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Monday, May 16, 2011

Light in the Darkness

Today is a bright, beautiful day here in Minnesota, and the apple blossoms are nearly in full bloom. I still enjoy the scent of them, even though they still remind me of the acrid pain of tear gas.

The trees are varying shades of green, sprouting baby leaves, early spring flowers including the spring-summer-fall mainstays of dandelions, dot the land with their colorful presence. I noted the shadows playing upon the buildings as the sun continued its journey to the western horizon and I was startled to realize that those aren't shadows we see all year round.

Such a minor observation gave me a new sense of wonder at the order of Creation; such simple things as shadows reveal God's nature and care for us, if we but stop and ponder it, even if we psychosomaticaly tear up and sniff a bit at the scent of blooming blossoms.

Think about it: here in the northland where our winters  are long and harsh, and our summers are hot and humid, God has provided for us the maximum benefit of Creation. As the winter approaches, the temperature drops, and the sun retreats behind the clouds while focusing its power on the equatorial lands, the leaves change into brilliant colors, fall off, and leave the stark skeletal branches of the trees standing as our only testament to the eventual return of life.

It makes sense, though, because in that dark season, we have no need of leaves to shade and cool us, for we seek warmth and light, the things that are so important for survival, and dismally lacking in the cold months of winter. The absence of leaves gives us the maximum amount of light possible, and even when the trees are covered in snow, the light reflects off the myriad of surfaces available on the billions and trillions of tiny snowflakes. A winter's night is far brighter than a summer evening when the moon is full.

God never abandons us to the darkness.

Then, in the summer, when the sun is high and burning in the sky, the clouds have scuttled away, we have need of coolness and shade, and then..then, as the warmth begins to return to us, the trees and plants bloom into full life, so that at the hottest time of the year, we have a maximum amount of shade. Even more, at the very hottest time of the day, as the sun is setting and streaming its heating rays directly into our homes, the shadows of the trees become longer, breaking up the light so that we might have sweet relief as we try to relax after a long, hot day.

God knows that even though we need and crave the light, we also have need of shadows to protect us for we cannot tolerate the full strength of the sun.

The Spiritual Life Requires Light and Darkness

We must have both. The Saints have written about their spiritual journeys, using varying language, but all describe "the dark night" in some way. This darkness is a time where God is especially close, so close that they feel abandoned because they cannot "see" Him. They may have difficulty in prayer, and any joy previously found in devotions is gone. They long, then, for the light, but only later realize that they were so bathed in light that all seemed as darkness. It was only as they drew away into a different stage of the spiritual life that they could recognize God in those shadows, and therefore be renewed in spirit, so to always seek, forever, to reside in the shadow of the Cross. Everyone passes through these smaller nights, for they are like seasons, like winter and summer.

We need the seasons, just as the earth does, for they reveal something to us about God, who in turn uses them to reveal something about ourselves in relation to Him. The seasons of easy Joy and difficult Joy forces us to grow, too.

When we've been through a few of these times, even when we know the Joy that comes from God alone, from loving Him and basking in His love, we also know the bitterness of suffering.

I don't mind that the sweet scent of apple blossoms still gives me the acrid sensation of tear gas, like pepper in my sinuses, something I experienced long ago in training.  I don't mind that effect, for even as I can almost feel it again, it is a reminder of a day I entered into with great fear, yet completed in triumph. It was a day that required my willingness to suffer for something greater, and I will always be a better person for it, and once again, it brings a lesson home to me.

It seems that there is never any real joy without the experience of darkness and shadows, for it is they that give definition to the light. And the light, likewise, reveals the darkness that is not dark to God, but only a place of protection as we struggle in suffering to grow in holiness, in being conformed to Christ.

We are writing this so that our joy may be complete.
Now this is the message that we have heard from him and proclaim to you: God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all.
~ 1 John 1:4-5


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