Tag Archives: Darkness

The looming darkness

I don’t know what to think about these readings and about the recent election which made me cry tears of grief and despair (and sheer exhaustion it must be admitted).

On the one hand the first reading is promising a change in relationship- to God dealing more directly with an individual rather than through teachers and leaders. Nevertheless the words of the reading are authoritarian and the tone kyriearchal. I don’t want to be like the voters who fell for a slogan like “strong change” without asking what that will look like.

The God-voice in the reading seems grumpy and bitter about some sort of disobedience in the past and so the offer of a changed relationship seems like God having more direct oversight rather than a more respectful closeness.

Reading it leaves me in a spiritually empty space- resentful and without joy or hope. Is such barren terrain perhaps necessary to traverse in lent? But for what purpose?

It really is like being stuck in the wilderness with no idea of the destination.

In the psalm we have the refrain “create a clean heart in me O God”. Once again what strikes me is both an individualism (in “me” not “us” or “society”) and a being found to be flawed and failed. God is asked to “fix” me, the implication is that I am uncreated, dirty.

The implication is also that it does not matter what social world or time I live in God is interrogating “me” not inspiring or taking part in human society. These readings and the disappointing election led me to pray at church that we are earthlings after all. We are made from carbon, oxygen, hydrogen and minerals as much so as dreams and traces of Wisdom and free-will and tears. We are not just made to “rise above” everything and be so heavenly that nothing bodily matters.

I have a life on earth and I am concerned with politics and food and how messy my house is (though I don’t do enough about it) and how arms feel around me, and what my hands can (or can’t) touch. I dream of writing fiction or academic work as much as prayers. I desperately want to feel that my children and their children will find joy and pleasure (as well as work and responsibility) in bodiliness and earthliness.

Isn’t this what God made for us? Is this not God’s will? If so how do we follow God’s will to keep these goods?

The second reading equates prayer with tears (relateable) but talks about obedience and necessary suffering. I am not completely on board with that but I suspect it has more to do with trying to make meaning in incredibly hard times than any sort of universal truth. Anyway the word “obedience” rankles most feminists because of the way it has been used against us. No I will not obey institutions that do not understand me, represent my best interests or even let me know my own inner truth.

If I am stuck in the wilderness forever because of my lack of desire to submit and obey then I will never enter the holy city but will look for what flowers and fruits may grow in the wilderness, what streams there might be. I am reminded of the time Miriam (the singer, historian, psalmist of the people) was thrown out of the camp and people were in an uproar.

I feel beloved enough to risk disobedience, as obedience is a kind of death (which I used to know when I lived it).

In the gospel the way to Jesus is through two male gatekeepers. Same old, same old. Obeying…serving…following.

The reader in church this morning made me listen by using both the words “father” and then “mother” in the reading. But will Jesus’ suffering and death really glorify God? What sort of a God is that? What sort of a father (mother)? Growth is only possible through the death of the grain which sounds wonderful in theory unless you are the grain. Who are we in the story?

The gospel stays dark to the very end, and I am puzzled how it is “good news”. I wish Jesus had not been persecuted and tortured actually -secretly I have always wished it and I have become stubborn and outspoken enough to say it (as if God didn’t know how I felt). We have suffering and death in our lives, but I don’t feel we should celebrate that fact, though naming it may be useful.

I was asked to be Jesus in the reading of the passion next week and despite my fear of the violence and horror of any sort of passion story (or any sort of corresponding reality) I was sort of star-struck and honoured to play the hero, Jesus. Since then I have worried over all the ways my voice and expression are not up to the task (but of course noone expects me to actually “be” Jesus). But much as I would never want to be Jesus in a reality version of suffering, shame and death, much as I would lack courage and strength for such a thing I think the worst role in the story is that of Mary.

That is the part of the passion that is the worst suffering, the most awful thing possible.

That makes the story even darker, when I consider that Mary was there.

And we are called like Mary to open our hearts to the whole world and have a maternal and patient love for all humanity, all creation. Well to work toward it anyway. We are told that God/Jesus has that maternal love for all creation and for each of us, that it is in the nature of God to care, nurture and protect. How does God bear the harm we do to humans and nature? How do we claim to be following God if our hearts do not break from the pain of our neighbour?

Lost in these hurts and our own helplessness how do we live? Where is the healing?

I am not looking forward to four years of my state moving away from renewables (before we were properly started) and to the “strong change” of the Empire’s soldiers.

My mood is dark, in the church year the cross is beginning to loom. All I can summon up before God is my honesty about how uncomfortable the darkness is. I don’t want anything to get worse.

 

 

 

 

Reclaiming Darkness

 

Forgive me readers for posting this extra post just before I add my struggles with this week’s readings. It was in my head and I thought I would get it out.

I remember being that pious child that just took on board everything that was said at church no matter how much it outraged my experience of reality. If what the man in the dress said conflicted with what I could see and feel and know then I was wrong and I had to shift my thinking, it was as simple as that. Unsurprisingly this led to me losing my faith and my sisters and I (much to my parent’s disgust) developed a habit of giggling, making sarcastic comments under our breaths and rolling our eyes at the patriarchal words that rolled from the pulpit and altar at us.

One of the things that amused us was the use of the word “men” to symbolise humanity (but this word only sometimes means that). “Since by man came death” sang the choir, “even so in Christ shall all be made alive”

“Christ isn’t a man then” we might sneer.

