“Better to light a candle than to curse the darkness”– Chinese proverb
“The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.”– John’s Gospel
“If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!”– Matthew’s Gospel
“I’m in a dark place,” a friend said, “A really dark place.” So many pictures flash through my mind when I hear people talk of personal darkness. I grew up a city kid until I was about ten years old. I didn’t know darkness. The few times I visited relatives who lived out in the sticks were brief experiences into a new kind of night; a night without the orange cityglow background. When we did move out there ourselves, and those unlit nights became my nights it was hard to adjust. It was the hardest part, actually. Dark was really dark. Years later I found a darkness even thicker than a country night. In the middle of the Atlantic running with wartime lighting on a cloudless night I walked out onto the bridge wing to look around. As soon as the hatch closed behind me I felt lost. It was like entering a sensory deprivation chamber. We were running with the wind so there was no breeze. I barely made out the sound of the bow slicing into the ocean. I felt my way over to the rail and inched out toward the end of the wing. I had been standing there for a few moments when a voice said, “Dark out here, huh?” I thought I was alone. I ‘d been holding my hands up in front of my face trying to see them with no luck. The voice startled me. I could recognize my junior watch officer’s voice, there was no face to go with it. “Yeah.” I said back. “Pretty darn dark.” And it didn’t get lighter. After 15 minutes I still couldn’t see my hands in front of my face. This was a darkness that enveloped me. It felt like I was wearing it. The only break in it was along the waterline where the ship was stirring up algae and creating a green glow of phosphorescence. It was so faint and sporadic it seemed unreal. The darkness was imposing and seemed eager to steal even this feeble attempt to overcome it. This is what dark means, I thought.
A dark place. How can we get out of a dark place? I’m not really sure. Most of the dark places I’ve found myself in are like the bridge wing or the move to the country. I didn’t ask to move to the country, and I didn’t expect the bridge wing to be so dark. Something happened, I went through a move or a door and…and there I was in the dark. The only thing I know for sure about getting out of a dark place is that it isn’t accomplished by thoroughly examining the darkness. It doesn’t come through determining all the reasons you’re in it either. Some people seem to think it’s helpful to know how dark the dark really is, or to spend their time determining exactly how they ended up in it, but I don’t. I don’t want to cruise the darkness and I don’t want to curse it either. I just want out of it as soon as possible. But if you are in a dark place today there are two things I learned on the bridge wing I hope will help you. First, I wasn’t alone in the dark and neither are you. There is a familiar voice which can penetrate the deepest darkness of our souls. Second, there are hints of light as we move in the darkness, and they are real. You are moving, even if you can’t fully discern it. Follow when you can’t see. Listen in the dark.
“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”- John’s Gospel