The Treasures of Darkness Tandy Gilliland Taylor Isaiah 45:3 January 28, 2018
“I will give you the treasures of darkness and riches hidden in secret places, so that you may know that it is I, the Lord, the God of Israel, who call you by your name.” Isaiah 45:3
The treasures of darkness… what could this possibly mean? Everybody knows that the light is good, and the darkness is bad. Everybody knows that the light gives us sight, and hope, and energy; and that the darkness is full of scary things: fear, and doubt, and pain, suffering, evil and death. So what could this verse possibly mean?
In a book entitled Night Visions, Jan Richardson writes, “Often we are fed the untruth that darkness is synonymous with evil and that all that is light and bright is good. At best this belief hinders us from seeing the gifts present in darkness; at worst, it encourages prejudices, however subconscious, against persons with skin darker than our own. We require darkness for birth and growth: the seed in the ground, the seed in the womb, the seed in our souls. In the dark lie possibilities for intimacy, for rest, for healing. Although we may find journeying in the dark fearsome or confusing, it teaches us to rely on senses other than sight. In the process, we learn that darkness bears the capacity for good, even as evil can take place in broad daylight.” (p.2)
So… everything dark may not be evil; the darkness may indeed have gifts to give us. One of the daily treasures of darkness is God’s gift of sleep, which restores our energy, heals our wounds. Scientists tell us that our cells are busy in the night, repairing injuries. Have you ever noticed how a scrape heals during the night? And have you ever felt undecided about something, and then told someone you would “sleep on it”, and then woken up the next morning with a sense of direction, a clarity you hadn’t had the night before? Ps. 127.2 says, “It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for God gives sleep to his beloved.” All our “anxious toil” is not what God wants for us. In sleep, we let go: we let go of our attempts to control of our lives, we let go of our striving, and we rest in God’s grace. We surrender to God. As we drift off, we trust that God is still at work in the world, redeeming all of creation, even while we are asleep. In sleep, we entrust ourselves to God’s care and keeping. Sleep is a precious gift of the darkness.
Throughout the Bible, there are a good many stories about significant things that happen at night. When God calls Abraham, God tells him to look at the stars, and promises that his descendants will be that many. An angel of God wrestles with Jacob in the night, and leaves him only after making a promise to bless him. God speaks to Joseph in a series of different dreams, guiding him to faithfulness that benefits his whole people. The Hebrew people leave Egypt in a great exodus, at night. At night, God parts the Red Sea for their deliverance. And at night, God sends manna from heaven as food in the desert. God speaks to Moses on the mountaintop, in the daytime, but in the midst of a dark cloud. And in the New Testament, God speaks to Joseph in a dream, instructing him to take Mary and the baby Jesus to Egypt, to protect the baby from being killed by King Herod. All of these stories, and many others throughout Scripture, happen in the darkness: God speaks at night, God acts at night, God leads in the darkness. With this as our witness, we can trust that God will will give us, too, these gifts of the darkness, these words of promise, these words of hope, these words of direction. And I wonder: could it be that these things actually happen more easily in the darkness? Could it be that God has a hard time getting our attention in the light of day? Could it be that we’re so busy doing and striving and talking and working… that we don’t notice God in our midst? Could it be that the darkness makes it easier for God to get our attention… whether it’s the literal darkness of the night-time or the metaphorical darkness of our human struggle and pain and loss.
That metaphorical darkness is brutal: when we’re in it, we feel swallowed up by it, whether it’s addiction or grief or a profound experience of betrayal or the effects of abuse, or any number of other things. To the human eye, there’s nothing good about it. Spiritual giants throughout the centuries have called that metaphorical darkness “the dark night of the soul”, which is bereft of meaning, bereft of hope, and excruciatingly lonely. The profound sense of the absence of God is wrenching. So what do we do with these times of utter darkness? No amount of will power can control this darkness, no amount of creativity can manipulate it, no amount of strength can shake it or flee it. So, the question then becomes, How do we walk in the darkness? How do we navigate that treacherous terrain?
In a book entitled Learning to Walk in the Dark, Barbara Brown Taylor examines all kinds of experiences of darkness. In one section, she reflects on the “dark emotions”, such as fear, anger, despair, grief, rage, sorrow. She quotes a woman named Miriam Greenspan, who asks, “Could it be that we use religion to try to bypass these emotions, to dodge these emotions, instead of letting them lead us to embrace them as the best, most demanding teachers we may ever know? Maybe these dark emotions are just unskillful ways of coping with emotions we cannot bear. The emotions themselves are conduits of pure energy that want something from us: to wake us up, to tell us something we need to know, to break the ice around our hearts, to move us to act.” Taylor herself writes, “When I stopped trying to block my sadness and let it move me instead, it led me to a bridge with people on the other side. Every one of them knew sorrow. Some of them even knew how to bear it as an ordinary feature of being human instead of as some avoidable curse. Watching them ride the waves of their own dark emotions, I learned that sadness does not sink a person; it is the energy a person spends trying to avoid sadness that does that.” (pp. 79-80) If we too can let our sorrow and our experiences of despair lead us over that same “bridge” to people on the other side, we may just discover that our individual heartbreak is connected in profound ways to the brokenheartedness of the world; we may just be able to blend our own tears with the tears of the world in ways that bring deep community and hope.
I believe this is part of the power of AA and NA: going over that bridge and discovering people on the other side, people who have learned how to walk in the darkness with integrity, compassion, and love. Here are people who have discovered the treasures of darkness, the gifts that God gives, hidden in secret places. In April, I’m planning to lead a grief support group, so that those of us who have experienced deep loss can find each other, and can learn together how to walk in the darkness with hope and trust, alert to uncover the treasures of darkness. To each and every one of us this day, God makes this promise that Isaiah recorded so long ago: “I will give you the treasures of darkness and riches hidden in secret places, so that you may know that it is I, the Lord, the God of Israel, who call you by your name.” God calls us by name and gives us gifts in unexpected places. Thanks be to God! Amen.