Thursday, December 30, 2021

The Sacred Space of Dark & Light

"In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters" (Genesis 1:1-2).

It all began in darkness. It all began in darkness and God was there. God was there, hovering over the face of the darkness deep. I think we get the characterization of God all wrong. We somehow envision him as this cosmic scorching beacon that just blasts out conquering darkness. But this is wrong. God has no need to conquer darkness. Darkness is harmless. It is nothing more than a state of readiness.

We fear the darkness as children. Surely there is something there that will take me and pull me into nothingness. There must be pain and blood and claws there. Underneath my bed, inside of the cracked closet door, outside of my covers. Surely there is death waiting for me and I'll die here alone.

But what is darkness except a stage awaiting the spotlight? A room anticipating the flick of a switch that will signify activity. The moment before sunrise when the earth has rested and cooled, or that beat between a Hollywood Studio logo that disappears seconds before the anticipated fanfare.

We fear the darkness, and we forget that God is there, hovering over the expanse of it all. In other words, we fear what might be there while we forget what definitely is there. The only thing that we can really know about darkness... is that God is there.

And so the darkness is a sacred space.

 After I was newly married, my bride and I rented a very small apartment just off the campus of Anderson University in Anderson, Indiana. The washer and dryer were beneath us in an unfinished and sparsely lit, spider-filled basement with an outside entrance. The only source of light was a single naked bulb that hung from its cord. It looked menacing. I'd stare at it while holding the outside door open. It hung there like a hangman's noose.

The only way to turn on the light was to abandon the open door. As you stepped into the basement, the door would slam shut behind you, cutting off the daylight and sinking you into total darkness. You then were forced to continue walking forward, feeling in the space ahead of you for that little silver chain. Once you found it, a simple tug down would activate the bulb, blinding you as you tried to adjust to the sudden burst of light.

There were two bits of madness that held my mind in those moments. The first was that I'd pull the chain to find myself suddenly face to face with something inexplicable when the light came on. The second was more simple, but perhaps more primitive. I had a simple fear that I'd get to the light and pull the chain... and find that the light would not come on.

I had actually had nightmares about this scenario. Pulling on the chain over and over... with no light, hearing sounds in the darkness and waking up with a start, soaked in sweat.

Late one night I came home from work to find a note that asked me to go down and switch clothes from the washer to the dryer. I smiled, happy to help, and then made my way to that basement door. I paused and gathered my breath. I knew I was an able bodied adult male, average build and reasonably strong. But still... this was simply unnerving. I shook it off, allowed the door to slam behind me and made my way through the darkness.

Right as my imagination was manufacturing fear one, a disfigured face in the darkness that would suddenly become visible when I pulled the chain, my fingers found and pulled on that light. I felt the chain slide down with its normal satisfying "click" that brought the light. But this time, the light flashed and popped, blinding me and then plummeting me into the dark.

What was that that I saw in the corner? 

I pulled the chain a second time, and a third time. NOTHING. I could hear myself breathing. I was convinced that I was not alone. I ran in the direction of the stairs. I misjudged the distance and crashed into them full speed, somehow falling up the stairs. I half crawled and half ran up the flight and flung myself through the door, into the welcomed light of the night.

I turned and stared at the door to that chasm of hell! It just was there, silent, remaining shut as I listed to crickets and heard distant traffic. Slowly my rational brain returned to me and I realized that I did not want to wake up to explain to my new bride that I was too chicken to switch the laundry because the light was out. 

I removed the small headlight from my bicycle and used it to light my way back down those stairs. I'll confess that I stood there, mid-flight while I shined that small light into every recess and corner in that crowded basement of abandoned furniture and spooky shadows. I crossed the expanse and moved the wet laundry from the washer to the dryer in what must have been a new world record time.

I stood again outside. I could hear the sounds of the dryer turning. Mission accomplished, I could make my way back inside of the apartment. I felt equal parts relieved and ridiculous. So much drama over a lightbulb. Seriously. I was still ten years old and afraid of skeletons under my bed.

How often in life though am I still dashing through that basement? I'm not saying that darkness is good. Oftentimes it is the result of some sort of destruction or malfunction. Even so, I'm learning that God can be found in those dark spaces. The things that I fear are only possibilities, but the presence of God there is a guarantee.

So maybe this is a dark space? 

"Go out into the darkness and put your hand in the hand of God. That shall be to you better than a light and safer than a known way. So I went forth, and finding the hand of God, trod gladly into the night. And he led me toward the hills and the breaking of day in the lone east." 

- Minnie Louise Haskins


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