Thursday, January 7, 2021

From My Nature Journal: Are You Afraid of the Dark?

Are you afraid of the dark? Fear of the dark is a natural and normal fear in child development, but there are some for whom this fear is more intense or long-lasting. Nyctophobia is the technical term for an excessive fear of this type, one that can sometimes cause severe and irrational repercussions of anxiety or depression in one’s everyday life. 

Now, the truth is that there are two kinds of darkness, the literal kind and the figurative sort. Both have potential impact for excessive fear. On the figurative side, you and I have been witness to both reasonable and irrational fear in our experience of 2020’s triple whammy: the pandemic and its very real losses, the appropriate and inappropriate social unrest surrounding calls for racial justice, and our contentious national election and its aftermath. But these fears do not necessarily evaporate with the change of a calendar page, much to the disagreement of many recent pundits and wishers. There is nothing fundamentally magical about the change from 11:59pm on December 31 of one year to 12:01am on January 1 of the next, except in our minds; and the latter is not necessarily a bad thing at all. We need hope. We need fresh starts. I would even go so far as to say that one cannot live healthily without these. They can even be gifts from God.

It is not lost on me that yesterday, January 6, 2021, a day of infamy in our nation’s capitol, was also the Day of Epiphany in the Church Year. Epiphany takes place on the 12th Day of Christmas. It is not the day to receive the gift of ‘twelve drummers drumming’ and the vast human and animal menagerie that goes along with it. Epiphany is the supreme culmination of the celebration of the birth of Christ, and moves us from what might seem to some an idyllic world of cooing baby, young parents, a manger, animals and enthusiastic shepherds, to the very real and dramatic world of truth-seeking, political intrigue, injustice and tragedy represented in the story of the Magi, and that story’s aftermath. Sounds like our world, doesn’t it? That’s because it is. (See Matthew 2:1ff, and please don’t stop at verse 12.) A full understanding of Epiphany moves us away from what might seem the cuddly part of the story -- though the incarnation actually taking place here is in outright contrast to any fluffy sentimentalism – to the realization that this child is now the absolute and definitive Light of the world, Light TO the world, Light FOR the world. And we need that Light, especially in times of darkness.

Which brings me back to yesterday. It is yet another time when I realize how ashamed I can be of this country I love. Darkness has followed into 2021.

It is yet another time when I

realize how ashamed I can

be of this country I love.

But it also makes me realize our need for Epiphany, our need for the light of Christ, but also our need to be the light of Christ in our world. Did you realize that of all Jesus’ great ‘I am’ statements -- I am the Way, I am the Bread of Life, I am the Good Shepherd, etc. – of all these fantastic statements, did you realize that ‘light of the world’ is the only one that Jesus also reflects back (yes, reflects back) upon us? Jesus is the Light of the world. But Jesus also tells us that is what we are. 

Can you and I be light in the darkness? I guess that depends how afraid of the dark we are. 

I learned a new word from our pastor this past Sunday. As a missionary he has been immersing himself for several years in the Scandinavian languages, and shared a word from the Icelandic tongue. The word is rothljos, though I cannot pronounce it, cannot write it in the funky alphabet that Iceland uses, and perhaps have not even gotten the corresponding English spelling correct. But the definition of the word, such an appropriate word for this extreme northern island nation, is ‘all the light that’s necessary,’ or ‘enough light to find your way.’

All the light that’s necessary! Enough light to find your way! I SO like that word’s image, and can come up with nothing in English that approximates it. Iceland is nearly a sun-forsaken place in the dead of winter. Though you may know that Greenland and Iceland are misnamed and should actually switch appellations -- in other words, that Greenland is the real iceland and Iceland far greener than Greenland – Iceland is still a pretty cold place. It’s daylight lasts barely four hours when the solstice turns, and the sun is so low in the sky as to give negligible temperature relief. But as for habitability, Iceland possesses all the light that’s necessary for a people to still thrive. 

You and I can have this sense of panic that there is not enough light of Christ to go around. But there is enough, always enough. We can let the recent darkness swallow us. But even in you and me, God’s sons and daughters, there is enough of Christ’s reflection to go around, always enough. It’s why the Bible says God’s word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path: no matter how dark the surroundings, the light will always go where we go, and can even be a foretaste, a foretelling, of a greater light to come. As our pastor said: when the road is dark, what choice do we have? We have the choice to affirm that Jesus is always enough light to find our way by. 

And, I would add, enough to share…

Where is God in all this darkness? I recently became acquainted with another Taizé song, the title of which, in French, is La Ténèbrae (The Darkness). The Taizé Community shares a lovely and meditative form of worship singing that can touch some at their core. It is often done in full harmony but can certainly be done more simply. Here is a rendition, its hopeful lyrics based on Psalm 139:12: “Our darkness is never darkness in your sight, the deepest darkness bright as the daylight.” This pairs well with the Advent text from Isaiah 9:2, a prophetic text fulfilled in the person of Jesus and shared as an Epiphany text in Matthew 4:16: The people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those living in the land of deep darkness, on them a light has dawned.

Light a candle, dear people. God’s invitation is here both to see and to do God’s work in this world, even in the midst of its darkness. So light a candle. It will be enough.

~~ RGM, January 7, 2021