Tuesday, December 3, 2019

The Power of the Dark

Long ago, as an English major in undergraduate school, I thought about the impact of traditional use of the symbolism of dark and light.  I knew that for most of our literary history, at least the literary history I studied, light has been used to signify good and darkness has been used in conjunction with evil and depravity.

I only recently began to think about the social implications of the dark and light imagery in our spiritual writing, specifically the Bible and all the works that analyze the Bible.  I'm embarrassed to admit that fact--as early as the 80's, I was cognizant of the problems of dark = evil and the implications for racial justice in non-church settings, but I didn't see it in church?

To be fair to younger Kristin, I was likely aware back then, and I added it to the long list of problems I had with all things church.  And I suspect that I'm not the only one who can revise a lot of spiritual imagery while forgetting to return to the Nativity texts.  There's something about learning that material as a child that gives me a huge blind spot as an adult returning to them.

And yes, I'm aware that in this area, I'm a textbook case of white privilege.  I am grateful to theologians who have helped me become aware of my blind spot, and I am sorrowful that those theologians are still having to do this work in our larger culture.

For several years, I've been diligent about substituting light and dark imagery for other ways of talking about health/good and sickness/bad.  But I've only just begun to think about the ways that we might subvert these ideas.

What if darkness was the way we thought about health and goodness?  How would we tell our religious stories differently?

In a sermon at All Saints Church in Pasadena, Wil Gafney shows us how powerful this inversion of light and darkness can be.  It's the kind of sermon that makes me gasp in delight, while also realizing how far I have to go in my sermon writing skills.  She writes with the skill and precision of a poet and the fierceness of a social justice warrior.

From the very beginning of the homily, we have a sense of the power of her words:  "In the velvet darkness, darker than a thousand midnights down in a cypress swamp, this luminous darkness, this radiant blackness, the wholly black and holy black womb of God pulsed life into the world against a tapestry of holy life-giving darkly radiant blackness, shaping, molding, knitting, coalescing earthstuff from starstuff from Godstuff. All before uttering the first word."

The rest of the sermon is just as breathtaking.  It's a perfect reading for the first week of Advent--or for any time we need a reminder of the what God can do.

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