Enfolding Grace – Br. Luke Ditewig
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Going to camp often means away up a mountain, or in my experience, out to a desert island. One gift of camp is the night, though it may be scary. With no neighbors and limited electricity, new guests, especially youth, swing flashlights the first nights, anxious at seeing much less. They point to the path and all around trying, it seems, to poke, prod, and push back the dark.
We are similarly afraid these days in the deepening darkness of our world. With questions increasing, anxiety swirling, violence striking, fear infecting, prejudice multiplying, and sadness swelling, we want to poke, prod, and push back the dark.
We just sang: “Restore us, O God of hosts; show the light of your countenance and we shall be saved.” We ask for the light of God’s face turning toward us. Small yet significant. When another’s face lights up at seeing ours, we are loved.
In the days of our Gospel story, Mary set out and went quickly to visit Elizabeth. A normal visit turned extraordinary. By divine power and blessing, now both Mary, a young virgin, and Elizabeth, a barren elder, are pregnant. Dark days since they also bear the burden of public shame. The scandal since Mary claims pregnancy through the dream of an angel. Who did she think she was? The long years of ridicule for Elizabeth who had never born a child. Rumors swirled about why she was now.
In those dark days, Mary visits Elizabeth. They both believe, have faith in what they can’t see or explain. They embrace. They see the light of each other’s countenance. They exclaim, bless and sing with joy and gratitude, with heartache and question: “Blessed is the fruit of your womb.” “My soul magnifies the Lord.” Mary stays with Elizabeth about three months. Imagine the stories they told, the questions they shared, the listening and weeping. Imagine the shared encouragement, companionship, and loving countenance.
Darkness often brings to mind what we don’t know, what we don’t have, of danger and fear. Darkness is also a place safety, salvation, sight, and delight. At camp, youth would often settle in through the week, learning their surroundings and adjusting to not being flooded with light. They began to gaze at the stars and gathering to sing around a fire. Darkness offers safety to rest, play, explore, and sleep more soundly.
In scripture, God often speaks in the dark through dreams. In the dark, God’s people fled Egypt and went through the Red Sea. In the dark, manna came from heaven, divine food in the wilderness. God speaks, saves, and provides in the dark. We pray with the psalmist: “Hide us under the shadow of your wings.”[i] God’s shadow offers safety and nurture like under a wing or in the womb.
In Morning Prayer, we praise God for all creation in Canticle 12, including the “enfolding dark.”[ii] God often keeps us in the dark. We are not ready for the exposure light would bring. Jesus said: “I have many things to tell you, but you cannot bear them now.”[iii] The darkness of not knowing can be a grace.
Mary and Elizabeth bearing new life in their wombs, lived in the dark with uncertainty, shame and trouble, with promise, provision and faith. How may we live in the dark with uncertainty, trouble, promise, and faith? Here are two suggestions.
First, turn off the lights. Choose to be more in the dark. Use more candles and less electric light. Try using only candles, fireplace, the Christmas tree, and perhaps the light above the stovetop. Put down screens, and read by candlelight. Friends of mine do this with their kids all of Advent. They like it so much they continue through January. They enjoy sharing more dark together.
What is it like to see less? How does your perception change? What do you feel and do differently? Literally and figuratively, how does filling your home or life with artificial light hinder you? What do you not see because it is so bright? Are you trying to stay bright by focusing on appearances or clinging to possessions?
Let yourself be in the dark. Pray as you are, what you feel. Pray the questions and the longing. Trust God withholds what you cannot bear now. How might God be sheltering and enfolding? Look for lights given in the night, not that you turn on. Give thanks for twinkling grace.
Second, visit Elizabeth and welcome Mary. Find a safe, trustworthy person and share your heart. Perhaps someone who is having or has had a similar experience. Share together. Risk telling your story honestly. Share your questions, concerns, beliefs, hopes, longings, heartaches.
Be a safe, trustworthy person. Love others by listening well. Ask how they are. Hold hearts tenderly. Be a companion. Weep with those who weep. Sing with those who sing. Show the light of your countenance. Light up their life with your face of love.
The darkness deepens. Dark and more dark, and yet we can see. God is here with us speaking, providing, nurturing, and saving in the dark. With Mary, Elizabeth, and today’s companions, live by faith in the dark with twinkling and enfolding grace.
