Praying in the Dark – Br. Luke Ditewig

Br. Luke DitewigAt Emery House, our retreat center in West Newbury, one of my favorite things to do is walking down the lane in the dark and looking up to see the stars, watching the amazing light breaking through so beautifully and naturally. I usually don’t get to see it. We have so much light in the city. So much artificial light may let us live, yet it limits what we see. Where it is most dark, light is most powerful.

In our Gospel text tonight, Jesus goes into the dark. Jesus begins his ministry by withdrawing to Galilee. It’s a familiar story that Jesus spends much of his ministry in Galilee. But Galilee is a distant northern region, closest to border, the most pagan province with many Gentiles, geographically, politically and spiritually distant from Jerusalem.[i] An unlikely place to prepare for becoming king. The Messiah should head to Jerusalem. But instead Jesus withdraws to Galilee. When Jesus finally does go to Jerusalem, arriving on a donkey, he further confuses people by who he has become. They say: “Surely the Messiah doesn’t come from Galilee, does he?”[ii] Yes, Matthew says, he does.

Jesus goes, withdraws to, chooses to reveal himself in Galilee, chooses to identify himself with Galilee thus fulfilling what Isaiah wrote: “Galilee of the Gentiles—the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death, light has dawned.” Jesus goes to Galilee, a most dark place, to people not walking but sitting, sitting trapped in darkest night. Jesus, Light of the World, withdraws to the darkest corners, where light is most needed. Where it is most dark, light is most powerful.

“Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.” The Light shines in the darkness so that people may live. Jesus goes to Galilee to proclaim good news: God is here and loves you. Life is full of meaning. So repent, change, and grow. Jesus graciously invites: What do you want me to do for you? We are graced to co-operate in healing. The Light shines in the darkness in order to redeem and to heal.

Jesus comes to us in our distant regions, our Galilee, where we sit in darkness, where we least expect or want him to come. It seems like it would be much nicer to meet Jesus in Jerusalem, in the capital city, in the light, where we are mostly ok, in the places in our lives which are well-established, put-together, refined, well-appointed, of which we’re proud and want to show him.

Jesus comes to us in our distant regions, our Galilee, in the dark, where we need help, to the places in our lives which are immature, disjointed, unrefined, broken, of which we’re embarrassed or ashamed and do not want to show him. It’s not necessarily parts that are wrong or sinful but where we don’t know how to make it work or I don’t what to do, things that are messy, complicated or painful.  They seem too dark.

Jesus knows. Jesus knows everything about you and me, all that’s in the light and that’s in the dark. As the Psalmist says: Lord, you know everything about me: my sitting down and my rising up. You’re acquainted with all my ways. You know all the words on my lips. I can’t get away from you. I’d like to think “the darkness will cover me,” but that won’t work because “darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day; darkness and light to you are both alike. For you yourself created my inmost parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I will thank you because I am marvelously made; your works are wonderful, and I know it well.” (Psalm 139)

We are marvelously made and fully known. Jesus comes to our dark places, asking to us to acknowledge them and let him in to touch them. Jesus invites us to not only in the light but also to pray with him in the dark.

How much are you praying in the light? How much are you focused on your best face, good works, things that are easy or going well? Perhaps God is inviting you to look with him at something in the dark, something hidden, undeveloped, messy and troubling in your life. God may be coming to Galilee in you. Will you meet him there? Here are a couple suggestions for praying in the dark.

First, literally pray in the dark. Maybe choose a dark room with an unlit candle. If you can, try praying before sunrise, while it’s still really dark, without any sign of the sun. Go to a place where you can see the light well when it comes, an east-facing window. Or go outside for the best view east you can find. Wait in the dark. Invite Jesus’ presence.

Ask: What is dark in me that you want to bring into the light? What hurts in me that you want to touch? Listen. Gently hold that which is dark in you. [Hold out your hands, palms up.] Wait. Watch for the sunrise. As it comes or as you light a candle, watch how light changes your perspective.  Let God gently hold you, all of you, in the warmth and perspective of the Light. [Hug yourself.] Pray with silence or with words as God leads and keep listening.

Second, pray with Psalm 139. You might do this in conjunction with sunrise or separately. The psalm may help prompt a place of need. When do I want to get away from God? What do I want the darkness to cover? Pray that. Tell Jesus. Pray with the rest of the psalm about God knowing us fully. Pray the whole thing, including the anger and hatred which bursts out in the middle. Try praying in the dark with Jesus, and look for his light dawning there, even where it seems too dark.

We are marvelously made. God sees all, loves all, and seeks to heal all. Where it is most dark, the Light of the World is most powerful. Amen.

[i] Frederick Dale Bruner (1987) Matthew: The Christbook. Dallas, TX: Word Publishing, p118

[ii] John 7:41

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  1. Elissa Henderson on January 2, 2021 at 10:59

    What a wonderful approach to starting a prayer practice for the New Year. I love the silence of the night and what a better way to open up and focus my thoughts.

  2. Sue V on January 2, 2021 at 09:50

    Brother Luke, what a different perspective on praying in the dark. Many nights I wake up and then I find praying puts me back to sleep. Sometimes I get up, go out and look at the moon (so many city lights I can’t see any stars), thank God He made the stars too, and then can go back in to sleep. Yes, Psalm 139, He knows me just as I know those stars are there.

  3. SusanMarie on January 2, 2021 at 08:24

    This is a wonderful message — thank you, Br. Luke. I need Jesus in my dark places much more so than in my light places. I see him clearly in my light places; I need him to enter and heal my dark places.

    Every morning I begin my prayer time in total darkness, waiting for the natural light to enter the room, and more importantly, I watch and wait as the Light of Christ enters my soul. Being aware of the dawning of light and the Presence of Light together is very meaningful for me. I was glad to have that affirmed in your sermon today.

  4. Bobbi on January 2, 2021 at 07:10

    On this dark January day, as the light begins to appear, thank you for opening up to me the beauty of praying in both the light and the dark.

  5. Ruth West on January 14, 2014 at 17:59

    Thank you, Br. Luke, for this good message. Seldom ever do I have a time when I cannot go to sleep at night. I attribute this to mental recitation of psalms and/or other hymns. It might take reciting it over several times, but
    it gives me so much peace and tranquility. Also, I have had many major surgeries, and in the time of becoming anesthetized, I usually recite my favorite psalms in my mind. He gives me peace, in the times of darkness and in the times of light. Praised be his name.

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