“I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Brith was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these kingdoms,
but no longer at ease here in the old dispensation . . .”–T. S. Eliot
During the early fall months of 2020, I decided to try growing my own vegetable sprouts. Using a sprout kit, I placed the seeds on a prepared cloth in a tray, gently watered them, covered them loosely, closed them inside a drawer, and dubiously left the container in the dark. 48 hours later, to my great astonishment, nearly a hundred tiny green seedlings, like hairs on a newborn head, were sprouting across the bottom of the tray.
“What makes night within us may leave stars.”–Victor Hugo
As a child, I was prone to vividly bad dreams. Those early years were filled with twice weekly sermons delivered by an impassioned country preacher who warned his flock of the wailing-and-gnashing-of-teeth in hell if one remained a sinner. Additionally, this same fervent minister also sprinkled regular doses of sermons that focused on an impending rapture. As an impressionable child, I inferred that if I wasn’t a good girl, free of all sin, I was either doomed to the fiery eternity of hell, or my parents might get called to heaven, via the rapture, without me. Therefore, if I went to bed having committed the slightest of sins–and I was indeed a precocious child–it wasn’t unusual for one of two things to occur. I would either have terrorizing dreams of a flaming hell filled with snakes (My child’s mind added those.) that woke me in a sheer fright, or I would startle awake (not necessarily from a dream) to the silence and shadows of the dark, certain the rapture had taken place, my parents and siblings were gone, and I had been left on earth to suffer the numerous plagues with all of the other sinners.
It is not that I didn’t have the same fears during the daylight; however, my focus tended to be occupied with childhood activities: play, reading, school, and even invented stories that typically began with, “And so she . . . ”. Even when I committed minor infractions, as I often did, and “got into trouble,” my child’s mind was not near as apprehensive during the waking hours as it was at night. The dark, as a youngster, was rife with foreboding and frightening images as all my wrongs seemed to be made more plain–Satan was out to get me in the thick of the night, and God’s love was nowhere to be found.
It was on these nights, I would often call out to my mom.
“Mommy, I had a bad dream.”
I might repeat it several times before she heard.
“Roll over on your other side,” she would groggily declare.
As a mom, I recognize the plight of a young mother who needs sleep. If you can get the kid to self-soothe and go back to sleep without having to get up, that is a win. Plus, the genius is, whether my mom purposefully knew this or not, she gave me an action to solve the problem.
In that moment, I was “no longer at ease” in my little bed after my nightmare. Mom did not deny that I had had a bad dream, nor did she dismiss that I was upset. Instead, she instructed me to roll over, go with the flow, and return to the river of sleep. By following her directive, though my troubling dream still lingered, as smoke lingers in a room long after the smoker has exited, and my heart still pounded, my mind began to shift with the action of turning over. Sleep still did not come easily, even “on the other side,” but I rode out the night anyway. Soon enough, one of my parents would be waking me in the morning, and I would rouse from sleep surprised that I had, indeed, returned to the ebb and flow of sleep.
“Do everything with a mind that has let go,”–John Chan
Throughout most of 2020, and lingering still in 2021, our world is enveloped in the shadow of COVID. It is a night terror, of sorts, from which, as a civilization, we have not yet been able to escape. We have suffered deaths beyond comprehension, and our way of living is no longer at ease. There is no denying that we are living during dark times.
Due to my early childhood experience with hellfire and brimstone sermons, as an adult I find comfort in liturgical based Christian denominations, as well as other faiths, that focus on God’s love and light. I embrace the image of an ever-present, ever-loving God that offers brightness and clarity; and, through the vehicles of prayer, meditation, and a devoted life, Divine Providence will illuminate THE WAY for each of us.
“The LORD spoke these commandments in a loud voice to your whole assembly out of the fire, the cloud, and the deep darkness on the mountain . . .”–Deuteronomy 5:22
However, despite the fears fostered by the sincere believing, well-meaning pastor, this church, nonetheless, instilled within me many wonderful concepts, that to this day, I still honor. Sunday School and Junior Church, as it was called, offered me wonderful Bible stories full of life-long lessons and church history. One such story was the narrative of Moses trekking up a dark and ominous storm-swathed mountain in order to attain Ten Commandments. In fact, as those long ago flannelgraph images presented, God came to Moses, “out of the fire, the cloud, and the deep darkness on the mountain,” in order to give Moses and his people rules for living a faithful life.
We are in the darkness much in the same way Moses had to brave the darkness on his faith-walk up the menacing mountainside. However, as the story of the Ten Commandments reminds us, dwelling in the dark does not mean God is not with us, nor does it mean that nothing good can come of the dark. Seeds burst forth in the darkness of soil. Infants grow in the darkness of the womb. Our body heals, repairs, and builds up its immune system in the darkness of sleep. Stars are only illuminated in the darkness of night.
To be certain, in Eliot’s words, we are “no longer at ease in the old dispensations.” However, let us remember that while God is present in the light, God also dwells in the darkness. Like Moses and his people, and like the journey of the Magi of which Eliot eloquently described in his famous poem, we must be willing to travel in the dark, release our grasp on the past, and die to its previous ways. We must allow our proverbial kayaks to float with the current of life’s river, instead of attempting to paddle against it. This new way of living may even require us to, “roll to the other side.” Nonetheless, like my seedlings in the dark of the drawer, Divine Providence is present in the darkest of times birthing new life.