Sitting in Darkness

26 12 2010

The room was huge – over a football field in length; a football field wide; and half a football field high. A small stadium could fit. We filed in and sat in the seating provided for us by our host – the belly of the Appalachian Mountains. Tuckaleechee Caverns are located in Townsend, Tennessee, bordering the Smoky Mountain National Park.

My family along with other “explorers” had descended 150 feet under the mountains. We walked along a man-made path, lit by faux lighting, past unbelievable formations. But now, we sat in the “Great Room” being warned about the impending darkness – the little light we had was about to be extinguished. We waited in anticipation…then…black! A strange paradox of feelings rushed through me…fear and exhilaration.

Nothing! I could see not a thing…not even my hand an inch away from my face. I was glad I was sitting down. There was no way I would want to try and move around in this darkness.

I was reminded, again, of sitting in the Great “dark” Room in the Tuckaleechee Caverns as I read Sue Monk Kidd’s book When the Heart Waits where she addresses the darkness we eventually experience. We all experience darkness and shadow times in our living – depression, a death of some one we love, health issues that keep us from doing what we long to do, spiritual droughts, a schism in relationships – and we could name many more. I, like you, want to move out of these dark places as soon as possible. Light feels so much better – I can see where I’m going; I feel more secure; there are not as many unknowns. With light I can focus on what is outside of me…I do not have to think about or sit with what’s on the inside. We do not like persistent darkness!

But we cannot escape the darkness that life sometimes brings. So what shall we do? In her book, Kidd points out that “the most significant events in Jesus’ life took place in darkness: his birth, his arrest, his death, his resurrection.” (p. 151) Could it be true for us as well? Could significant events…significant transformation…come from our darkness? What if we did not hurry or try to escape our darkness before it is time? What if we embraced it…sat with it…held it…offered it to God? Kidd relays another insight about darkness – it is in darkness that an incubation period happens – change…metamorphosis! We often talk about and want spiritual renewal – some type of spiritual rebirth; but before the birth takes place, there is the incubation period…waiting…in the dark. (pp. 147-148). And in the waiting and in the darkness there is a hope…a promise…we are not alone.

While sitting in that pitch black cavern, I did not want to move…I felt I could not move – all I could do is sit, wait and watch. While I was sitting in that blinding dark, fear called my name – wanting me to give way to panic so I could not experience exhilaration…anticipation. So it is with our dark times. We are called to wait and watch for God’s movement within us. We are called to embrace fear and to give way to the hope and promise of renewal…of rebirth.

While sitting in that dark cavern, beside me I felt a hand reach out for mine, and I responded – my daughter’s hand and mine found each other…I was not alone. And in the dark nights of our soul, we are not alone. Just as I sat in the womb of the mountain, so we all are carried in God’s womb.

So may God give us all grace and courage to sit with our darkness; to not to escape prematurely. May God fill us with the anticipation and expectation of new birth…again and again.

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Midnight on the Choptank

18 12 2010

Midnight Dock

MIDNIGHT ON THE CHOPTANK

It was quiet on the Choptank River, especially compared to the energy infused air of early evening as the youth made there way to an Eastern Shore farmhouse for a weekend retreat. But now…now the wave of youthful excitement was settling into still waters and my introverted-self needed some alone time. So, I grabbed my camera, a tripod, and headed to the dock that stretched out into the Choptank. It was midnight.

On the dock, peaceful waters surrounded me – flowed beneath me – and I took a deep breath…peace. After taking in the serenity of the moment, I focused my camera down the length of the dock and out across the Choptank to the far shore. C-l-i-c-k. With the shutter open a bit longer to gather the little light that was present, the digital image revealed the glowing lights of Easton, as they cast a deep yellow glow off the heavens and across the water.  Breathtaking. Nothing could overshadow this moment…except me.

As time floated by, my senses seemed to react to a caffeine-high brought on by that later than usual soda I drank. My radar, working overtime, was sending messages to my brain about strange sounds in this unfamiliar place…unexplained movement in the reeds along the shoreline. “Are there alligators in these waters? How quick can they strike from water versus from land?” In the darkness, my awareness was slowly but surely giving way to fear.

We all experience dark times – times when life seems to choke out all light. Experiences and situations press in on us – escaping seems impossible. Fear and despair slowly creeps in and our heart and mind yields. We wonder if past experience of peace and joy was just an illusion. Our living and our decisions come from an orientation of “not letting our ‘self’ being absorbed into the abyss”…into nothingness, instead of a place where we are confident that we are loved.

But just like standing in the dark on the dock out in the Choptank, there is light (although dim) – even at midnight…reaching out to include us. God is always working on our behalf – even during the midnight times of our lives. Love is always flowing…just like the waters of the Choptank flowing under my feet.

When fear and despair come calling, I think it is about orientation – where or to who will we turn our face? To who will we hand over our attention? It is hard not giving ourselves to the immediate…to what is pressing in on us…to old patterns…to the darkness creeping toward us. But just like the midnight sky, there is light. Maybe it is a matter of deciding to orient ourselves to the one speck of light we can see – waiting, being patient, and trusting with anticipation that our extended exposure will reveal God’s glowing light within and around us…breathtaking. And God’s light within us casts a hue across our lives – love we can’t begin to imagine. It’s about turning our face toward the Light.

