What do you think it really means to live by faith? Growing in faith is about learning to trust during those times when we cannot see clearly and cannot understand what is happening in our lives. Faith is very much about what we choose to do when we are afraid.
Faith is sometimes referred to as light. Joyce Rupp, in her book Little Pieces of Light, reflects on the many different ways in which inner darkness, while not something we find pleasant, is often a naturally occurring and even necessary part of our spiritual growth. She makes the point that sometimes the light, compared to the darkness we are experiencing, can seem very tiny.
Rupp tell she story about how she and some others were preparing a room for a retreat they were directing on the topic of Native American Spirituality. They wanted to provide the people attending the retreat with a prayer experience called “The Pipe Ceremony,” which begins with an experience of total darkness. The darkness of the specially prepared room would symbolize the womb of Mother Earth from which we all come. To prepare the room for the prayer ceremony, the group closed all the windows and curtains, even putting black plastic bags and tape over all the cracks around the doors, hoping to block out all outside light. The ceremony began with the group sitting in a circle as the leader turned off the lights.
Rupp describes the moment when the lights were switched off as an “instant flood of blackness – like falling into a black hole.” Rupp describes how, as her eyes adjusted to the darkness, she began to see “tiny little pieces of light.” These tiny beams of sunlight were penetrating the extremely small holes around the window frames that the tape had not completely covered. She explains how she “smiled deeply inside herself” when she saw those tiny pieces of light through the darkness. In her words, “Yes, I thought, ‘this is what has always sustained me in the tough times. No matter how thick the darkness, the light has always remained.’ This reality has convinced me that I can live through dark experiences and not be overcome.”
As I reflect on my own experiences with inner darkness, whether due to some significant loss and the grief associated with it, or deep fear and anxiety, I am able to relate to Rupp’s description of feeling like I am falling into darkness, “a black hole.” Rupp shared her experience of needing to let her eyes adjust to the sudden darkness during her retreat experience before she could see the tiny pieces of light. In the same way, when tragedy or something unexpected throws us into sudden darkness. This waiting on the tiny pieces of spiritual light are a way of “waiting upon the Lord” in our relationship with God.
Looking back on the difficult periods in my life, the light, tiny though it may have been, has always remained, eventually becoming visible. During my times of inner darkness, it has always come down to my personal choice of deciding to follow that seemingly tiny light of faith, reaching out to God for help and mercy from within my inner darkness. Sometimes this has meant just putting one foot in front of the other until the overwhelming darkness begins to dissipate. We can also choose to turn away from the light in complete despair. That I have also done for brief periods of time.
I like to think of faith as being like the flame of a candle, which by its very nature is very fragile. It is always on the verge of being extinguished. Yet, when I have been able to remain open in times of inner darkness, I have discovered that the flame never goes completely out. At times I have seen it grow awfully dim. But it is still there, a tiny piece of light that guides me during difficult times.
Sometimes it is necessary to wait in our darkness while our inner eyes adjust to that darkness. It is then that the tiny pieces of God’s light and presence can be seen. If you can be patient for just a while and resist the urge to panic when darkness and confusion come upon you, no doubt the fragile but powerful light of faith will emerge out of the darkness to light your path.
Lord, it is hard to wait in darkness. The confusion, pain and uncertainty make me fearful. In these moments, help me to wait for my inner eyes to adjust. Help me to be patient and to wait for you to reveal your presence. Give me the strength and the desire to turn toward the light that you provide, and to allow it to guide me. Amen.