“She used to be afraid she was the only one in the world who could not make sense of things.”
[Lila, Marilynne Robinson]
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.
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…
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.