Christian Mysticism: Session 5
The Way of Knowing God in the Darkness
She said, “I tried, and it didn’t work.” He replied, “...and it never will.”
History is littered with story and legend extolling the pursuit of peace. World-breaking conflicts and personal crusades grip our imagination as we cheer on the hoped-for conclusion: peace. Everyone wants peace. Yes, I know even as you read this, there are some whose minds go to the witness of madmen and despots. However, the tragic and distorted lives of the notorious only serve to reinforce my statement. Even the insane and delusional want peace; they are simply incapable of the revelation of self.
True peace, as an end of human effort, is an impossibility in this world. True peace is only possible through the relationship with Christ. To accept the peace we so desperately want and that is promised to us, we need to acknowledge and embrace the Darkness.
The Way of Knowing God in the Darkness
“Because of our God's deep compassion, the dawn from heaven will break upon us, to give light to those who are sitting in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide us on the path of peace.” (Luke 1:78-79)
As a child, protected by my parents, the darkness that terrified me was physical and it concealed the thing under my bed. As a young adult that fear subsided but was not gone. Instead, it was supplemented by another form of itself: the thing under the bed was now the thing out there or down there…in the dark. Darkness could also conceal violence, but with the proper tools it was easily overcome: just turn on the light. That simple remedy, the flick of a switch, was like a cleansing release and it brought hope and even courage. In the light I felt safe and in control and I thought no more of darkness or the thing that lay in wait.
Being afraid of the dark is common to all cultures and peoples. It is a fear of being harmed, of being helpless, of being prey. It would be wonderful if I could say that when I became an adult I was “cured” of my fear and of the thing that lurks in the shadows, but that is not true. All people are aware of God and afraid of the thing. God is present to all his children, though many reject his presence. The deep interior awareness of God’s call is possible because God knows we need Him, and God makes it possible for us to be aware. But that awareness is not limited to God and rejecting God does not shut down the awareness. The darkness holds more than the absence of light: “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places”. (Ephesians 6:12)
Most of us don’t stop in the darkness; we rush through it to the light. Those who do stop, don’t linger and the few who stop and search for the thing, are sure to find it. Darkness is a physical reality in which physical dangers are present and darkness is a spiritual reality in which spiritual dangers lurk. We use darkness as a metaphor in our lives: darkness of thought, of emotion, and of knowing. The reality and dangers of darkness plagues and pursues us. We know it. God knows it, too. This is why Jesus declares, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”(John 8:12) Jesus acknowledges that we live on the edge of darkness and that we are frequently overtaken by it. He knows that we live in fear, a deep droning fear brought on by the uncertainty of the dark and of the thing that lives there. As adults, we learn to ignore the darkness as best we can, and to pretend the thing does not exist. But we can’t. God is the only solution, the only light that can pierce the darkness and illumine the Way.
Growth in spiritual depth sharpens our awareness: God comes closer, Jesus is felt, and fear is arrested. The darkness in our lives does not go away. The thing never stops its pursuit. It is always with us. Thanks be to God that we are not left to face this alone: as we are assured that “ In him(Jesus) was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it.” (John 1:4-5) I cannot emphasize enough the change that is experienced when we are no longer afraid. When the fear we have learned to ignore is embraced and given over to Christ, there is a freedom never-before experienced.
The invitation to walk in the spirit, to experience living in mystical union with Christ, is not meant to simply be an academic or intellectual pursuit. True spiritual union with God (deification) requires conscious devotion and, once undertaken, changes everything! St. Francis DeSales wrote,
…so devotion is the real spiritual sweetness which takes away all bitterness from mortifications; and prevents consolations from disagreeing with the soul: it cures the poor of sadness, and the rich of presumption; it keeps the oppressed from feeling desolate, and the prosperous from insolence; it averts sadness from the lonely, and dissipation from social life; it is as warmth in winter and refreshing dew in summer; it knows how to abound and how to suffer want; how to profit alike by honor and contempt; it accepts gladness and sadness with an even mind, and fills one’s heart with a wondrous sweetness. (Introduction to the Devout Life, Ch 2)
Jesus calls us to the light through the darkness: embrace the darkness. If you deny the thing in the darkness and ignore the fear by the dim light of platitude and excuse, you will not be able to accept Christ’s true light and true love. True devotion means truly opening yourself to God. You must open those doors you have bolted shut to let Christ’s light shine in that darkness. The healing illumination of your heart and spirit will change your effort into peace. Devotion is no longer an act you undertake because you want to, but the communion with God you need to have. It becomes not a means to an end, but truly a journey of discovery and new life.
Next week, we will review the steps thus far, answer a few questions I have received, and peer into a different kind of darkness.
“For at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light” (Ephesians 5:8)
In His Light,
Father Bill Burk†