I learned something wondrous about seeing in the dark back when I was very young. Each year, the little public school I went to sent the sixth graders to Keystone Science School for a several days up in the mountains of Colorado. We’d spend the days learning about alpine ecosystems, geology, and the like. But one evening, after dark, instead of just going to bed they took us on a night hike. A bold move with a bunch of sixth graders, I understand in retrospect.
When we reached a clearing, our guide told us to turn off our flashlights and look around. Predictably, it took more than a few minutes of giggling and tittering until all the lights were finally off. At first it was as dark as you might expect. But then our guide began telling us about the special night vision that we all had. He explained that even though we couldn’t see anything very well right now, in 5 minutes or so the structures of our eyes would adjust to allow us to see much better than we thought we could. And sure enough, as we waited, things began to become visible that were previously cloaked in darkness. Although it seemed like some kind of wizardry, it was actually just allowing our God-given bodies to work the way they are equipped to work.
But this night vision doesn’t just happen in an instant and stick around, as soon as an excitable classmate flipped on their flashlight again, we were blinded again and had to wait, in the dark, to adjust again; to rely on God’s handiwork, rather than our meager, contrived methods of lighting the way for ourselves.
You’ve probably encountered something like this yourself. You wake up in the night and you can find your way across the room fairly easily in the dark, but once you flip on a light in the other room, and try to come back in the dark, it seems like an obstacle course has mysteriously emerged so you have to grope and stumble to make it to the safety of your bed again.
In the darkness, in waiting, things often become clear that weren’t apparent when we were trying to light the way for ourselves.
Perhaps it seems like the lights have gone out for you in some way after these long months of pandemic. Maybe it seems like the sources of light that you’ve tended to rely upon have gone away and you’re struggling to find your way in the dark.
The people who heard Jesus talk about the destruction of the temple could hardly have fathomed that in less than 40 years after his death, the temple would indeed have been destroyed by a fed-up Roman occupation. How could we have guessed what tonight would be like a year ago? But the readers of Luke’s gospel would have been all too aware of their recently destroyed temple and the disorientation and loss it signaled. The glorious temple, awe-inspiring beauty, the center of worship, gone.
But that building, that second temple of Herod the Great, was a newly constructed erection to his own glory, like so many other building projects that dotted the Judean landscape. A human attempt at glittering light is always liable to destruction and annihilation. The lights went out on that temple and the people found themselves without it’s pretended security.
God’s people are those whom he finds waiting, alert, watching for the dawn from on high to break upon them. Not the false dawn of their own devising. Rather, waiting in the darkness, there is a curious clarity that comes about; when the eyes of our souls adjust from artificial light to realize, in a poverty of spirit, what is the path that God really has set for us.
There is line in the chapter of our Rule on the Mystery of Prayer that calls to me in the darkness. “Christ himself will strive with us as the angel strove with Jacob, to disable our self-reliant pride and make us depend on grace. Our love must be purified and tested by many times of darkness, loss, and waiting.”
It’s frightening and uncomfortable but it calls me to a different form of expectation, not that I will simply be soothed in the course of time, but that dross is being burned away, that my very hopes and expectations are being drawn closer to the heart of God. To trust that as I’m being stripped of my artificial sources of light, that I will be able to apprehend that which really is of God.
That which actually endures.
Have you had a chance to let the eyes of your heart adjust to the darkness? To trust that God will show you what you didn’t think you could see. In the darkness, if you allow it, you will find the reality of God, which will always point us to the light of resurrection. You may have discovered ways of living and striving that are no longer worthwhile. Conversely, what longings have become clear in your night vision? They will spur you on when the light comes.
Darkness and light are both part of the same day. The night heralds the dawn. We are poised here in Advent with our Sarum blue tinged with gold, like the horizon before the dawn. Wait then, with patient endurance, to receive clarity of sight; to walk into the light of Christ at his appearing. Amen.
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