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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Embracing the Dark


In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.  Mark 1:35

Mark’s gospel is the busiest of the four gospels.   In Mark, one of the most common words is “immediately.”   Immediately, Jesus does this.  Immediately, Jesus does that.  Jesus is on the move, preaching, healing, and casting out demons.  He passes from one town to the next, from one emergency to the next.   In the first few verses of the opening chapter of Mark, Jesus has been baptized, tempted by Satan in the wilderness, calling disciples, teaching in the synagogue, casting out an unclean spirit, healing Simon’s mother-in-law, and for an evening nightcap,

“they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons.  And the whole city was gathered around the door.  And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons…” (1:32-33) 

Finally,

In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.  (1:35)

We aren’t sure how long he is able to be alone.  The next verses read:

“And Simon and his companions hunted for him.  When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.”  (1:36-37)

Little rest for the righteous.

As I reflect on this passage, I think it is nice to be needed.  It is good to be able to do meaningful things that help others.  It must have felt good to do good.   I also notice that I am exhausted just reading it.    Jesus healed people all day and all night.   The text doesn’t tell us, but we might well assume that there are sick left unattended.   A healer’s work is never done.

Mark is careful to tell us that Jesus took time “while it was still very dark” to find a deserted place and pray.    You can define what it means to pray in your own way.  Personally, I walk my dogs.    


Some people meditate.  Others run.  Others practice yoga.  Some sit quietly with a sacred text or icon.  My mother would pray while she tended her garden.   Maybe there is a right way or a wrong way to pray.   I’ll leave that for others to judge.   We do need our “down time”--our deserted place in the dark time, however we practice it.  

I find myself exhausted by the news that comes at us 24/7 through our smart phones.   I get a case of compassion fatigue just from reading the latest reports and analysis from and about Gaza, Iraq, and Robin Williams.   Not only the news of the suffering of strangers fatigues me.   The suffering of those I know including my own worries is enough to send me to a deserted place in the dark for a long time.   

The wise tell us that we need to practice the dark ways in the deserted places, in part, so we don’t end up in them.   Also, we need the dark to keep our balance and to find what the dark has to offer us.    A beautiful book is Learning to Walk in the Dark by Barbara Brown Taylor.  This book is an invitation to embrace the dark, both physically and metaphorically.   It is in the dark that we find the sacred.    God comes to us in the dark.    

I am going to explore the dark this Fall during worship by looking at biblical texts that feature darkness as place to touch the Holy.   If light is the via positiva filled with action and good works, the dark is her lover, the via negativa, whose work is emptying, receiving, and solitude. 

In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.  Mark 1:35