Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Bright Darkness

You, O LORD are my lamp; my God, you make my darkness bright.
Psalm 18:29

            One of the fallacies that sometimes attaches itself to Christianity (and other religions, for all I know) is that adherents are protected from all normal human ills. Sickness won’t touch you as long as you walk in faith, stay in the light, or any other phrase in vogue for guaranteeing prosperity of all sorts. Illness or reversal of fortune must mean you are secretly sinning or doubting, leading to the further complication of guilt and low self-esteem or to questioning what you did to bring this on.
            You did nothing. It is not your fault. You didn’t plan, ask for, or want cancer. You didn’t sin, and God didn’t cause it—neither to help you grow nor to chastise you. Some things just are. We live in a world that has been damaged, whether you believe in a literal fall from Eden or you blame corporate interests for creating Superfund sites.
             Passages such as the one above are a comfort to me. God makes our darkness bright, as a lamp brightens a room. When the psalms were written, the lamp would have been an oil lamp that burned some plant or animal fat, possibly smelly, almost certainly smoky. Not a great deal of light—unless you were in the middle of the deep darkness few of us in the west know anything about, with our electrically-powered 24-hours-a-day worlds of light.
            I am comforted because although the passage doesn’t say that I won’t ever be in darkness, it assures me that darkness is normal and to be expected. But God is with me there in the darkness. When I can’t see much—and don’t like what I do see: a bald, scarred, bloated woman with a bruise on her arm from the latest IV—it’s good to have someone there to be light.
            I was going to add, even if that someone is intangible, but that feels false. I think of all the human manifestations of brightness in my darkness, those people who have been Jesus to me, who prepared and delivered food for me, took me out for rides in the car when I was unable to drive, cleaned my apartment or read poetry to me. Each one was doing God’s work, being light in my darkness. That’s what we’re called to be and do for each other.
            It’s a bitterly cold afternoon. The sun was out earlier, but we’re now back to winter gray. A minute more of daylight has begun, even if I can’t see that extra minute for the thick snow clouds. Over the next several months, those minutes will lengthen the days, until I can enjoy sunshine until after nine p.m. The darkness is not the end.

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