This is the Day

exploring the soul's quest for joy

Tag: faith not sight

When Light Breaks Through the Darkness

 

They called it a bomb cyclone; I call it forty-four hours without power. Forty-four winter hours with no heat. No light. And not even cell service.

 

We were all bracing for the winter nor’easter to rear its ugly head, interrupting our weekend plans with sheets of driving rain. We wondered if we would make it to our daughter’s lacrosse game in northern New York given the storm’s predicted snowfall there.

 

The storm ended up catching us all by surprise. Where my daughter was expecting 15 inches of snow, she got 3; we expected rain and instead got 50 mph winds and a 6-inch blanket of snow heavy enough to knock out power in 300,000 homes. The storm had caught us all completely by surprise.

 

Life’s storms are like that, aren’t they? Life is running along smoothly when an unexpected and devastating storm rips through our world, upending our tranquility.

 

At church yesterday, one of our pastors said, “Lent is a time to sit in the darkness and appreciate the light.” He was speaking, of course, about the darkness of our sin and the lightness of our savior, but yesterday, forty hours into my cold, dark experience, his words held greater significance for me.

 

In the dark, we discover what inconveniences us. And I have realized that it doesn’t take much! As evening fell, the darkness began to envelop us. We sat huddled together, pooling the light from flickering candles and beams from our small headlamps. We washed our hands in cold tap water to conserve what remained in the hot water tank for the next day’s brief showers. The first night wasn’t too bad; the house was still over sixty degrees and honestly it still felt a bit like a pioneering adventure. But once day one stretched into day two and the house hit fifty-five degrees, all sense of adventure had worn off! Without cell service, we were truly in the dark, literally and figuratively.

 

As I walked through these hours of darkness, I really did appreciate the moments of light with a more grateful heart. A walk in the warm sunshine the day after the storm. A lunch out in a warm place. An invitation from a friend to come to dinner and bring our dog! A place for a hot shower and a hair dryer on day three. These moments where light broke through the darkness were the sustaining moments that enabled us to persevere as the season of darkness lingered.

 

Glimpses of light are essential when we are walking in the dark.

 

 

I have experienced another type of darkness, an extended season when there were no respites of light breaking through. My son had just been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes and I was angry. Angry at God for allowing my son to get this devastating disease that took my brother’s life and has afflicted my sister since she was sixteen. More than being angry that this wasn’t my plan for my family, I questioned why a loving God would allow such an awful thing to happen to my son.

 

And so I pushed God out of my life. Stopped up my ears and squeezed shut my eyes and declared that I didn’t want to hear from him or see him again.

 

And the dark became very dark, indeed.

 

It settled in and lingered. What I first noticed was the silence. Like the stillness of my powerless house with no humming appliances or electronics, my mind went completely silent. Gone were the conversational prayers that would flow in and out of me throughout the day. But I was okay with that; I was angry at God. I didn’t mind the silence, at least not at first. But like the silence of the winter nor’easter, the silence eventually became deafening.

 

The darkness continued to settle in, heavy like a suffocating blanket from which I couldn’t free myself.

 

In time, my anger began to abate, and I sought once again this God I have known my entire life. I expected the light to break through in glorious fashion and end my exile. What I discovered instead was the wisdom of a God who knew there were still more lessons for me to learn in the dark.

 

And so the silence lingered.

 

And the darkness grew darker.

 

It’s in the dark that we really appreciate the light.

 

In the dark, we see what we cannot see in the light. Once our eyes adjust to the dark, we begin to really see.

 

And truthfully, I didn’t like what I saw. In the dark, questions loomed large: is God still good even when my world seems very bad? Or is he only good when things work out according to my plan, and devastation doesn’t hit too close to my home? With the faintest flicker of light illumining me, I saw the warped theology I had fashioned: God isn’t good all the time; God is only good most of the time.

 

I had tangled up the sorrow I was experiencing over my son’s life and health with the goodness of God. Before I could step back into the Light, I had to settle this matter of the goodness of God.

 

Slowly, gently, I began to see that God is always good, even when life is bad and terribly unfair. I needed to be swallowed up in the darkness and in the silence to truly grasp the beauty of the Light. This Light never goes out, even in the darkest of nights and the most ferocious of storms. We just need to keep looking into the Light.

