Sunday, September 18, 2016

Dark night of the soul

I preached on Lamentations today. Our pastor was away and some one came to church today just to hear her. Sorry, it's the B team today, we said. It took about five of us but we managed to bring it. I began by noting that Mike Pence was just up the street (literally less than a mile) at First Baptist, Jax. So if any one was looking for him they were in the wrong place. Far smaller crowds but less security at our church.

Lamentations is a book full of darkness. That word comes up a lot. Christian churches don't do darkness well. Barbara Brown Taylor calls most Christian churches "Full Solar Spiritual Centers". They major on the benefits of faith: sure sense of God's presence, certainty of beliefs, divine guidance in all things and answers to prayers. Generally, the sunny side of faith. There is another side. Some times we call it the dark side. Light and Darkness, since the early church people have wanted to divide God's world into two realities with two deities ruling each one. That thinking is still around today.

Lamentations is about a very dark period in the history of God's people. It features the judgment of Judah which resulted in a crushing military victory by Babylon and the exile of most of God's people. Jeremiah, who had predicted this outcome was a mostly despised mouthpiece of God for those predictions. Lamentations is the book that came out of the suffering and pain of the people. There is a brief bit of hope in chapter 3. Four of the chapters begin with a Hebrew word that is usually translated, How? It is a weak translation of a word that means more like, How is this happening to us? God's People? Where is God in the midst of our pain and suffering? Does this mean the end of his promises to us? It sure looked like it. One way to read this book is to remember this is an expression of the way people felt.

It seems like churches can handle a little darkness like when some one comes hurting from a divorce, or a death, or abuse of some kind, depression and other forms of darkness. We offer a community of caring - for awhile. That's the problem we don't do long term darkness well. Eventually, we want to know where is their faith? That should be all they need to turn away darkness.

There is a tradition of Christian spirituality called The Dark Night of Soul. It is associated with St John of the Cross who was imprisoned for his teachings in the mid 1560's. For eleven months he languished in solitary not knowing if he would live or die. He worked out The Dark Night of the Soul. Basically, he said that God allowed his people to go through a long, dark night to strip them of all their illusions, delusions and manipulations of God and his ways. The toxic habits of faith are shed and a new faith begins. Many people who had been raised in conservative churches have found the faith that was given to them was inadequate for the realities of real life in the world. Tossing their faith over they thought they were done with it. But, the desire for God was real, too, So, they begin a process of reconstructing their faith. There is a way to God that emerges out of the dark night. The darkness - my darkness - is not dark to God.

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