Sometimes it feels like you are close to God and you can clearly see the way ahead. Other times, it feels like God switches out the lights. Not only can you not see the way ahead, you cannot see God or feel God or touch God. All you have is darkness. Sometimes God switches out the lights at the worst possible time, when you could really do with some clarity.
So what do you do? What do you do when your faith-walk is shrouded in darkness and you don’t know where you’re going?
To answer this, I need to tell you about cave diving. My son’s favourite program is Jonathan Bird’s Blue World, so I feel like I know a fair bit about this. Scuba diving is risky at the best of times, but diving in a cave is all the more risky. To be honest, I feel a little claustrophobic at the very thought of it. They have to go slowly, making sure they don’t burst their oxygen tanks on the rocks. They have to time it right so that they can get out of the cave before they run out of oxygen. They have all the gear – the masks, the tanks, the flippers, the suit, the torches to provide the light so they can see their way. But if the gear fails, and they find themselves in the cave in the dark, the only way out is a simple one.
In cave diving, they always have a rope at the side of the cave. It’s like a diver’s code – they always have a rope set up for other divers. In an emergency, that’s what you do – you grab onto the rope and follow it out.
For me, this is what liturgy is. It is the guide-rope of centuries of Christian voices who whisper to future generations – this is the way out of the dark. Just hang on and follow it out.
Whenever I am in the dark, when I feel like I am abandoned in a cave and I don’t know how long my oxygen will last, I look for the rope. I listen to and repeat the holy words that have been said for centuries.
O God, make speed to save us.
O Lord, make haste to help us.
In the dark, when I have no words to pray, I repeat the prayers of others, and trust that they will be lifted up to God. I say the words, and sometimes they feel real, and sometimes they don’t, but I say them anyway.
Abide with us, Lord Jesus,
for the night is at hand and the day is now past.
I recite scripture, even if it feels dead. I just keep hanging onto the rope, and follow it along, and trust that it will lead me out again.
In the tender compassion of our God
the dawn from on high shall break upon us
To shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death
and to guide our feet into the way of peace (Luke 1:78-79, from Common Worship, 2005)
The darkness never wins. There is always light in the end. But in between, there’s no heroics, nothing much you can do to make the darkness go. You cannot conjure your own light. You just have to keep hanging on to the rope, inching your way out of the darkness. Just keep hanging on. The light will come.
As the night watch looks for the morning
so do we look for you, O Christ.
[quotes are taken from Compline and morning prayer, Common Worship, 2005]
I’m currently fighting a weird flu virus so haven’t been capable of very much at all in the past few weeks, but I really wanted to join in with Addie Zierman’s synchroblog to celebrate the release of her new book. Addie Zierman writes the books I wish I could write, and I am very grateful for her. Check out the other synchroblog entries here (they’re really good) and this wonderful trailer for her book here.
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- What keeps you going during a ‘dark night of the soul’?
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