 

A Light has shined in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it. ~ Saint John

Come, O Light, Come

 

A heavy blanket of darkness envelops our world on this the darkest night of the year. For those of us living in the northern hemisphere, this winter solstice, this stopping of the sun, heralds the end of the disappearance of light and the beginning of its return.

 

But all we notice is the dark.

 

Today in Philadelphia, we will turn our faces upward to catch a slim 8 hours and 20 minutes of light. Barely enough, but far more than our Alaskan compatriots who will wait to see a mere 3 or 4 hours of sunlight this day. During the deep midwinter, most of us long for greater illumination from this most-treasured of celestial orbs.

 

Most of us don’t typically like the dark.

 

Unless we are dining by candlelight in the cocoon of darkened walls, enhancing the glow on friends’ faces, on fine china, on elegant crystal. Unless we are nestled around a roaring fire, whose radiance takes the chill out of a winter night laden with stars.

 

In the dark we are always searching for the light.

 

The darkness awakens in us a sense of foreboding. It disquiets our soul and awakens in us the knowledge that we are no longer fully in control. In the dark we realize how much we walk by sight, taking steps forward only when we can see the road ahead. The dark swallows up our assurance, leaving us with a choice to make.

 

Stay still, or begin to walk by faith.

 

O come thou Day-Spring,

Come and cheer

Our spirits by thine advent here

Disperse the gloomy clouds of night

And death’s dark shadows put to flight

 

How we long for the light. This third stanza from the haunting Christmas carol, O Come, O Come, Emmanuel reminds us that it will not always be night. As surely as the dawn follows the dark, we can be assured that the true Light will spring forth like a new day.

 

Like a light into all of our darkness.

 

And so we wait. But like the awakening of a new dawn, it may take time. At times we too live in a bleak midwinter season, where our own piece of earth stands hard as iron, water like a stone, and we struggle to glimpse any beam of light at all.

 

What is your present darkness that you are plodding through in hopes of making your way forward to the light?

 

This time last year I had no way of knowing I would bury my father in one month and my mother in two. This time last year I had no way of knowing the new medical challenges that would stalk my family this year. I lost count at 66 medical appointments for two of my kids and me this year. You can do the math. That’s more than one medical appointment per week; that’s a high number.

 

But to me, it’s more than a number.

 

The number represents loss. A loss of time. Time scheduling appointments. Time researching options. Time driving. Time waiting. Time conferring with doctors. Time paying bills. Okay, let’s just say it…time worrying. And at the end of all this time, when there is still little resolution to some of these concerns, it all feels a bit like I’ve been wandering around in the dark, bumping into unseen obstacles in my path, and wondering when the light will break through and show me the way forward.

 

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great Light.

 

Perhaps I’ve been looking for the wrong light. Perhaps I’ve been confusing resolution to long-prayed prayers with moving forward. Could there be a journey in the dark whose worth far exceeds any journey we take in the light? It is in the dark that I must yield my need for control to the practice of trust.

 

Trust not that I’ll get the answers but that God is the answer.

 

This is the kind of trust that makes room for hope, and hope always welcomes the Light and prepares it a way.

 

Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel

Shall come to thee, o Israel

 

We can choose to move forward in the dark, in steadied hope that the light will indeed come. Waiting in the literal dark of this Advent reminds us that no matter how dark a season of life may seem, light will always break through, for the Light has surely come. When we wait in faith, we can catch glimmers of light before the dawn, before the Day-Spring, that invite us to step further into the light.

 

The world lays still tonight in darkness, but things will not always be thus. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it!

 

Lessons From the Sea

 

I raise my hand to my face to brush aside a tendril of hair that had come loose from my hat in the sea breeze. The fragrance of the sea – salt, fish, sea water – escapes from every pore in my ten fingers and two palms, a pungent reminder of the lobster I had just devoured on the harbor wharf. It doesn’t matter that I had washed these hands several times already. The scent insists on lingering, a potent reminder to this island visitor that life here is inexorably connected to the sea.

 

We walk the little sandy path, dunes to our right, harbor to our left, pressing ever forward until we reach the beach. The sand stands sentry, guarding our approach to the sea as it rolls back and forth, back and forth, preparing to catch the great ball of fire as it descends. We are travelers on a pilgrimage, seeking a greater glory, a transcendent experience that will at once show us more about ourselves and more about the Divine.

