Have you ever felt trapped or stranded in your own life? Behind a closed door that seems it will never open? At a couple of distinct seasons I experienced this, and if you identify you know it is very dark and difficult. As this holiday season begins, a time which can be lonely and painful for many, it is good to remember that we can be honest how we feel. I have several family and friends that are experiencing the lead up to Christmas for the first time after many years without a spouse or loved one. Or perhaps it is health challenges, or a weakened or dying faith, or problems at our work. Whatever it is, there may be the sense that there is no light in the darkness, and never will be again.
Recently I was reading a devotional online that I receive every day provided by Father Richard Rohr. This excerpt below is by Sister Joan Chittister, a spiritual teacher and author I have received much from. It comes originally from her book Between the Dark and the Daylight: Embracing the Contradictions of Life.
“The sense of being stranded in the midst of life . . . is enough to drain a person’s very personality until there is little left to recognize. Where did the joy go all of a sudden? Where did the feeling of self-confidence disappear to in the midst of this emptiness? Just yesterday life was clear and vibrant. Today it is endlessly bleak. The darkness is unyielding. Nothing helps; nothing takes it away.
There is no light here, we think. But we think wrong.
There is a light in us that only darkness itself can illuminate. It is the glowing calm that comes over us when we finally surrender to the ultimate truth of creation: that there is a God and we are not it. . . . Then the clarity of it all is startling. Life is not about us; we are about the project of finding Life. At that moment, spiritual vision illuminates all the rest of life. And it is that light that shines in darkness.
Only the experience of our own darkness gives us the light we need to be of help to others whose journey into the dark spots of life is only just beginning. It’s then that our own taste of darkness qualifies us to be an illuminating part of the human expedition. Without that, we are only words, only false witnesses to the truth of what it means to be pressed to the ground and rise again.
The light we gain in darkness is the awareness that, however bleak the place of darkness was for us, we did not die there. We know now that life begins again on the other side of the darkness. Another life. A new life. After the death, the loss, the rejection, the failure, life does go on. Differently, but on. Having been sunk into the cold night of . . . despair—and having survived it—we rise to new light, calm and clear and confident that what will be, will be enough for us.”
Powerful words. Life goes on. It doesn’t seem like it ever will again. But it does. But it is a different life. A life where, as Sister Joan writes, we become more than only words or false witnesses. We become life for others, and for ourselves. We rise to new light, new hope, new courage.
This week has seen the start of Advent in the Christian calendar. Advent means to wait, to hope, to expect the new. It is twinned and paired in a strange way with lament, with mourning. And often we wait in darkness. O Come, O Come, Immanuel. God with us in the darkness. We wait in advent for the birth of the Christ Child, coming into the darkness of the human condition and bringing the light of God. But not right away in a visible sense, except perhaps to the angels, shepherds, wise men and the child’s parents, but even then partially.
We wait in our own darkness, often feeling stranded and trapped. The light seems so far away. There is no light at the end of the tunnel. The darkness of the tunnel seems our only reality. Grief and pain are real, and tend to overwhelm every other reality.
But life goes on… the tunnel ends. The light comes…. again.
O Come, O Come Immanuel.