wonderful reflections and troubling reflections.

But, I still find hope. “I seem unable to go through a single day always putting God and neighbors first. I’m too full of myself to let them in. My hope is that God remains between the cracks of my pride – there to strengthen me against these onslaughts of self – and that I be given the insight to find God there.” (William R. Matthews, Lutheran Lay Person). I am not sure when I first encountered this quote, but it has spoken to me over many years.

The Church and I am thinking that many Synagogues, Mosques and other faith institutions are fading from the lives and hearts of many people around the world. But maybe we will learn over time that this outward fading of the institution is a gift to us that will enable us to learn new ways of exploring the Energy of the on-going Creation.

Gamaliel, a leading and respected Pharisee when Peter and John were brought before the Council of Elders cautioned his colleagues as to how to punish them for their heretical and contrary ways. He says to the Council: “So my advice is, leave these men alone. Let them go. If they are planning and doing these things merely on their own, it will soon be overthrown. But if it is from God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You may even find yourselves fighting against God!”(Acts 5:38-39) We ought to be mindful how we look upon others and how others express their experiences and desires for “God” within their lives, their experiences and perspectives.

Prayer in the midst of restlessness is like sitting and walking by a spring fed forest stream. The stream makes a bubbling, gurgling sound (so alive!) as it wends it way through and around rocks, branches, sand and dirt. It continues to move though at times these distractions make the flow narrower and shallower, but it flows and opens up along it’s way. The surrounding forest will emit its moving and mysterious sounds; the rustling of the leaves, the unknown movement and sounds of the bushes and leaves on the ground. “what is that!” I pay attention, become a little anxious – a bear or a squirrel, a snake or just a breeze? A bird or a fox? My mind can hold a mix of fears (large or small), peace, doubt, calm, serenity, quiet, hope and love. The stream will likely encounter these and other distractions but for me the stream is always alive, moving with its music, its poetry and breath.   https://photos.app.goo.gl/VpyjwdgKerBVLfYe8

This gives me hope that I and I suspect much of the world is and will continue to be mindful of the ways of God as proclaimed and lived as best as we and they were (are) able by the prophets, by Jesus, the Buddha, The Prophet and so many other men and women of the Spirit.

Evelyn Underhill wrote that a “spiritual life is simply a life in which all that we do comes from the centre, where we are anchored in God; a life soaked through and through by a sense of God’s reality and claim, and self-given to the great movement of God’s will.”

In the darkness of my soul and in the darkness that too often pervades our society may I have the mind and heart to remember. Prayer does and needs to be in the darkness. Prayer in its many forms does and will guide us to Light. Amen. May Peace and Grace be at your side.

[1] Bahnson, Fred; Soil and Sacrament: A Spiritual Memoir of Food and Faith. Simon and Schuster, 2015.

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