Jul 27 2014

Seeing the Light in Darkness

e_DSC4090I spent the past week at the Ghost Ranch in northern New Mexico.  It was an incredible experience on numerous levels.  I enjoyed learning from John Philip Newell as he talked about his new book, The Rebirthing of God.  He and his wife, Ali, also led in worship each morning and evening.  The services were spiritually uplifting.  The landscape around the Ghost Ranch was also incredible.  I have traveled extensively around the Desert Southwest and without a doubt this was some of the most beautiful scenery I’ve ever seen there.  Each day I had a chance to get out and do some photography in the area.  This, too, proved to be spiritually uplifting.  I always seem to sense God’s nearness in the desert for some reason.

e_DSC4584One very pleasant surprise for me at the Ghost Ranch was the night skies.  Two nights the skies were completely clear and those nights I witnessed the glory of the heavens as never before.  The Milky Way seemed almost close enough to touch.  I was in total awe.  The words of the Psalmist kept coming to mind: “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place; what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?” (8:3-4)  I did indeed feel humbled beneath the vastness of the heavens above but at the same time I recognized that the One who made those stars dwelt within me and was close by.  The transcendence and immanence of God was apparent at one and the same time.  I could not help but offer my worship to the Maker of heaven and earth.

e_DSC4596Each morning as a part of our workshop we were asked to go outside and spend twenty minutes in silence.  On the day following my close encounter with the Milky Way I spent my twenty minutes laying down on a large stone beside a giant cottonwood tree looking up at the sky.  The sky was a beautiful blue, punctuated with fluffy white clouds.  After a while it dawned on me that I was looking up in the same area I beheld the stars the night before and that those stars were still there extending their light.  Because of the brightness of the sun the stars could not be seen but they were there nonetheless.  This was, of course, something I already knew, but it did drive home a truth that I had not pondered previously—some manifestations of God’s glory can only be experienced in darkness.

While at the Ghost Ranch I finished reading Barbara Brown Taylor’s new book, Learning to Walk in the Dark.  This inspirational work has made me look at darkness in a new way.  She offers many compelling reasons to embrace the darkness, both physical and spiritual.  At one point Taylor writes, “If we turn away from darkness on principle, doing everything we can to avoid it because there is simply no telling what it contains, isn’t there a chance that what we are running away from is God?”

e_DSC4598I am convinced more than ever that we must learn to approach the dark periods of our life in a new light.  We tend to think of darkness in negative terms but it may well be that the darkness is needed at times for God’s glory to be revealed.  There are lessons that God can only teach us, things that the Creator can only show us, in the dark seasons of our life.  This doesn’t necessarily make those dark seasons easier to endure but it does offer us a glimmer of hope—that in the darkness we may just see a light or manifestation of God that could not be seen otherwise.  The skies above New Mexico and the testimony of many of the saints of history all bear witness that this is true.  When you find yourself in darkness—whether physical, spiritual or emotional—I encourage you to look for that which might not be seen otherwise.  It may just be that it is in the darkness where you will see God the clearest.

–Chuck

(I took the images above at or near the Ghost Ranch in northern New Mexico this past week.)


Jun 29 2014

Lunar Spirituality

DV-moon“If I say, ‘Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,’ even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.” Psalm 139:11-12

e_CES2439Barbara Brown Taylor has long been considered one of America’s best preachers.  She also happens to be a very good writer.  I am currently reading her newest book, Learning to Walk in the Dark.  In this delightful book Taylor offers a positive take on darkness and speaks of its many benefic.  One of the things she does here is contrast “solar spirituality” with “lunar spirituality.”  She says full solar spirituality “deals with darkness by denying its existence or at least depriving it of any meaningful attention” and “focuses on staying in the light of God around the clock, both absorbing and reflecting the sunny side of faith.”  She goes on to say you can recognize a full solar church “by its emphasis on the benefits of faith, which include a sure sense of God’s presence, certainty of belief, divine guidance in all things, and reliable answers to prayer.”  All of this sounds good on the surface but Taylor says what these churches seem to lack is the skill for operating in the dark—a darkness that invariably invades each of our lives.

Barbara Brown Taylor claims to lack the gift of solar spirituality and says her gift is, instead, “lunar spirituality, in which the divine light available to me waxes and wanes with the season.” She talks about how the moon changes shape constantly and as such “the moon is a truer mirror for my soul than the sun that looks the same way every day.”  Things do not appear as clear or certain in a lunar spirituality but that does not mean it is any less real or genuine as solar spirituality.  For many, me included, it just seems more true to my experience and to reality.

Taylor does a good job of exposing the benefits—spiritual, physical and emotion—of darkness.  She is to be commended for tackling this subject; few would choose or dare to.  In Learning to Walk in the Dark I find a model of the  spiritual journey that resonates with my own experience.  My life and spirit do not seem to be cut out for a solar spirituality.  It is much more in tune with what Taylor calls lunar spirituality.

_CES7969If you are someone more attuned to a solar spirituality you may question those who walk this different path.  I hope you will be careful not to judge too quickly.  In some ways it may take a greater faith to walk this path than those who walk in the sunlight.  Regardless, both paths lead in the same direction.  Here is the good news Barbara Brown Taylor offers: “even when light fades and darkness falls—as it does every single day, in every single life—God does not turn the world over to some other deity.  Even when you cannot see where you are going and no one answers when you call, this is not sufficient proof that you are alone.  …darkness is not dark to God; the night is as bright as the day.”

At one point Taylor asks, “If we turn away from the darkness on principle, doing everything we can to avoid it because there is no telling what it contains, isn’t there a chance that what we are running from is God?”  Since many biblical characters, and the saints that have followed them, found or encountered God in the darkness we might, in fact, miss encountering the divine presence if we avoid the darkness at all cost.  I hope you’ll think about that the next time you look up into the night sky or find yourself enveloped by the absence of light.

–Chuck

(I took the top image at Death Valley National Park and the bottom two in Henderson, KY.)