When I was a kid, I could beat seminarians in Bible trivia. It depended on the version, but most of the time, I could win against a team. This was not the social boon you might imagine. I read through the entire Bible, including the genealogies, before I was twelve. I memorized piles of Bible verses. Incidentally, many of them focused on obedience and kindness; well played, Mom, well played. I had the answers. I could recite creeds, prayers, and doctrines, and I knew they would keep me safe.
I had the Trinity carefully curated and organized. God was the leader, Jesus was the Savior, and the Spirit was the movement. Spirit could get a bit disorderly, perhaps a bit loud, but as long as I could keep it in the right places, as long as I could control the tears, as long as I could bring Spirit to those in need, as long as I had the Spirit, it was all ok.
I was a child of the light. I believed in six, literal days of creation. I fasted once a week—probably not for weight loss. I got up before sunrise to read my Bible and pray. You know: P.R.A.Y. Praise. Repent. Ask. Yodel (I might not be remembering that right). Even in college. Maybe especially in college. I knew that college was a time that many people abandoned the faith of their childhood, and I didn’t want to admit that something I had spent so much time on and was so good at could possibly have a few holes in it.
But nothing so damning as a hole.
My faith was like a work of art. Not a stick-figure with a quarter circle sun in the corner and sky and grass that don’t meet; no, this was an artist’s rendering: well planned, well executed, well preserved. For many years I carried my drawing covered and protected--safe. And then life happened.
I saw sorrow so profound that I couldn’t possibly bear it or explain it.
I saw grief wash up on the shore of my life.
I saw addicts’ hands tremble with shame and withdrawal.
And my heart broke. A single tear dropped onto my paper-faith and the whole thing dissolved.
A trivial faith broken by the weight of a single tear.
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.
I was there in the dark, with the damp remains of my faith. I wanted, badly, to reject faith and God. The light had become too glaring, too revealing. I became a child of the dark. A child in need of the dark. For me, the dark was a womb. A womb in which I met God as Spirit. I had heard of the Spirit before, but it had been a Spirit of gifts and glory. The ecstasy without the agony. I found, at this moment of darkness, that Spirit became the protective water of the womb, and I bent my head and wept adding water to water.
This Spirit did not rush me out of the darkness or seed the darkness with silver. This Spirit did not manifest itself as Meaningful Action. This Spirit hovered over me as I sat, grieving much as it did over the disciples who also sat huddled in grief in an upper room.
I didn’t get my faith back as was. I don’t remember the trivia, I don’t believe in six literal days of Creation, I don’t understand suffering, but I can say one thing: I have been born again by water and the Spirit into love. A love that urges me to let go of knowing, and lean into the heart of God.
Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light.
Who knows what can happen. Because we are born from darkness into light, when we fall down, deep into the Spirit of this life, we also rise up.
Invitation to Missional Mindfulness:
How do you characterize darkness in your life?
I invite you to step into this simple meditation of light and darkness. Note: if the dark is a truly negative trigger for you, please modify this exercise with a candle or other light.
Meditation of Light and Darkness
Because we are largely night-blind, humans are afraid of the dark. Our fairy tales tell of the deep, dark woods where the wolves do dwell. I invite you, for the space of ten minutes, into the dark. Find a place where you are protected from light and safe from interruption, and sit or lie so that your mind is not focused on your body. Set a timer for ten minutes. While you are in the dark, repeat this phrase adapted from the King James Version of Genesis 1:1:
(Inhale) Darkness was upon the face of the deep
(Exhale) And the Spirit of God moved upon the waters
Let the thoughts that come drift by. I invite you not to journal or evaluate this experience. If you can, simply acknowledge your need for stillness and darkness, and let it be enough.
Unless otherwise noted, biblical references are from Genesis 1:2,3 NRSV