Monday, December 11, 2006

Desert & Darkness

photo by bill hughlett

Desert & Darkness. Is there a difference between being in the desert and living in the darkness? Both seem to include waiting. Waiting is something that is welcomed and revered during this season of Advent. Are desert and darkness the same states of being? Is the difference between darkness and light defined simply by the attitude with which they are received? Where is light found during desert times? And, for what were the desert fathers searching? Were they barren and bereft of God’s holy presence? Or were they closer to God because of the barrenness?

Two books come to mind: Alan Jones’ Soul Making and the devotional book, Streams in the Desert. Both of these are reminiscent of a moving toward something. It may be painful in the midst of the experience, but the message is hope for something less painful—something more solid on which to stand. Does having hope mean we want to leave the desert or need to leave in order to find solace?

What has prompted this line of questioning? It must go back to old fundamental roots that clash with my present aversion to a theology that insists if we are not “happy” then we are not walking “properly” with the Lord. This was kicked off by the question “Are you in a ‘desert place’ in your spiritual life right now? If so, what are some things you could do to re-kindle your excitement with the Lord?” I think the words “if so” and “re-kindle” tell me being in the desert or the darkness is not o.k. And thus I come back to the question, are darkness and desert the same space? I believe, the overriding question is: how will we choose to receive God in those places of difficulty in our lives?

This advent season has brought many reminders that darkness is seasonal. (Seasonal in an ebb and flow sort of way in our lives, not just the physical moving toward darkness as we approach the winter solstice.) Darkness provides us with a time of rest and a time of waiting. Thomas Moore in Dark Nights of the Soul says darkness is often associated with or labeled as depression. It is something we want to get out of or away from. I, however, have found periodic solace this year in the darkness. Therefore, I was bothered when it was suggested to “re-kindle” my time with the Lord because that indicates I am not meeting God in the darkness (or desert). The opposite, however, has been true because in many ways I have been met more distinctly in the darkest places than I have in the shining light of day or good times.

So once again I return to the question: Are desert and darkness the same place? And, is it all about the attitude with which we view them? I do not believe either place to be void of God even though at times we may not feel His presence. Maybe it all is about the attitude. Maybe it is about our personal relationship with God. Maybe it’s about unearthing our own rhythm in the darkness and finding our oasis in the desert. Maybe, it’s something I will ponder awhile longer. What do you think?

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