Into the deep


This autumn, I can see (from my previous posts!) that I have been reflecting on the darkness that is part of us all, and part of the journey of our lives.  Without the darkness  we do not witness the Light.

Now, we are entering the season of darkness.  In the liturgy of the Church, this is the season of Advent – which means, “coming.”  The symbolic meaning is that this time is the time before the Light returns – the Light of days turning longer, of the seasons passing from light to twilight, from twilight and once again, to darkness, and then –  leaning toward light.

From times that pre-dated the Christian era in world history, people of all cultures have honored the Coming of the Light – solstice celebrations, dances in nature on the darkest night, giving way to the first moments of the longer days, the Arriving.  Christians took on the traditions of the past and made them their own, while still honoring the passages of time, of life, and of death.

In the past few years, I have had the privilege of having my eyes open to the changing of the light, from moment to moment, from day to day, from season to season, and now, from year to year.  This past Sunday morning, I called my husband into our room from his morning preparations.  For a moment, the Asian maple outside our bedroom windows was blazing – yes, blazing! – with light.  And in another moment, this blazing light was gone.

Still, we were privileged to have witnessed that blazing red maple.

The years seem to pass this way, also – quickly, darting from one to the next.  Where did those long, long days of summer as a child go?  Where did the winters, never-ending, in the Midwest, with the wicked winds off Lake Michigan, and the darkness that did not ever seem to give way to light?  Where did those long days, confined to bed as a child with the measles, go?  How long ago those dark, cold Christmas Eves when the church was filled with the light of candles, and each child received a box of chocolate-covered cherries for her efforts at memorizing the story of Christmas?  Where are those anxious years of young adulthood, wondering whether I could really make a life for myself?  Where are all those worries, those uncertainties, those conflicts that seemed to be the last?  Where have they all gone?

Like dust, they have flown away, away from me.

Now, I am here, honoring the light and the darkness, watching the days move and change, from moment to moment.  Here I am, grateful for this blessed time, when I fall in love with life more deeply, every day.  I see the seasons change each day in the branches and leaves of my beloved birch tree, outside my front window.  I see the birds change, too, as the seasons change, now in autumn, flitting quickly from branch to branch, and then on to another tree, in search of food for another day.  I see the machine-like movements of the local squirrels, squirreling away food for the winter.  I see how strong – and how vulnerable – each creature is to the changing of the seasons.

We face into time, more conscious of it as we grow older.  We face into time, savoring what we can from what we have saved, learning to trust, more and more, as a child learns to trust, one step, then another, on her wobbly, chubby legs, and then – to walk.

Now, we face into the time of Darkness, before the Coming of the Light.  That Darkness is in you, and it is in me.  And surely, surely, so is Light.

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven.”



Reflections on what is dark in us

“Maybe it is the dark and shadowy voices themselves that lead us to freedom.” – Mary Elyn Bahlert, November, 2015


I wrote those words in my last post.   A new thought: that the places of darkness in ourselves lead us to freedom.  It is the things we dislike, the problems, the pain, the depression, the unremembered memories, the things that have hurt us, that lead us into the light.

And isn’t that the way it is?  If we are in a dark hallway, we search with our hands for the light switch.  The darkness causes us to reach for the light.

If the darkness leads us into the light, then we give thanks, even for the darkness, for that is the One Who Saves, who leads us to freedom.  Without the pain in my own life, I would not have searched for the light.  Without the pain – had I only been in the dusk – I would not have searched frantically, and with earnestness, and with all of my resources, for the light.

But I did.

This is a post of hope.  The hope is this – and hope, hope is always complete, whole, not something fragile, but something strong – the hope is that we can be grateful, always, and with our whole selves, for those darker, shadowy, nagging parts of ourselves.  We can be grateful for the painful parts of ourselves.

I have seen it over and over again, this reaching for the light that comes from those who are in pain.  When I think of people who don’t seem to need the light, I think they  have not been awakened in the night by their pain, by their roiling minds, by their physical pain.  In a way, they are the ones who have not been given the gift of light.

