In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. John 1
There is something very powerful and poetic about the beginning of John's gospel. John proclaims that in the beginning (echoing Genesis 1:1) God's Word was sung over creation and creation sprang forth dancing and responding in harmony. God's Word brought forth all that is seen and unseen in this life. One of the amazing truths of Genesis 1 is that there are three things present when creation got going and growing: God, the Word, and Chaos. The chaos swirled and sloshed and stirred arrhythmic-ally. And while chaos eventually fades into the background, it is never fully erratically.
And when God slips into skin to walk among us, chaos will swirl and slosh and stir around God too. Instead of chaos, the word John prefers is "darkness". When you live in the upper Midwest, you get use to darkness at this time of year. Many people leave for and return from work in the dark. Darkness creeps in through the windows and is kept at bay by artificial light. But day after day of being without light not only leads to a deficiency in Vitamin B, it also starts to make us weary emotionally, physically, and spiritually.
At the same time, darkness has a place. There are moments when we dwell in the valley of the shadow of darkness and death. And Psalm 23 promises that God is there, just as God is there on the mountain top. Darkness was where Jacob encountered God...twice. And the second time was when Jacob wrestled with God and was able to claim his full identity. The darkness of 3 am was when God called out to Samuel. Jonah spent time in the belly of a whale...which while I have no actual experience with this (and don't want it!)... I assume that was a moment of darkness as well.
Darkness is not about being separated from God, but it is a different way of experiencing God. There is a holiness to darkness if we open ourselves to it. Of course, in order to do this we need to let go fully of those lingering fears that stick with us from childhood. Many of us had those moments when the pile of clothes, we should have picked up like our mom told us, start to look mysterious and eerie in the middle of the night. And yet, over time, through experiences in your life you can start to adjust your eye sight and there are things you can see at night that we are blind to in the brightness of day. When we let down our carefully guarded public persona at night, we see who we are and whose we are.
One of the truths of darkness is that a single light can start to scatter the night around. You light one single candle and suddenly your eyes and attention are drawn to it. And to be honest, one candle in a room of darkness is pretty insignificant, yet it does make a difference. Perhaps the same is true for our faith as well. Sometimes it is the small moments that start to make a difference. A hug. A well timed email or text. A thoughtful word at coffee hour. Those can become light in the midst of darkness.
What moments of darkness do you find yourself in right now? Is there even a smidgen of light that is shining into that moment? How might you be open to God's presence both in darkness and light? May you be open to such traces of God's grace and light as 2013 draws to a close and 2014 dawns upon us.