Who's afraid of the dark? I'd like to pretend I'm Little Miss Brave, but when I walk into my really dark house because I've been gone longer than I thought and failed to leave any lights on, I'm quite certain that shadowy shape in the corner is some snot-nosed monster waiting to jump out and give me a bad haircut. Or something worse. And for us clergy types that have walked into a totally darkened church and the light switches are at the opposite end from where we're standing, most of us feel our pulse quicken just a bit as we wonder what lurks in the dark. Holy space or not, in the total dark, most churches are creepy. Face it, we humans are hard-wired to be afraid of the dark. We can't see what's there.
But flip on the lights, and suddenly the monster in the corner is nothing more than the treadmill with my clergy shirts that are clean but haven't migrated to the closet. Light one candle in a darkened church, and that formerly creepy space becomes holy and prayerful. The shapes and shadows that we can't see in the darkness become less scary, maybe even not scary at all, in the light. The darkness, with a bit of light, becomes something that can helps us be quiet and focus, perhaps even surrender ourselves to God.
One of God's more annoying habits is constantly offering us the opportunity to face our fears, those mistakes we make and make and make, those parts of our souls that are darkness. The big fears that we rarely admit to others, if we even fully admit them to ourselves. Fear of loss of love, fear of not being enough, fear of being alone and abandoned, and fear of failure, to name a few. The big fears that we all have, in some form or another. The darkness and shadow of ourselves that we'd rather ignore, but we will always find ourselves stumbling into these fears and the mistakes and messes they cause again and again.
Sometimes we pretend we don't have any fears. Me? I'm not scared of anything. I'm so self-aware that I know ALL of my fears and have dealt with them accordingly. Or, we pick some fears, like, Hugh Jackman and Ben and Jerry's Phish Food ice cream and hope that God will make us face those fears accordingly. Another clue of our fears? The things we hate, really hate, in others. Or when we blame others for their actions that trigger our fears, although usually that trigger manifests as anger and we lash out, adding even more darkness to the situation. Interestingly enough, our fears are almost always triggered by other people, who have their own fears. It's a lovely mess, isn't it?
Ahh, what fun.
But we have a choice. We can continue to wrap ourselves in our darkness, ignoring our fears and blaming others for upsetting our lives. We can dismiss those whose presences throw light on our fears. Lots of people take that path, because it's really the easy way. Or we can stand still and see what's in the darkness of those deep fears, trusting that the light of God will give us enough sight to see, enough light to ease the terror we may feel.
God doesn't confront us with our fears and darkness because God enjoys seeing us miserable (although a few times I've wondered). God recognizes that we aren't perfect and never will be on this side of the Kingdom. Something fascinating about God's balance, that for us to see light, we must have darkness. Fears never go away, but we can lessen them so they don't cause paralyzing terror and mayhem in our lives. Perhaps we can even use them to let God's light shine a bit brighter.
So when we are sitting in our darkness and God lights that candle, resist the urge to snuff it so we can stay in the darkness. Perhaps the holy thing is to shiver and shake if need be as God continues to shed light on our deepest fears, until we find the holy strength to own them as part of our divine selves. After all, God does carve the rotten wood and needs darkness to allow light to shine.