Searching Sacred Shadows by Mandy Mizelle
What are your earliest memories of darkness?
Some of mine are the “current” (or as everyone outside of eastern North Carolina calls it, “electricity”) going out, and the subsequent thrill of running through the house to find candles and flashlights, the pure adventure of carefully doing the most ordinary things — playing Scrabble, brushing teeth — by tiny, flickering glow.
How do you experience darkness now? What has it grown to mean to you throughout the years?
When I consider darkness now, I can’t help but think of my four-year-old’s nightly fears, how he asks for everything that might cast a shadow to be taken out of his room — an impossible ritual reminiscent of that great line from Jonathan Safran Foer’s Everything Is Illuminated: “You cannot protect yourself from sadness without also protecting yourself from happiness.”
I think of my favorite starry night seasons, fall and winter. I think of friends living with mental illness for whom long nights are more awful than awe-full, friends who no longer leave home after certain hours.
I think of the problems with our good versus evil dichotomies of light and dark, how darkness gets dismissed as if it’s not a gift for what we need as much as want: for rest, healing, privacy, intimacy, time to develop… for the optical illusion of looking more attractive than we actually are, thanks be to God!
What darkness surrounds you these shortened days? What can you imagine sensing — not necessarily seeing — differently this shadowy season?
These are the questions Advent asks us. As those of you who were paying attention to the children’s message on Sunday know, Advent means “coming.” It is the first season of the church year, lasting the four weeks leading up to Christmas — the coming of Christ. It is a season marked by darkness and anticipation, expectation and waiting.
It is a sacred time we join in the ancient longing for a Messiah, the Promised One sent to save, heal, liberate us — to show us the way of hope and joy, of just peace, of love greater than death — beginning in the most peculiar of places. We await and remain awake to Jesus’ re-birth, God’s reincarnation to us this year — whoever and wherever we are in all our particularities, all our longing. Each year, we read, retell, and become part of this enduring story. We become part of the mysterious journey towards the light. Even if we cannot see it yet, we hope, together, for the light to come — for the tiny, flickering glow we can only perceive because of the darkness that holds it.
As we scan a horizon we cannot make out, may we open ourselves to this time of searching the shadows, of not yet, of embracing mystery and the awe and imagination it invites, of sensing what we cannot yet see…