This homily was first preached at St. Luke’s in Logan Square on December 11, 2019. It was part of a Midweek Advent service in the traditional form of Evening Prayer, but inverting the light/darkness binary in thanksgiving to God for darkness.
For example and context, we read from Isaiah about the treasures of darkness and I wrote this piece Thanksgiving for Darkness in place of the typical Thanksgiving for Light.
Leader: The Lord be with you
And also with you
Let us give thanks to the Lord our God
It is right to give our thanks and praise.
We give you thanks, O God, for your creative power present in darkness
In the beginning when the world was a formless void, your spirit hovered over the darkness of the surface of the deep and by your commands the world became teeming with life.
In the darkness of Mary’s womb you knit together your Son, Jesus, incarnate of flesh and blood, God with us.
In the darkness of the tomb, before the first light of Easter, in the shadows of a graveyard you rose again with a love and a power greater than death.
May your holy mysteries be ever more present with us in the beauty of the darkness of this night.
And this prayer to conclude the prayers of intercession.
Holy Mystery, in the deep of the expanse of this blue-black sky the night is alive. The cosmos is dancing, the whole world is humming, all creation is vibrating in anticipation of your birth. Stir in us also this same yearning to see you born again in a new way here in your gift of darkness. Awaken us to the hidden, unexpected places where you often dwell. Amen.
Feel free to use or adapt either piece with attribution or contact me for the full leader’s guide. Thanks for Ali Ferin for her Christmas Eve service a few years ago which helped me think about these concepts in a new way, and to womanist theologians, especially Kwame Pitts who curated the “Treasures of Darkness” series during Black History Month a couple of years ago on Medium.
A Homily in Praise of Darkness
There is something magical about coming together for church in the darkness, at night. Our normal pattern is to come together on weekends, in the morning. But coming together tonight and during the other midweek Advent services signals that something different is going on here. Our evening services are reserved for set apart seasons of reflection, preparation, and repentance – like Advent or Lent. And we have evening services on our highest of holy days- like the Feast of the Nativity on Christmas Eve, or the Easter Vigil.
There is something about darkness that captures the mystery of God and our own anxious anticipation. It’s like, we just couldn’t wait until daybreak to be together in union with God and one another. And there is something intimate about it too. In our other relationships, we tend to save these hushed tones and low lighting for romantic dinners or tender lullabies.
Throughout scripture and particularly during this part of the liturgical calendar we spend a lot of time talking about Light. For our Christmas Eve worship you will notice that the paraments and vestments are white and gold and often have images of candles or stars. We talk about how Jesus Christ is the Light of the World that no darkness could overcome. We talk about Magi following a bright stellar light on a dark night. This light and dark binary imagery is found throughout scripture and is something that the church has latched onto in liturgy.
In our context of the United States and white supremacy, though, Black Women, womanist theologians, have asked us to think about the implications of the ways that we use light and dark imagery.
So often God is represented in light and whiteness. We use metaphors about having our sins washed away and being “white as snow” or hear about Jesus transfigured into a blindingly white figure surrounded by light. And often our metaphors – and even the English language in general – use darkness or blackness as symbols of ignorance or sin or brokenness or evil.
The problem with using light to describe God or goodness and darkness to mean something wicked that should be overcome is that this view of darkness is not only supporting the denigration of people with dark skin and propping up white supremacy, this view of darkness is also woefully incomplete. There are other images of darkness in scripture which we often fail to lift up in our worship and conversations about God.
As God was beginning and everything was yet to be formed, God’s Spirit hovered, flitting and floating over the surface of the deep in the darkness. This darkness was present, in the beginning, with God. It was this darkness which first held God’s creative energy as She began to construct everything from the twinkling stars to the mountains to the amoebas and the cosmos and all of human and nonhuman nature. This would begin a trend for God. God’s best creative work happens in darkness. In the mystery and darkness of Mary’s womb God knit together with holy DNA a being that broke all of the rules, God’s own self enfleshed, somehow totally human and totally divine. And it was the darkness of the tomb before first light where Jesus rose on Easter morning, conquering sin and death.
There is something about darkness. Its powerful. At times it feels scary. It holds things we don’t know and can’t control. Darkness is a reminder that there are things out there in the universe that are bigger than us and even unknowable to us.
As is typical of our God, She refuses to be constricted by the false binaries we have constructed. God is both intimately known to us and infinitely unknowable. God is present in both light and darkness and everything in between. Our ancestors, the mystics, knew this and have made beautiful art and poetry about the God we encounter in the dark.
I invite you tonight, especially, to notice the effect the darkness has on your senses. Are there things you are aware of more acutely as you contemplate God in the darkness? What effect does this way of experiencing God have on your body? How have the shadows here revealed to you God in a different way? What unknown, hidden parts of your life is God busy creating something powerful and beautiful and new?