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Pastor Dave

Thinking Out Loud – January 2016

From Pastor Dave McMillan


“Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge.” – Psalm 19:2


Pastor DaveWhere my fear of the dark originated is hard to say. Maybe, rather than learned, it’s simply instinctual, but I’m not convinced. Sleeping alone while growing up was regarded by sisters, who shared the same bedroom, a privilege or luxury. What they didn’t realize was that when you sleep alone in a room, your imagination can lead you to believe that you’re really not alone at all. All kinds of unsavory creatures can be found under your bed or in your closet at night, especially after watching an episode of the Twilight Zone. My battle with the darkness at night progressed from full surrender to my parents bedroom, to learning to sleep with a night light, to sleeping with my door cracked open and a baseball bat lying between my mattress and bed frame…which was still there when my parents moved in 1995.

At night time, our basement was also a place of great foreboding. All kinds of sounds seemed to emanate from our cellar especially when my parents weren’t home. I can remember as a young boy standing at the top of the steps and peering down into the dark abyss before switching on the light and racing down and up the steps as fast as I could to retrieve whatever it was I needed…just ahead of the grasp of whatever it was that was down there! Knowing how afraid I was, it gave me no greater pleasure then to turn off the light in the basement when my younger sister was down there and to listen to her let out an ungodly scream!

Darkness outside was not as troubling to me for some reason. We lived in a well lit neighborhood with street lights and lamp posts. While we were often called inside after dark, there were many nights when my friends and I would use the cover of darkness to play games like flashlight tag or capture the flag. There were also many nights spent in the summer chasing fireflies. Still, I was grateful to be able to turn on the back light when I took out the trash at night, and when out of the reach of that light, grateful when I returned to its safety. But, why was I so afraid of the dark?

Intrigued by darkness, I recently finished reading a book written by Episcopal priest and author Barbara Brown Taylor entitled Learning to Walk in the Dark. In her book, she talks about the bad rap that “darkness” gets. She reminds us that God created the light and the darkness and said that both were “good”.  Still, even the Bible itself and the Church appear to equate darkness with everything that is bad and undesirable and light with everything that is pleasing and good. Unfortunately, writes Taylor, this division of light and darkness can leave us spiritually at a loss when we are living through periods of darkness including “caring for aging parents, attending the funerals of people we love, coping with economic crisis, seeing ice caps melt, and watching churches close.”

Many churches, she writes “market faith in God as protection from every kind of darkness. Walk as a child of the light, the advertisement reads, and all your nights will be as bright as day.” But what do these advertisements do for those for whom darkness is a part of their everyday reality? Is there something wrong with them? Not long ago, I met with a group of fellow pastors. Going around our table, a pastor acquaintance shared how he and his wife were exhausted from having to care for their adult daughter who had been an invalid for eight years after having been struck by lightning while standing on their front porch. And, how they were grieved for their twenty two year old son who had become addicted to heroin and whose whereabouts had been unknown to them for over a month.

Instead of trying to deny or create zones of safety against the darkness, which only fail time and again, instead of trying to defend ourselves against dark nights, dark thoughts, and dark emotions, Taylor suggests, we should help each other to learn to walk in the dark. “The problem has far less to do with what is really out there,” she writes, “than it does with our resistance to finding what is really out there. “

Learning to walk in the dark begins by being willing to stay in the dark for a moment at a time before having to turn on the light and increasing those moments as we are able. Learning to walk in the dark entails asking ourselves when we have felt this way before, what is it that we are afraid of and what is our mind telling us to do about it. Learning to walk in the dark entails finding those things we need to stay there and recognizing that there are some things we will learn in the dark that we will never learn in the light.

More than just the top half of life, learning to walk in the dark can allow us to take back our faith. It can allow us to accept that we are both spirit and flesh, the presence and apparent absence of God, our faith and our doubts. More than just the top half of life, we will learn to live a life which blesses both the day and the night.

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