Last week I hear Addie Zierman talk about her book When We Were on Fire in the context of the darkness of Lent. She grew up in an Evangelical setting that pushed the metaphor of God as Light. She thought God was only real when she felt the light shining on her. God was near when she felt on fire. God was supposed to be exciting and startling, and a life of faith was supposed to be filled with mountaintop moments of light.
Then she started suffering from depression. She tried to fill her life with artificial light, which took the form of wine, television and service. Her instinct was, instead of dwelling in the darkness, to switch on the light. It didn’t keep. The darkness loomed. Consumed. It felt like her chest was filled with cement. She was living in darkness, and she couldn’t find God anywhere.
Since being diagnosed with depression, Addie has had to acknowledge that seeing God as light is just too narrow of a metaphor for her. She had to form a new theology of darkness.
She turned to the Bible to try to find God in the darkness as well as the light. In Genesis 1, we see that God and darkness were all that existed at first. God created light, but the darkness did not go away. God looked at day and night and said that it was good. Indeed, the light needs darkness. We need them both. God dwells in the light, but God is in the dark, too. When God formed a covenant with Moses, it was not in the light of the burning bush. It was at Mount Sinai, where Moses left the people to enter into the thick darkness where God was. It was there a promise was made, and it was from there, when Moses emerged from the darkness, that his face was radiant.
In the darkness of Lent, we seek Jesus in the desolate corners of our hearts. We do not look for God in the burning bush, but in the thick darkness of our neighborhoods. It is a season not to flick on the lights, but to dwell in the darkness and know that God is there with us. We hope, come Easter, when we emerge from the darkness, our faces will be radiant from our encounter as well.