We need darkness and light
By Dorothy Nickel Friesen
Sometimes a light surprises the child of God who sings. It is the Lord who rises with healing in God’s wings. When comforts are declining, God grants the soul again a season of clear shining, to cheer it after rain, to cheer it after rain. (Hymnal Worship Book #603, verse 1)
I write on Winter Solstice knowing that the daylight will now slowly lengthen after its natural shrinking. What does light that disappears and then re-appears mean for my life and faith? This year, this awful year, has changed my thoughts about light—and darkness! We must live with varying degrees of light which illumine our lives and also with ever-present darkness which hides or obscures realities.
Everyone in the world has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. I had immediate family members who became extremely sick but now are all recovering. There were people in my congregation, in my neighborhood, and in every community in my state that lost their lives to the disease. The light seemed to dim, and we stayed in our homes, kept sequestered, safe, and, in some ways, in the dark. What happened to those friends who often shared a pew with me? What were people in my Sunday School class doing? How about the youth and the toddlers? The light came when Zoom calls were planned, when emails from pastors made a weekly visit, when weekly virtual worship strengthened my soul, and when phone calls from friends reminded me that I was not alone. Light filled my office and my mind.
However, the light also revealed big gaps in the community and congregation. Not everyone was “connected” and could go virtual just like that. My grandson started high school on a hybrid model—in person on Tuesdays and Fridays and virtual the rest of the week. Then, it changed to all virtual! Teachers, college professors, and administrators were scrambling with new routines, extra cleaning procedures, and adapting while some colleagues got sick and were quarantined. Everyone was anxious wishing for more light but tending to the necessary, needed, and noxious.
In our nation, the light revealed the rich and computer-connected working from home while the poor or working class or those who care for the sick and elderly were stressing beyond any measure of health. People of color were dying at a faster rate. Our society was so divided and politicized that words became slogans and fists were raised in protest and anger. What good was light if it just surprised us with more problems, more sadness, more dysfunction? We needed to see this reality with dawning illumination.
In fact, darkness is helpful and important. The womb carries new life unseen and in the dark. Hearts and organs function and can only be seen via x-ray, laser, or surgery. The ground holds the seed for growth until heat and light warm the earth and rains water the soil. Deep down, in the dark, are the roots and creepy-crawly critters who live beneath my eyesight.
I struggle with the language of the church, liturgy and prayer which often condemns darkness, blackness and yearns only for light and whiteness. We must re-orient our language to reflect God’s creation that embraces darkness as part of the cosmos, our bodies, our humanity, and our environment.
This spring, my mother closed her eyes and died peacefully in her nursing home recliner as she waited for supper. Every day, I think of her and remember the many ways she brought light to my life and, how over her 95 years, she watched the light of each spring bring new life from the rich, black loam of our farm. She also saw the sad surprise of the light from a fire which burned our house and the light from the x-ray which diagnosed cancer in her husband of 62 years. Too much light blinds and too much darkness hides. With illumination we chart a new course, make decisions, and form relationships of compassion and justice.
In the new year, I will see things that I have missed. I will attend to new insights, new challenges using the revelations as markers on the journey of faith which moves me to greater confession and greater commitment. I will see Jesus as the Light of the World but also as the Revealer of Injustice.
So be it. Amen.
Dorothy Nickel Friesen is a retired MC USA pastor, author of The Pastor Wears a Skirt – Stories of Gender and Ministry (Wipf and Stock, 2018), and chairs SPRINGS FORTH! FAITH FORMATION, INC., an online publishing organization of multi-age resources. She lives in North Newton, KS and attends Bethel College Mennonite Church.