“Faith is the bird that feels the light and sings while the dawn is still dark.”- Rabindranath Tagore
I have never liked the dark. During the camping trips my family took when I was a child, as night came, I felt safe so long as I had the nearby hand or presence of one of my parents. A campfire helped. Alone, though? Forget it. I was sure to be eaten by a bear.
During my time on staff if I happened to be alone for the nightly walk to the house, once I got beyond the lights of the parking lot and my feet hit Little Battle, it was a dead sprint, all the way, every single time. To be honest, I still haven’t made much progress. If the compost or trash need to be taken out at night, my husband does it. He knows how I am, and thankfully loves me anyway.
Darkness in the literal sense is disorienting and a little scary. It is also humbling to be tripping and fumbling about as we try to make our way and worry what else is there in the shadows. In the spiritual and emotional sense, it can feel like waves of confusion, anger, isolation, and despair. I don’t know many people comfortable with darkness.
In either sense, my own experiences with darkness progress through these fairly predictable stages: a good bit of stumbling and denying that I’m anything less than fine; muttering through clenched teeth and wondering what on Earth just happened; varying degrees of crying; and finally accepting that it’s probably best to just stop moving, and breathe, and reorient myself.
There are two particular lines of a poem by Rainer Maria Rilke that inevitably return to me in these moments. In this poem, Rilke speaks of what God says to us on our journey through life:
“Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don’t let yourself lose me.”
I’m reminded by these words that the vacillations of the human experience will persist so long as breath is in me. This, too, shall pass, and that goes for both the moments of heart-bursting sweetness and soul-gripping anguish. This truth helps me to cherish the former and to not be so consumed with anxiety by the latter.
What Rilke’s words also echo is God’s promise to not abandon us, though we are free to stray as we may choose. Even so, we are never far away. In fact, we are carved in the palm of the Beloved’s hand. This can, in our human folly, be easy to forget. The Faithful Companion’s presence in our lives is perhaps most perceptible once we have finally surrendered to the dark.
Lent provides us a perfect opportunity to evaluate our spiritual life with a few questions similar to what we may consider when we find ourselves there:
- To what end have I oriented my life?
- On what, or on whom, am I relying?
- Of what am I afraid?
- What am I doing to nurture my faith?
I invite you in the coming week to ask yourselves these questions. Though we can be fairly certain that the darkness will come, we have full assurance that it will not prevail. The Passion of Christ is a part of the Easter story, but it is not the end. I pray that when you find yourselves weighted down with a cross, confused, and lost in the dark, remember to pause, breathe, feel the warmth of the Light beside you, and when you find your voice begin to sing again to the dawn. It is coming.
-Tina Nieport, former staff and board member