Monday, December 29, 2014

Waiting in the Dark

I preached this sermon on Sunday December 28, 2014 at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the Outer Banks.

Story for All Ages:  If You Are Afraid of the Dark, Remember the Night Rainbow by Cooper Edens
Reading:  excerpt from Henri Nouwen's Bread for the Journey, Jan. 8 reflection
"Often we want to be able to see into the future. We say, "How will next year be for me? Where will I be five or ten years from now?" There are no answers to these questions. Mostly we have just enough light to see the next step: what we have to do in the coming hour or the following day. The art of living is to enjoy what we can see and not complain about what remains in the dark. When we are able to take the next step with the trust that we will have enough light for the step that follows, we can walk through life with joy and be surprised at how far we go. Let's rejoice in the little light we carry and not ask for the great beam that would take all shadows away."

Sermon:  Waiting in the Dark

When I was a child I was afraid of the dark.  I always slept with a night light and I remember being nervous the night of my first confession because the box was dark and I was worried about being in the dark. Confession boxes when I was young were small dark rooms with a kneeler in front of screen. When it was your turn, you went into the room and knelt down, waited for the screen to open. As I looked around in the church the night of my first Confession, I realized there was about an inch between the floor and the door that would let in just enough light and I would be ok. I was ok.  About a year or two later, the confession boxes were renovated.  They installed lights and gave an option to sit down face to face with priest.  How many of us go through times of being afraid of the dark?  How many of us go through times of our lives that are dark and often scary?

The dark can be a scary place.  Things do not look the same in the dark. It is hard to walk because we can’t see all the things we could run into.  If it is both dark and quiet, we hear all the sounds that are normally drowned out.  The shadows and the sounds, can make the dark a very scary place indeed.

Yet it is in the dark that each of us begins.  Life begins in the dark – whether the seeds of plants or an egg. All life begins by waiting, growing and changing in the dark until it is ready to come into the light.  Life requires both darkness and light – it cannot flourish just in the light.

We also have times in our life when we need the darkness, we need that time of rest, renewal and to experience re-birth.  One of my favorite poems is Sweet Darkness by David Whyte. It begins, “When your eyes are tired the world is tired also. When your vision has gone no part of the world can find you. Time to go into the dark where the night has eyes to recognize its own.”  In the poem the darkness is a place of healing, of renewal.

In our reading from Henri Nouwen we are cautioned against planning too far ahead, of being so busy planning our lives that we cease to live them.  Nowen reminds us that we only need enough light to take the next step, to trust that there will be enough to take the next one, and that we will continue to get just the light we need to move forward.  In this he says we will be free to live in joy and surprise with less anxiety about what is coming next.  For Nowen we let go of our fear of the dark, our anxiety about what we don’t know or can’t see and then we are free to live fully in the present.

I confess that I do not do this very well.  I want to know where I am going. I want there to be a plan. I want to make a choice and stick with it.  For those of you who are Myers-Briggs knowledgeable yes I am a J meaning I like plans and closure.  I like structure.  All of this is in stark contrast to be at peace with the dark and letting myself just live fully into the present.  Yet I know there is great truth in Nouwen’s words.  We can’t have a five or ten year plan for our lives because we, as frightening as this is, do not have control of all the events.  We are not single entities, we are connected beings to one another, to other life, to the planet.  So much of our current politics and culture try to convince us that we just need the perfect plan, or the perfect item, or course, or book or workshop and then we will be in control, able to live the life of our dreams.  Our culture tries to convince us that we can make it on our own, that actually to need others or assistance makes one weak. Yet what if our dreams are too small?  What if there is so much more than we can imagine? What if the real truth is that we are stronger and can do so much more when we work together, help each other out and recognize the ways we are connected?

That is where sitting in the dark, being still may bring forth a bigger dream than we could do with all our planning.  Sitting in the dark may allow us to leave room for Spirit, for inspiration, for our authentic selves to come out of hiding and show us something that the light could not.  Parker Palmer when talking about the authentic self, the soul, describes it as shy. Our authentic self after having been pushed aside for so long, cannot be chased out. One must wait, one must prove oneself trustworthy, and then the authentic self, which has so long waited, will show itself.  Darkness allows for that. It slows us down.  There is a natural silence and quiet that comes with the dark.  It invites forth what has been hidden.

Yet too often we run. We run from our authentic selves, from our dreams, from being quiet or still for too long.  It can be a frightening thing. What might we find there, in the dark, in the quiet?  Yet our story today offers fanciful remedies.  If you are afraid of the dark, remember the night rainbow. A night rainbow – what a wonderful image – just sit with that for a  moment. What does a night rainbow look like? If night falls, use stars for streetlights.  The writer invites us to imagine new possibilities if our worst fears were to happen.  If you lose the keys throw away the house.  If the moon gets stuck in a tree, fill the hole in the sky with a strawberry. If there is no happy ending, make one out of cookie dough.

Is the dark calling to you? Is it time to spend some time in the dark, listening to the silence, watching the shadows?  Are you needing a time of rest, lying fallow until what is next is ready?  What is waiting to born in you? What seeds are you planting?  Are the seeds just beginning their long journey to becoming a plant or a flower or a wonderful fruit or vegetable?  Are the seeds you planted almost ready to burst the surface and into the light?  What is it you are waiting for in this season of darkness?

I invite each of you as 2014 comes to an end, as the season of winter and darkness is just beginning to take the time to sit in the darkness.  I invite you to wait in the dark and discover what is there waiting for you. Maybe it is a dream long delayed or one that you could have never imagined.  Maybe it will be a time of rest and renewal; a time to simply step back from the busyness and brightness of the days, to discover the quiet and rest of the dark.

May you trust that you will have enough light to take the next step.  Blessed Be!

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