[i]Psalm 17:8 which we pray at Compline to begin each night
[ii]The Book of Common Prayer, p89
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Dear Br. Luke,
Such a warm and helpful message!
In these sad, challenging times, I am trying to focus on being a safe, trustworthy person. However, that is a challenge with a friend who wants to convince me the pandemic is a hoax. Your kind advice reminds me to hold her heart tenderly. Before we retired, we took a walk at lunchtime every day — even in the snow! She’s a good friend I don’t want to lose due to the stress we are all coping with.
Blessings to you,
Yes, ” wait”….. in presence, prayer, listening, pondering and, hope…
Thank you for a thoughtful and timely message today.
Yes, this is what we are called to do as the Body of Christ, to wait together with expectation. Elizabeth and Mary confirm the experience and provide support to one another in the waiting. We provide a reflection of God’s love to one another in the darkness while we wait in hope for the promise.
Blessings & gratitude,
Not only do I love this reading as we head into the darkest days of the year- but to ponder Mary and Elizabeth’s experiences together.
I remember hearing on the phone that I was pregnant the first time- it was not an ideal time for me, but I was fortunately in enough of a ok position to happily receive that news. But back to the moment I heard…my heart was stunned and then leapt with joy that permeated through every cell in my body! Wow- I…. was with child! It was just before Advent and I felt going thru Advent that I was blessed as Mary. How I defended myself if a car went by me too fast crossing the street- like they should know!
What stuns me today is how a spiritual experience as this, one of the most spiritual moments of my life- was so disconnected from the church. Similar to solemn moments being with someone I love when they are dying- when they die… There’s no place in our church liturgy for these intensely spiritual moments which makes me sad.
Today is bright and sunny and the small bit of snow highlights everything outside. Dark comes early announcing arund quarter of four. We have two trees with sparkling lights all year round and they are especially welcome when the dark comes.
Shadow so often is spoken of as our own shadow. Br. Luke’s words help me think of being shadowed in the safety of God’s wings.
Two years into the pandemic, unknown to be coming in 2019 when Luke wrote and spoke these words. Even more timely now.
Thank you for the lessons of the dark. I learned many on the farm I grew up on in Kansas w/no electricity until I was 7. Kerosene lamps, wood stoves —heating on w/an isenglass window. I cherish the Bible verse, “He made the stars also” in the creation story of Genesis. I’m partially blind now but in my “memories eye” I see the Northern lights, Milky Way and the Big and Small Dippers. All my life I’ve loved the night lights of moon and stars. Reminds me every night God’s universe is big and I’m just a small part. Br Luke, thank you for the message of “listen to the dark”… it truly has a message of God’s love and care.
Thank you.. this is exactly what I needed to hear today.
I ,like others,pray for such a friend on earth..its hard to trust. But if we do trust,maybe they will open. ????????
Thank you Br. Luke. Your Words took me back to my childhood. There was no electricity in my grandparents home in Scotland. My mother and I stayed with them for several months at the beginning of WW2. I used to watch my grandmother trim the wick of the oil lamp, and the corridor to my bedroom was lit by candlelight. The light from the oil lamp and the crackle of settling coals in the range created a very comfortable environment. Looking back eighty years, I experience the warmth of the memory. //The other part of your Word – to have someone to whom you can open your heart and life story is so difficult to find. I would say that different friends know different parts of me. God, Jesus, know my stories but it would be such a gift to have a friend as you describe that person. Blessings. Christina
Yes, Christina, it would be such a gift to have a friend as Br. Luke describes. My very feeling. May we both find such a friend. Constance
Dear Christina, I too rising eighty, remember the soft deliberate light of hurrican lamps and candles. The ritual of being given a light, of being old enough to hold it on my own, of its gently shining circle that left many shadowy secret places as darkness fell. A simpler, a less stressed time. It has been the greatest blessing of my life to have been given a safe trustworthy person with whom I could share my story and find some healing and a way forward. Ask God for what you need. Thank you Luke for your homily.
Thanks for the beautiful message. Sent this excerpt out:
“Hide us under the shadow of your wings.”[i] God’s shadow offers safety and nurture like under a wing or in the womb.