In my own life, I have the great pleasure of having walked with People of the Light.  These are the people to whom I turn when I want to lay out myself as I am; to these people I give the gift of my doubts, my sorrows, my sadness, my longings that have not been fulfilled.  These are the people who listen, silently, and who nod, silently, as they listen.  These are the ones who can be trusted with my journey, my convoluted, circuitous, unclear journey.  These are the ones who do not offer me solutions.  Instead, they only give me the beauty of their presence.  They hold a place for my own darkness because they have witnessed that darkness in themselves.  And that is enough.

In its own way, the darkness is enough.

In the world, I see this darkness, of course.  And I see how we frantically try to get rid of the darkness, we put it out of sight, we kill it.  Then, it rises up again.  It rises up in all of us, for when we answer darkness with darkness, we only go further into the darkness, ourselves.  We have not turned to the light.  We have not wrestled the gift from the darkness.


Today, my heart is with the people of France, of Paris.  In this time of mourning, mourning for lost lives and for lost innocence, may they be comforted.  My prayer is that their leaders will lead them toward light, turn away from the darkness.



On perfection…

IMG_0614         This, this is perfect!

When I was ordained, I was asked the question: “Are you going on to perfection?” That question is based on the 18th century writings of John Wesley, who is credited with beginning the Methodist movement in Christianity.  In case you are wondering, I answered “yes!” with gusto, when asked.  After all, I wanted to be ordained!

What a perfect question that was, for me!  In the years following, I began to know more clearly and intimately those parts of myself that did want to be perfect.  Those parts of myself were not easy to acknowledge and to accept.  After all, most of us work hard to be perfect to make up for something about ourselves we do not think is perfect.  The word for that, I believe, is “shame.”  Unless you have confronted your shame – and we all are victims of that beast – you cannot be rid of the powerful and oppressive voices that demand you be “perfect” in order to face the world, your world.  I know I am not the only one who has been oppressed by shame.  I have friends who actually talk about those things.

Confronting the shame and the voices led me to freedom.  If you are in the process of looking your shame in the face, I salute you, and I will pray for you.  You are one who has embarked on a holy journey.  It will not be easy.  But you are being led to freedom.  Maybe it is the dark and shadowy voices themselves that lead us to freedom.  I am not certain about that.  I do know that we cannot be truly free, that we cannot be fully ourselves, unless we have had the courage to face those darker places, those shadows.  Those shadows are demanding and unrelenting.  But unless we face them, we will not, we cannot be free of them.


Now that I am older and I have the time and the perspective to look at my life in a different way – perhaps through a different lens – I begin to see that those who have taken the path of faith and growth before me meant something else by words like:  “perfection.”  They meant instead, wholeness.  We don’t get to wholeness by ignoring our shadowy selves.  We don’t get to wholeness by simply demanding of ourselves and our partners in life that we be happy, or good, or smart.  We don’t get to wholeness by refusing to accept our fears and our pain and that shame that is in us.  We get to wholeness by looking at those things, by bringing them into the light.

“Come into the light,” Beauty, to the Beast.

I have less patience these days for folks who have not looked at that darkness in themselves.  Something is missing, there.  I suppose I could be more kind, have more patience, but I want more, something is missing when I find myself with people who only want to see the shadow, the darkness, in others.  Because if we have not looked that part of ourselves squarely in the face, seen it for all its power and pain, then we can only project it out, into our own world.  And if that darkness has not been seen, been acknowledged, then that darkness is still there, lurking under the positive attitude.  Unless one has “gone  on to perfection,” they have not had the courage – or the stupidity – to take that journey to the deeper places in themselves.

And so, I continue to “go on to perfection,” in the words of that 18th century seeker of life.  I continue the journey, although it is easier these days than it has been in years past.  I note that the words are “going on,” implying movement.  Yes, life is movement.  The learnings of the past are not the same as the learnings of today.  The world, the universe gets bigger, all the time.  I am not as limited by my own values and what I think is right or proper, or good.

Ahhhhh… that feels fine, for the moment.  And I’m not even perfect – yet!