Faith in the Dark

“She used to be afraid she was the only one in the world who could not make sense of things.”

[Lila, Marilynne Robinson]

Night-Driving-Synchroblog

I stood at the kitchen window recently, washing up the breakfast dishes, listening to Martyn Joseph, looking out at a familiar (gloomy and mizzley) kind of Northern Irish morning.

And I felt so at home.

Literally, figuratively.

If my husband had been about his ears would have picked up at the gravelly tones of the Welsh man.  He goes on ‘pensive alert’ when he hears me listening to Martyn Joseph.  (What is she thinking about NOW?)

The rain is a strange kind of friend, he sings.  Lost my soul in the sound of the rain again.  My strange friend.

I stood at the kitchen window, feeling at home.  Pensive.  A little melancholy, even.  And I thought that THIS is what faith feels like to me now.  And I realised that maybe it always will.

*

There is a verse in Jeremiah that reads like this in the Message:

“The light you always took for granted will go out and the world will turn black.”

The light you always took for granted.

Doesn’t that line resonate deeply with any of us who grew up careless in our certain faith, whose favourite songs were about light, about letting it shine?

I once danced in a conga line around an Eastern European university campus singing “We are marching in the light of God.”  I know, now, that a novelty dance paired with a protest song (true meaning then lost on me) wasn’t an expression of true faith, or light.  But still, it’s easy to look back and say my faith then was strong, and my pensive, rainy-day faith is not.

*

A few years ago, when my children were at their tiniest and I couldn’t find a place for my tiredness and neediness at church on a Sunday morning, I found it on a Thursday night in a Belfast pub.

We got a last minute babysitter, drove through the November dark and rain, to slip in to a gig that was half over, just in time to hear Martyn Joseph sing “are you down to your last ray of hope?”.

And I thought how hard it could feel, when you slip in to the back row of church, but how good it felt, here.

I thought how, maybe, if those were always the opening lines we heard in church, then more of us would stay.

*

In Eugene Peterson’s introduction to Jeremiah he explains how in a time when everything that could go wrong did go wrong, Jeremiah was in the middle of it all, writing it out.  He says:

“Anyone who lives in disruptive times looks for companions who have been through them earlier, wanting to know how they went through it, how they made it, what it was like.  In looking for a companion who has lived through catastrophic disruption and survived with grace, biblical people more often than not come upon Jeremiah and receive him as a true, honest, and God-revealing companion for the worst of times.”

Today Addie Zierman’s book Night Driving releases, and people are writing out their stories of faith in the dark for her synchroblog.  I first stumbled across Addie Zierman one tired morning when my youngest was a newborn and her post, Come Weary, was simply the best thing I could have read. Then I discovered she was writing about cynicism like it mattered, that she was de-constructing Christian clichés and reclaiming a faith that had been oversimplified.  From then on I read everything she wrote. For me, reading Addie provides company, breathing space and a way forward in this faith journey.

Addie says that one of her least favourite things about Christian culture is how quickly we skip over the dark spaces of our stories to get to the redemption and beauty and light.  And so she is telling the truth about her own darkness (most often Depression) in her new book, and holding space for others in her synchroblog.

Darkness, for me, comes from not being able to make sense of things, it comes when I think I am ‘the only one’, it comes from the world outside our stained glass windows, and, some days, it just comes from the ‘tired thirities’.

Faith in the dark, though, is a hopeful phrase to me.  It sounds right. Stubborn.  Persisting anyway – scouring sponge in hand.  It’s not a faith that dances the conga, but it’s listening and looking, and it has found companions.

When I think of faith in the dark I think of those companions.  Jeremiah, MJ, Addie, my friend Rachel.  And if the hardest thing about seeing the light you always took for granted grow dim is that you feel you are somehow letting the team down, well then the best thing is that you become the companion when others find themselves in the dark.  I am not going to be leading any revivals, but I am the girl people text when they’ve fled to the church foyer choking back tears or shaking with anger, and I think I’ve learnt that’s important, too.

 

Now the clowns and clairvoyants are aiming at true
In the babble, the rabble, I’m still headed for you
Those masters of war never did go away
And though the bleak sky is burdened I’ll pray anyway
And though irony’s drained me I’ll now try sincere
Cause whoever it was that brought me here
Will have to take me home…

Martyn Joseph

 

 

 


 

PS! These are some of my favourite posts from Addie: More Than You Can Handle, God-Shaped Hole, Anywhere, Anything: On Worship and Hyperbole, Making Your Faith Your Own, An Open Letter to the Church: How to Love the Cynics and The Church & The Cynics: Some Final Thoughts.

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21 thoughts on “Faith in the Dark

  1. So glad I’ve found your blog ! I’ve come via the synchroblog. Your references to Martyn Joseph , Belfast, and everything else in between resonate – I think we speak the same language. We’re not letting the team down. We are the team.

  2. Oh I just love to read your writing my friend. Those dark places are all too familiar to me too – off to read some Addie on your recommendation. I also love the ‘tired thirties’ – totally a thing. xo

  3. I’ve been trying to find a quiet moment to sit a while with your beautiful words, Sharon. I love Addie and I love you, too.
    I am so grateful for stories of faith in the darkness and to those holding space for them. We all need companions to help us stand in the valley. And when we can’t see the light of the mountain, our companions stand with us anyway.
    Love this post, chum. X

  4. This is so beautiful and artful, Sharon. I love the way you went back and forth with the song lyrics and the scripture. So much goodness and wisdom. Thank you so much for your encouragement and kindness and for sharing my book in your beautiful space!

  5. This was lovely. Particularly so for me because I lived in Northern Ireland for a short season and I can picture the rain and the green and doing the dishes. NI has such a special place in my heart and your words take me there and you describe so well how faith feels to me. I love how you describe faith in the dark being hopeful. Stubborn. Persisting anyway – I love that, it’s so true for me as well. Thank you.

  6. Lovely, Sharon. I so identify with this–for a long time I used to compare my rainy-day, pensive faith to my collegiate pre-packaged experience (where it looked great on the outside but on the inside I was going slowly crazy). I’m finding so much more light in my faith now that I refuse to label it as second-rate–and not expect it will always look cheerful or bright.

  7. Thank you for this! I can relate so much. Thank you also for introduction to Martyn Joseph. Just listened to my first song of his, and WOW!

  8. I found you through the synchroblog. I don’t know Addie’s work as much as you do. Thanks for sharing the links of her pieces you like best. I’ll get caught up. I appreciated your own story very much. What can the church do to be an open, safe place no matter what we “feel” about our faith?

    • Thanks Traci. When I first discovered Addie I spent a long time clicking about, finding so many posts I identified with! And that is a great question, one I am going to sit with… Also interested in hearing your thoughts? X

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