But when there are those periods where we have no energy even to lift our eyes, let alone turn our bodies toward God’s light, what do we do? When we feel we have no light…no faith? We stand in the light of a fellow traveler…we allow them to have faith for us until we gain strength and we can see the slightest glimmer of hope. We lean on community, continually exposing our life and attention to the coming Light – trusting our experiences will be breathtaking…a light casting a hue of love over our life and casting out fear.





One with the Mountain

12 12 2010

Before I went with our youth on a ski retreat, someone said, “Remember…be one with the mountain.” I was…it hurts being one with the mountain. You hurt and your clothes get really wet – especially if you are one with the mountain as much as I was. I don’t think this is the “one with the mountain” my friend was talking about.

I learned a lot, though – about skiing; about my nature; about barriers that keep me from being one with God. It is funny how we gain new insight into our spiritual life through the ordinary (although some would say seeing me on skis is not ordinary). No wonder Jesus used parables to help people see – spiritually speaking. Here are some of my insights from the slopes – maybe you can relate:

“Click,” the second boot went into the ski binding. Immediately my muscles went into alert mode – “not normal…take control…get c-o-n-t-r-o-l.” My body stiffened. John, an excellent skier, was very patient with me. He was gentle with his instructions and helped me up when I was one with the mountain. John told me that one of the keys in reducing speed, turning, and maintaining control while coming down the slope was to shift my weight to the downhill ski. Another alert sounded from within – “This is bit strange…so you want me to lean downhill…the direction in which, when I fall, I could tumble for miles. It seems to me that my weight should be directed into the mountain…where it is safer.” But my experience proved this counter-intuitive thought to be true – weight on the downhill ski kept me on my skis, upright, at a slower pace, and gave me some since of control. John was telling me the truth!

I also learned I was trying to do too much. I was working too hard…trying to do it all myself. I did not trust myself. I did not trust the skis. And, at first, I did not trust or really listen to my instructor. I was holding on too tight to what I thought made sense and I was not listening to the voices of experience.

We do the same in our relationship with God and on our faith journey. When God offers us a new experience of faith; when our beliefs, bathed in tradition, are challenged; when we are urged to act out of mercy and grace or invited to let others help us – we stiffen. We become uncomfortable and want to take control. We close our ears. We do not hear our Instructor or we hear only what we wish.

Maybe living faith is counter-intuitive – loving our enemy; sitting down with those we hate; turning the other cheek; inviting the societal “lowly” to a feast fit for royalty; counting the last as being first; touching the untouchables; washing another’s feet. Do we believe God is telling us the truth?

Maybe we – as individuals, as church, as a society – keep our weight, our influence, shifted to the wrong foot…maybe unknowingly…maybe knowingly…maybe out of fear. Maybe we try to do too much on our own – we don’t trust our God-given gifts; we don’t trust ourselves; we don’t trust God’s gift of our faith-seasoned friends…we really don’t trust God. Maybe we don’t listen – or we hear what we want to hear – when it comes to a life bound to faith.

With almost everything we try in life – even with life itself – there will be falls and uncertainty. But if we get back up…if we try again…if we let go…if we don’t stiffen…if we listen and have faith…we move toward being one with God.





Bridges

10 12 2010

There it was right in front of me – a way…maybe the Way…this Appalachian Trail bridge stretching over the James River. The day was moving toward twilight and I was tired, but curiosity and an inward challenge held me on the wooden landing longing to cross to the other side? A simple hike and a bridge across the James became a parable for my life.

The bridge, inviting me deeper into its patterns – shadows converging into a single point, as if pointing the way – a straight path luring me to lush greenery on the other side. But for now, I am captivated by perspective, design, and shadows. I am not sure I want to move…and with honesty, I must say, I am not sure I want to give the energy to make the “long journey” (my perspective) to the other side. I really can’t see what is beyond the bridge’s end anyway – maybe it is not as pretty as it looks. So I remain paralyzed in perspective, design, and shadows – full of longing and images of a wooded promise land…full with what could be.

I stand…paralyzed. Why is it that what’s in sight seems so far away? Why does my longing lack feet to move and my hope afraid to take flight? Here I stand, on this side of the bridge, giving more heed to the whispers of fear; being persuaded by doubt – conjuring up scary demons and monsters – giving them more authority each minute I entertain their presence…wanting me to dwell with them in the wasteland of despair. I stand with shadows and in the complex designs of my life saying, “It sure looks pretty over there,” not a smidgen conscious of the choice I have to take a step in the direction of my desires.

This moment becomes an invitation to cross a bridge not of wood or steel, but of faith, grace, redemption, and into deeper intimacy with God; an invitation to let go of what I so desperately try to control and to trust God to be God; an invitation to walk through shadow and darkness one step at a time.

It can be scary – fear has a loud voice with excellent persuasive powers. But God does not give us a spirit of fear. God has made the paths straight. God is working on our behalf even when we are not sure of God – when we can’t see God. As we take a step – one at a time – perspective changes and we experience unbelievable sights…insights – insights we would not have known if we hadn’t began the movement across the bridge…even in the presence of demons and monsters. I feel the soft winds at my back…encouraging me to take a deeper look…speaking to me, “Just take one step.”  And when I do, I find fear and doubt giving way…they were smokescreens veiling my eyes from Truth. Hope – which has always been present – bathes me again. I gain confidence and assurance with every step I take. I do not focus on the shadowed path, but my gaze is fixed on the Creator of the path…promised land…the other side of the bridge.





Beginning the Journey

4 12 2010

Just exploring…just wanting to learn…to share what is to be learned from life experiences – day by day.

Looking forward to the conversation!