Hello Darkness my old friend ....
Updated: Feb 11
The last few days I have struggled to write. I have struggled to be.
And this is also a part of the story of alienation that I promised to tell...
Darkness weighed upon my spirit in the form of a seemingly unending monotone of days sharply contrasted with the jagged hurt present at every turn. Yet today, Simon and Garfunkle's song - sound of silence -- resonated in my mind. But not their version, the one offered by Disturbed.
The deep resonating timbre of his voice,
the grayness of the music video,
the haunting orchestral background,
the angst piercing my imagination
penetrated my paralysis.
This led me back to a poem by Magdalena Gomez that spoke to me at the beginning of my PhD work on engaging with suffering in an evolutionary world. It was published in the Parliament of World Religions and I published this again at the beginning of my text on Suffering with her permission. Please check out my text to reflect on it further ... LINK. But here is the last stanza...
Seek the eyes of Death as Lover, bestowing compassion;
as Prophet, foretelling the uselessness of anything less than love.
— Magdalena Gómez
In the last century, adventures in science and technology, as well as expressions of creativity and innovation in art, economics, literature, music, sociology, and many other disciplines, have let us imagine our world, ourselves, and our Creator in new ways. When we turned our attention to the heavens, we discovered that life emerged from a singular moment of great cosmic exuberance and the subsequent primordial furnace crafted the elements hydrogen, helium, and a smidgen of lithium. Later, this material formed stars, which ultimately gave birth to the elements— such as calcium, oxygen, iron, and carbon— that would eventually make the physical face of Earth, help build human societies, and provide the materials that course through our veins, comprise our genes, fill our cells, and fabricate our bones. Humanity learned that we and all that we see around us is stardust.
But what about darkness, death, suffering, pain, disintegration ... where do these fit in?
This week when I explored the ground beneath my feet
the earth spoke to me about darkness.
I remained here quite a while, unable to move past this.
That was, until it whispered of the new life intertwined with death and loss.
As our acuity of our beautiful and dynamic world improves,
so too does our appreciation that this evolutionary world is perfused with
incalculable levels of suffering, violence, and death spanning 13.8 billion years.
The soil beneath my feet is no stranger to this loss, violence, and suffering. This is a space where our neighbors are tasked with decomposing matter from a complex form (like a raven's body) into its simplest units (proteins, calcium, iron) to be reincorporated into another life form.
This is the inherent suffering connected to our membership in this finite world. This is the great abyss of darkness that is part of our identity and our old friend who seeks to bestow on us Wisdom. Over the years scientific, technological, and medical advancements have allowed us to be insulated from some of this inherent suffering. We have used our God given talents to alleviate suffering (e.g., infection, tooth decay, heat exhaustion) and this has always been part of our vocation as human sojourners on this planet.
But this insulation has led us to believe we can deny this dark part of ourselves entirely. In our quest to relieve suffering we have alienated ourselves from the Wisdom Magdelena Gomez alludes to and Sister Death that St Francis was intimately akin with.
Praised be You, my Lord, through our Sister Bodily Death, from whom no living man can escape. St. Francis Canticle of the Sun
But what possibly can darkness impart to us as an old friend?
I find two places of solace:
Leaning into the darkness reminds us that we are not separate from the destructive and creative impetus of the universe.
The story Earth has told us for millennia is that from death and darkness comes new life. I found myself remembering my connectivity to a planet who consistently shows strength in transformation.
Perhaps then, so could I.
Each year Earth tells a prophetic story of new life after death. The brilliant green leaves of deciduous trees wither and die in the fall -- and their death feeds the teeming life in the soil below. In the death throes of the leaves, the pigment chlorophyll is broken down and other pigments (carotenoids and anthocyanins) are free to reveal themselves in a brilliant array of yellows, oranges, reds and purples. This fiery display takes our breath away and leaves an impression on our imaginations to carry us through the long dark days of winter. Upon the warmth and wet of spring, the story continues. Leaves bud anew and help to feed a new season of life.
When you come across trees and leaves on your path, ponder a while on the story that they are telling. How could your seeking of intimacy with the darkness in Earth's unfolding story reveal more depth of nuance to the cruciform story of Christ?
The second place of solace is so important -- I hope that my readers have not stopped with the task named above.
Be very aware that some suffering is inherent to a finite, unfinished world. But some suffering is inflicted by humanity and can -- and must -- be eradicated.
Montreal massacre of 14 women
Humanitarian Crisis in Yemen
When I looked at the ground beneath my feet this week, I admit I could not see
beauty and interconnectedness.
I saw the loss of wilderness in the cemented sidewalks.
I saw political division.
I saw the spindly remains of a recently clear cut forest.
I saw people choosing to not wear masks.
My mind lamented at how these actions all manifest our alienation from Earth. We are infatuated with a human declaration of autonomy that ignores a basic truth: we are all intertwined in a cosmic story and our well being is connected with the rest of the world. The idea that "I am an island" and that human choice (and human expectation) trumps biological reality is an enticing story to believe. But it is not true. It is not who we are nor reflects Whose we are -- a Triune communion.
The lives of our neighbors demand that we seek to awaken from this denial and dismantle this illusion of separateness and human superiority. COVID19 has shown what Earth thinks of our economic systems and social customs.
Remember the poem above:
...illusions gathered as gold purchase denial.
A friend sold on the auction block; faithful Wisdom goes with her.
Our delusion of being separate and more important than creation also feeds other delusions in need of dismantling: white supremacy, religious supremacy, gender supremacy, economic supremacy. This is the great work of our historical moment. We must lean into the darkness as a old friend and reflect on the tools we have to appreciate this wisdom. And then act with abandon to dismantle illusions and liberate our neighbors.
The darkness in my spirit forced me to lean into the darkness inhabiting my dwelling place. And here it spoke of the futility of anything less than love.
Love my human neighbors who look, live, and love differently than I do
Love my other-than-human neighbors who look, live, and love differently than I do.
Here is your task as a subject in this unfolding story:
Lean into your the darkness in the spaces of your life. Be gentle yet aware.
What wisdom does Sister darkness and death speak to you?
Where does it lead you?
How does interconnectivity demand justice for all?
Draw, sing, write, dance -- take time to creatively express your thoughts and feeling. Many complex aspects of this wisdom will resist written expression.