thinking theology

Holy Tuesday

Psalm 139

1 O Lord, you have searched me and known me.
2 You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away.
3 You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways.
4 Even before a word is on my tongue, O Lord, you know it completely.
5 You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain it.
7 Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence?
8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
9 If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
10 even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me become night,”
12 even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you.
13 For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.

As I watched the sun rise over the city of Vancouver this morning, I thought about how similar dawn and dusk are as the light and dark seemingly bend over the earth with love and care. Light and dark are in process together to make life possible on earth.

In this story about Jesus (John 12: 20-36), we hear him use the metaphor of a seed, fallen, not even planted in the ground. The seed, if it is not to dry up and blow away, must dive into the ground and then find its way back up in spring, an astonishing and miraculous process. I have planted bulbs upside down and yet they turn themselves in the dark and follow their way up into the light. Amazing!

Then why do we fear the dark? We would say the seed is simply doing what is natural. Does the seed fear the dark? Are humans unnatural? We all began, were quickened into individuality in the dark, developed and grew in the dark. Jesus is not offering shelter from the dark, but training for it, training for transformation and change. I think that this passage is more resurrection training.

The men who come to see and hear Jesus will become either spectators or become conscious of entering into an exciting, frightening, mysterious process. No one escapes the descent into night or breaking into the light. It is not the events themselves but our awareness and openness that changes how and why we think about the process.

We all taste death and resurrection many times in our lives. There are times when pain, depression, grief, fear, change, or trauma, seemingly shroud our lives. Usually, we would think to escape these times, to be saved from them. But Psalm 139 encourages us to dive deeper into the dark, where the divine may be found.

A person who came to me about the dryness of her faith was surprised when I gave her wilderness passages to read. They hardly seemed encouraging and often were not comforting. When you find yourself in the desert, handbooks on the English garden will be neither helpful nor uplifting. When you find yourself in the desert, you need to learn how to live there. Until you accept the desert, integrate with the desert, you cannot escape.

Similarly, when you find yourself in the dark, flailing about will not help. Be still and know that I am God. Darkness and light are as one to me. Be still and rest in my arms. The darkness is time for resting and healing, for waiting for new birth and the return of the light.

What calms a child afraid of the dark is the presence of a loved one. My mother told me there were angels all around my bed to protect and guard me. God surrounds us even in our darkest hour. Jesus cries out as his hour approaches, but to be saved from it would deny everything true and beautiful in his life. I am glad to hear about Jesus’ fear and hesitation because it sanctifies my own fears and doubts. It reminds me that I am never alone in the dark.

As it says in Isaiah 49: But Zion said, “The Holy One has forsaken me, my Lord has forgotten me. Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hand.”
Jesus, who lived through the dark night, also is there with the One for whom the darkness and light are as one.

Pema Chodron in her book, Living in Uncertain Times, talks about how we need to stop running away and allow ourselves to experience the dark. I think Jesus offers this teaching. We will enter with him and the Holy One into the process of life. But not as unknowing seeds, not as lambs to the slaughter. We will enter as partners, arms wide, eyes open, ready to be enfolded by the dark and broken open by the light. We are saved from despair by allowing ourselves to fall into the dark. We are saved for the ministry of being lights on the hill, beacons for other night time wanderers.

“Amen” by Sarah Slean

I’m tired of this game
I’m tired of this race
I’m tired of these chains that bind me
Wanna be free, free to let go
Let all that is good inspire me
And I…

I keep running on empty
Thinking maybe I’ll see a sign
But if I open up my heart, someone will say
Amen, Amen.

I’m tired of this scene and all that means
No company cool will define me
I’m tired of this screen staring at me
No radiant box could confine me
And I…

I keep running on empty
Thinking maybe I’ll see a sign
But if I open up my heart, someone will say
Amen, Amen.
Amen, Amen.

And out of the dark (the darkest night)
I wanna follow my heart (into the light)
So what am I waiting for? (Waiting for?)

I keep running on empty
Thinking maybe I’ll see a sign
But if I open up my heart, someone will say
Amen, Amen,
Amen, Amen.

(Will you say amen? Will you say ah..)
Amen.
Amen.

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