 

Sunsets at Menemsha are serious business, where spectators evaluate, rate, and compare the colors illuminating the evening sky like they do fireworks displays on the Fourth of July. And we too have come to see. And to measure and compare the beauty of this sun as it sets, yielding the night sky to its lesser orb, the moon.

 

They arrive in pairs, as families, and as small gatherings of friends until the entire beach is littered with beach chairs and blankets. With goblets of wine, tall glasses of lemonade, bags of pretzels, and tins of biscuits, the spectators settle in, facing the skyline screen before them as movie goers in an expansive theatre. There is no need to read the storyline; the plot is the same every night. The Great Star that warms our earth and gives us light will bid us farewell and leave for us a parting gift of the most magnificent spectacle of iridescent color.

 

 

The gulls are there in abundance as well. But they are not here for the light show. Their proliferation signals the presence of something my eye cannot see. We humans rely far too much on our eyes for knowledge when we were given five senses and the possibility of faith to help us experience and know. The natural world teems with proof of the existence of things our eyes cannot behold. My dog smells things I will never know are really there, and these gulls swoop and dive for the school of small fish I cannot see, yet believe is there.

 

Just below the surface of what I can see.

 

Those truly in tune with nature and the sea rush to get their fishing poles. They know a greater reality – where there is an abundance of small fish, there will be an abundance of bigger, more desirable fish, even if you can’t see them. Within moments the fishermen are on the jetty, throwing in their lines where no fish can be seen, but the birds have signaled to them to trust and know, not with their eyes, but with their full senses.

 

The sun descends a little closer to its sea foam bed. One of the teenage fishermen reels in his line. Wriggling at the end of the line is a 15” flounder. He has caught and brought into the light what could not be seen in the dark of the sea.

 

 

The soundtrack to our evening at the seaside is of course the lapping of the surf on the shore. Can one ever really grow tired of this sound?

 

Breaking in over the steady rhythm of the sea is the percussion beat of the buoy bell. It rings out like church bells inviting us to come and worship. The buoys that are moored at the entrances to the harbors of Martha’s Vineyard are surmounted with a bell that is sounded by the motion of the waves. The bell buoys are essential to sailors and boaters trying to safely navigate their way back through the harbor.

 

But where the coastal lighthouses require navigators to depend on their vision to guide them safely home in the dark of night, bell buoys require the navigator to listen. And to trust.

 

The tones that ring out from these floating bells carry for a great distance over water, and most have their own distinctive mix of tones for easy identification even before the navigator actually reaches them or is able to see them. Bell buoys are essential in the dark of night and when the coastal fog rolls in.

 

In our own journeys through life, fog is sure to roll in. The dark of night will take its turn with us, settling in, and during the winter seasons of life, envelope us for longer, deeper stretches of time than we feel we can survive. These are the times that we cry out for the light of day. For clear skies and warm, bright sunshine to light our way.

 

Oh how happy we are during the long sunny days of summer when we can navigate life with our eyes, through the light of the bright hot sun. But just as night belongs to day and the two form one perfect whole, fog and darkness are a part of life.

 

These are the times when we need to know that we have a bell buoy to guide our way. These are the times when we need to listen to the sound of the Master’s voice guiding us through our dark, uncharted waters. These are the times when we need to trust what we have experienced of Him and what we know to be true, even if we can’t quite see the way forward just now.

 

 

The moment arrives. Like clockwork, just as the tide charts said it would. The Great Star makes its final bow, and like the finale of a Broadway play or a live music concert, the audience erupts with applause. Yes Lord, I say to him quietly. Yes Lord, this applause is all for you, maker of heaven and earth, the dry land and the sea and all that is in them.

 

I came seeking a greater glory, a transcendent experience that would show me more about myself and more about the Divine. And the evening did not disappoint. All of my senses were awakened – the taste of the exquisite lobster, the jewel of the sea; the scent of the sea permeating every layer of my skin; the feel of the sand beneath my feet; the sight of the gulls beckoning me to trust what I could not see; and the buoy bells reminding me that there is One I can trust to guide me in the dark, stormy seasons of life.

 

I came seeking a sunset. I left having encountered God.

 

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