Friday, April 18, 2014

A Spirituality of Night

"The Coming of the Night"
-At the Desert Retreat House-

As I begin my day on this "Good Friday" morning, I am reminded of a conversation I had several years ago with the mother of one of the children in our parish school. I asked if her family would be attending the services on Good Friday?  She looked at me as if I had two heads, and said, "Of course not, my son is only 9 years old. Why would I ever want to expose him to all that pain and death? We'll come to church on Easter when everything looks a lot happier." 

I've been thinking abut that mother's comment. It's stuck with me over the years. Lots of people want to avoid the night and wait until its a lot happier at the break of day.

In her newly published book, "Learning to Walk in the Dark," priest and author Barbara Brown Taylor tells a story of her childhood. She and her sisters were allowed to play outdoors until it was almost night. Her mother would then call everyone in, bolt the doors, and turn on almost every light in the house. She says that her childhood experience planted the seeds for an obsessive, life-long fear of the night - always hiding from the darkness in her life by turning on artificial lights. 

The Buddha teaches that "suffering" is "THE" defining characteristic of our humanity. We all live with some form of pain, sickness, suffering and death, disappointments and failures, broken relationships, financial woes. We all have fears. 

In her book, Barbara Brown Taylor puts it quite beautifully:

To be human is to live by sunlight and moonlight, with anxiety and delight,
admitting limits and transcending them,
falling down and rising up.
To want life with only half of these things in it is to want half a life,
shutting the other half away 
where it will not interfere with one's bright fantasies of the way things ought to be. 

I find great wisdom in this observation. When nighttime inevitably falls upon their lives, so many people either pretend the night isn't there or they hide from it by bolting their life-doors and turning on artificial lights- taking a pill, keeping the pain a secret, asking God to take it all away and make it all better, keeping their kids away from looking at the pain of Good Friday and skipping on to Easter when things look a lot happier with all the flowers, bunnies and brunch.

In my lifetime I have found that on my journey, I need to practice a "spirituality of the night" just as much as a spirituality of the light.  Whenever I have been able to "live into" my nighttime experiences of life, I have always grown in courage and strength and in my ongoing awareness of an ever abiding Holy Presence. 

From time to time I walk out into the desert at night- no artificial lights to help me pretend the night's not there - bats circling in the moonlit sky, sounds of a slithering snake, a coyote's howl piercing the thunderous silence and echoing off the mountains. Of course it's frightening, maybe even dangerous. However, it is all so very healing to stand there in the night, and it always gives me courage. 

Today, I look straight on upon that image of Christ on the cross.

Some people will refuse to look at that pain today because makes them feel ill at ease.  Others may avoid the image, thinking that it doesn't apply because they aren't Christians or they are not believers. I think that regardless of one's faith or beliefs, the image of Christ on the cross offers all of us a perfect example of how to face the night and how to face the dark.  

There are no pills to take away his pain, "God" doesn't  intervene and make it all better. Instead the Christ embraces the darkness that has come his way and surrenders to it all. In doing so he comes to perfect peace. 

It was now about noon and darkness came over the whole land,
and the sun's light failed.
And Jesus cried out with a loud voice,
Father into your hands I commend my spirit

What a powerful icon of "humanity courageously embracing the darkness of the night."

 I dare to gaze upon it today.


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