Another was a hymn we had to sing:

Holy, holy, holy- though the darkness hide thee

Though the eye of sinful men thy glory may not see

Only thou art holy, there is none beside thee

Perfect in power in love and unity

See how a couple of those themes fit with this week’s readings? But we latched onto the inability of the “sinful man” to see. Maybe we could see then we speculated since we may well be sinful (and defiantly so) but we weren’t men. The sexist term seemed almost like a loophole at times. Just as we were not included in full participation, ministry and full salvation by being only an auxillary to the great default “man” so we also felt we should then escape having responsibility and escape judgement.

Later at theological college I read something about women “reading between the lines”. I immediately recognised how I had done that at times, both in my current adult wish to move back into the church and in my childishly laughing resistance of what didn’t even attempt to speak to the “me” that goes unrecognised in church. Still you know churches fail to recognise women and especially queer women. We are all subsumed under an “everyone”, but this inclusivity assumes a heterosexual, middleclass, white, male subjectivity and for us to be included we more or less need to be willing to wear this type of drag- I am told this is even more so true for priests and ministers. “Differences” are either exoticised, or more commonly white-washed (and male-washed) because they make us feel uncomfortable, something is demanded from us by the unashamedly “different”.

Somehow this experience of recognition that I constantly had to read between the lines- both as a serious pilgrim and as an interrupting-of-patriarchal-flow larrikin –  made me wish for a liturgy where I could just rest in the church’s welcoming arms and goodness and I began to rewrite huge chunks of liturgy- every prayer, every response as well as many hymns to make them less alienating. I allowed them to be radically feminist, exclusively female and probably injected my as yet unacknowledged lesbian identity into my passionate striving for a feminine face of God.

And the song I mentioned above was easy to take over, I cannot remember all the verses but that one verse echoes in my head as an anthem to ultimate female triumph over being subjugated and God’s interest in our liberation.

Holy, holy, holy- though the darkness hide thee

Though the light of patriarchy cannot pierce your veil

Your love makes us holy, called to work beside thee

Wisdom never resting ‘til justice will prevail

 

Here the traditional binary of light and dark are reversed. Darkness hides God, God chooses to be undiscoverable to have some boundaries and not to allow the intimacy that is really domination. Patriarchy, reason, science, the enlightenment cannot rationalise away God or invent rules to understand or control God. Love and call; wisdom and justice are my experiences of God and they are what I celebrated in a hymn rather than perfection, power (kingship), onlyness (peerlessness I guess is the real word) and being above the unworthiness of “man” just as man is above the unworthiness of the rest of creation.

But over the years meditating on this idea of Holy Darkness, and the feminine I have found other connections to grace. Firstly through viewing God this way I can relate to our Muslim sisters better. I can never approve of men hiding them and insisting that they go about veiled, but when white-culture comes in and tells them the wearing of veils is “offensive” I can be moved with compassion and empathy that they should wish to have some privacy and some boundaries in their own way. I have said “them” but “they” are always also “we” if we walk in God. Perhaps instead of giving people impossible dilemmas we need to together find more liberative ways of seeing the choice to cover the self, to withdraw, to refuse enslavement by a brand of “liberation” which does not suit who I am as a person.

And then the idea of darkness can also be redemptive in an ecological sense. Darkness used to interrupt the now endless workday of business, mining, selling, desperately striving. Darkness used to enforce rest and quiet. Darkness (and quiet) is needed by many species of nocturnal creatures to survive, be safe and forage or hunt. The lights of our hypercapitalist world burn so brightly and so endlessly that it becomes hard to see the milky way in the cities and even now the stars themselves. You have to go further and further out of town to experience darkness and quiet. I don’t wish to romanticise darkness, I know that under cover of dark many terrible things used to happen. But increasingly we live in a world of invasive and all-pervading light. Everything we do is seen and commented on, everywhere we turn data is collected about us. Everything must be seen and known and analysed and rest now comes under the heading of “wasting time”.

Holy Darkness redeem us from this, take us into your refreshing bosom where the hens may stop laying for a few hours and the possums escape detection and the owls do not have their eyes damaged by flash photography.

I want to end by sharing how I first came to consider “darkness” to begin with, although since I began I have gleaned much in traditional scriptures, hymns and writings that fits with the idea.

It began when my small son was learning about God and we taught him deliberately that binary opposition was a dangerous fallacy. “God is not a He and God is not a She” we said

“What is God then? An it?”

“No”

“What then?”

“You can say God is a He, but only if you said God is a She. You can say God is white, but only if you say God is black, you can say God is far away but only if you say God is close to us” We playfully went through all sorts of binaries with my son and he picked up on it and added his own that often surprised and educated me “God is red and God is green. God is a cat and God is not a cat. God is a snail because snails are both boys and girls at the same time. God is up and God is down. God is my mother and God is my child, God is hello and God is goodbye”

In church one Sunday, the reader got up and began in an impressively church voice (complete with the Anglican accent)

“God of light…”

“And God of darkness too” crowed my three-year-old little theologian bouncing out of his seat in excitement. He knew this game.

“No it’s only light” the priest told us

“It’s darkness too” my son insisted and I stopped and thought.

And the idea was there in our tradition you know. God is not just the light that gives understanding and meaning. God is the darkness that obscures meaning and gives rest too. Womb darkness, bed darkness, secret whisperings of love darkness, cat purring darkness, don’t touch me darkness, warm and restful darkness, unknown and unknowable darkness, tomb darkness, seed darkness, we know he is risen but we’re still a bit confused darkness, turning off your phone darkness, finally see the stars darkness.

Bittersweet chocolate darkness which is my cue to stop writing  and find some. chocolate