Decolonizing the Darkness

Night Sky

We must decolonize the darkness.

We must stop telling ourselves that the darkness is inherently bad and that the light is inherently good.

God created the day and the night called them both “Good.”

The reality is this – we need both night and dark, darkness and light, to live lives of balance and wholeness. Many times, God does God’s best work when we can’t see God, when our view is obstructed, when we are walking (stumbling, tripping, and falling) in the dark.

This isn’t a message that will resonate with those seeking the trappings of popular “full-solar” religion (to steal a phrase from the Rev’d. Barbara Brown Taylor). But this is a message for those of us who have expended all out resources attempting to keep the darkness at bay only to find ourselves waking up, unable to see our way forward, unable to see God.

Darkness can often cause us feel afraid, mostly because the normal mechanisms we use to make our way through the world are rendered useless. Darkness throws us off our balance, out of our comfort zones, and into the unknown. Perhaps, this is where we should be. God often reveals God’s best self in the unknown. Ask Moses. Ask Isaiah. Ask Jesus.

Abram was called by a God he had never heard of to leave all that he had ever known and to follow this Mystery into the unknown. His normal way of being in the world was overthrown by a God who called him to eschew safety and enter into blessing and in the darkness of the unknown, God created a great nation.

One of the most moving stories of God creating and blessing in the darkness is the story of Jacob wrestling with the angel, or God, or a projection of himself (Genesis 32.22-32). As the Jacob and his opponent wrestled in the darkness, Jacob refused to relent. So as the sun was rising, Jacob’s assailant struck him in the hip-socket, injuring him, yet still Jacob would not surrender. “I will not let go until you bless me,” Jacob said. So Jacob’s challenger changed his name, and blessed him.

“It is sometimes hard to tell whether you are being killed or saved by the hands that turn your life upside down.” – Barbara Brown Taylor

According to Henri Nouwen’s Life of the Beloved: Spiritual Living in a Secular World, blessing is defined as “to speak well of someone.” To bless someone is to affirm them, to acknowledge their “original goodness” and to call them “beloved.” Jacob had lived his life ruining relationships left and right. When we encounter him wrestling in the night, we find someone who is at the end of running away from his past. So in blessing him, perhaps Jacob’s adversary was reminding him of his original goodness, his fundamental belovedness.

Perhaps Jacob’s wrestling was because it is hard to truly accept love with no strings attached. So much of our lives are spent trying to earn love, trying to prove that we are worth loving. But we are beloved by the very fact that we draw breath and that we are created in the Image of God, even if we fight it with all our being.

Jacob was reminded of his belovedness while wrestling in the night, and so that he would remember it, his adversary struck him in the hip, wounding him. Jacob would limp through the rest of his life in the light of his belovedness.

This is the hard truth of wrestling in the night – we are often invited into the blessing of God through the space created in our woundedness. Our pain, our grief, our anger, our loneliness, our unfulfilled dreams and desires – all of these provide opportunities for us to be reminded that our belovedness transcends situations and circumstance. Our belovedness is fundamental to who we are. We might be imperfect and walk through life with a limp as a result of our encounter with God – but we are still beloved. Perhaps we are wounded so that we might remember it.

Even as we approach the joyful mystery of the Incarnation, we must be reminded that before he was born to an angelic fanfare and whole host of visitors, the Word of God became flesh in the darkness of Mary’s womb. We must decolonize the darkness because there is much work that God desires to do in the dark, and we must be willing to enter in, and to be transformed.

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