God Dwells in Darkness
Three Junes

God Speaks in the Darkness

God Speaks in Darkness

1 Samuel 3:1-9

by the Rev. Dr. E. Scott Jones

First Central Congregational Church

17 December 2023

               This Advent, we have been exploring God’s Holy Darkness.  Partly as a corrective to how often we limit our spirituality and worship to images of light.  And one reason we have been motivated to explore this theme is because of our commitment to be an anti-racist congregation.  Light supremacy in spirituality is dangerously connected to white supremacy.

               The theme of Holy Darkness has also drawn us into exploring several Biblical stories that occur in the dark—there are so many once you start paying attention to it.  And we’ve drawn from the rich well of the church’s mystical tradition, which has long emphasized the spiritual importance of darkness.

               This week I read Barbara Brown Taylor’s beautiful book Learning to Walk in the Dark.  She writes that one of the reasons she left ministry when she did was the over-emphasis on light.  What she calls “full solar spirituality.”  She says “You can usually recognize a full solar church by its emphasis on the benefits of faith, which include a sure sense of God’s presence, certainty of belief, divine guidance in all things, and reliable answers to prayer.  Members strive to be positive in attitude, firm in conviction, helpful in relationship, and unwavering in faith.”  And then she follows that up, “If you have ever belonged to such a community, you may have discovered that the trouble starts when darkness falls on your life.”  Because such full solar congregations are not equipped for dealing well with the realities of life.

               Instead, she encourages a “lunar spirituality” with all of its doubts, questions, ambiguities, and uncertainties.  Such a spirituality is far healthier.  Rather than avoiding “the primal energy of dark emotions” by cutting themselves off from the world, congregations with a lunar spirituality, like Jacob of old, are willing to wrestle angels in the dark.  A lunar spirituality recognizes that what we call the dark emotions are “conduits of pure energy that want something from us: to wake us up, to tell us something we need to know, to break the ice around our hearts, to move us to act.”

               Darkness is so often the place where God speaks to us something we need to hear. 

               Taylor writes,

I have learned things in the dark that I could never have learned in the light, things that have saved my life over and over again, so that there is really only one logical conclusion.  I need darkness as much as I need light.

The Jewish scholar Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg declares that “The night is indeed the time of redemption.”  There is a freedom and uncanniness to the night.  What happens in the night cannot be fully assimilated in the daylight. 

               How often God does speak in the darkness.

               From the Spirit hovering at the Creation calling the world into being.  Or Moses receiving the commandments in the clouds surrounding Mt. Sinai.  This story of the child Samuel, awakened to the mission that God had for his life.  Or the choirs of angels, appearing to sing their glorias to the startled shepherds below.  In so many of these vital stories, God speaks in the darkness.

               And God speaking, Eugene Peterson reminds us, is the fundamental conviction of our faith.  From Genesis to Revelation God keeps speaking.  Peterson writes:

God speaks—in creation and invitation, in judgement and salvation, in healing and guidance, in oracle and admonition, in rebuke and comfort.  The conspicuous feature in all of this speaking is that God speaks in personal address.  God does not speak grand general truths, huge billboard declarations of truth and morals; the Lord’s speaking is to persons, named persons.

               Like the child Samuel. 

               So we must beware of full solar spirituality for it might be closing us off from the word that God has just for us, in the darkness.

               We believe that God is still speaking.  Which means that in our darkness—whether literal, metaphorical, emotional, or existential—God comes to us and speaks to us a word that we need to hear. 

               May we listen.  Like the child Samuel learned to listen.

               As Barbara Brown Taylor beckons us, “Come outside now, it’s getting dark.”


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