It was no coincidence that I was humming the refrain of Bruce Springsteen’s song when I left my eye appointment. I was literally “blinded by the light”.
The drops I had received dilated my pupils so much so that I couldn’t keep my eyes open in the bright outdoors. Even on a cloudy day the white snow cover amplified the light so that my treated eyes just could not cope.
Though the doctor promised that within a couple of hours normality would return to my stressed eyes, for the time being I had to wear dark shades to keep the light out.
In this case, darkness was a friend. I welcomed and sought out dark places.
Nicodemus came to Jesus when it was dark.For whatever reason, he needed to find Jesus at night. He knew he couldn’t do this in the bright of day. He knew he couldn’t take the scrutiny and public exposure that confronting Jesus with personal questions, would entail. Darkness surrounded an intimate conversation between Nicodemus and Jesus. It is obvious Nicodemus pursues, under the cover of night, some deep-seeded yearning to learn more about this man, Jesus.
Nicodemus and Jesus talk about new birth and being lifted up to renewed life. Ironically a new vision for life, light and blessing is being born in Nicodemus at night. In the bible, Nicodemus isn’t the only one who likes the dark.
In the first reading today, God blesses Abraham.The word ‘bless’ appears five times in four short verses. Clearly, this passage is about what blessing means. It is through the descendants of Abraham, whose lineage then goes through Jesus, that God’s blessing for the life of all is achieved.
And here we must deal with one of the great paradoxes of the faith.
One the one hand, the blessing of God knows no limits. The blessing upon Abraham has a limitless purpose: “that all the families on earth shall be blessed.” God’s blessing is meant for the benefit of all. God’s blessing is not confined to individual benefit alone.
God’s vision is much more expansive – like the stars in the sky. The blessing of God has a trajectory that does not stop with individual gain. God’s blessing is universal in scope. Anything less is a blessing truncated, even misguided.
This expansive, limitless, trajectory is reflected in one of the most popular scriptures from the New Testament. “For God so loved the world … in order that the world might be saved through [Jesus].”Jesus gave his life and love, for the sake of everyone.
And yet, at the same time, we must acknowledge our individual limits. Whatever blessing of which each of us may be part is only as conduit for the benefit of others.
God blesses Abraham at night. In a parallel passage from Genesis God brings Abraham outside and says to him, “Look towards heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them … So shall your descendants be.”Do you notice the subtext? It is only at night that you can see the stars. At night God gives Abraham the great covenant promise. Like with Nicodemus, it is in the darkness where the most intimate and significant conversation takes place between God and the “father of us all”, in Paul’s words from Romans.
The paradox of faith is that we participate in the vastness, limitless regions of God’s grace but only by respecting and acknowledging our limits.
It’s true about the soul, too: We can only bear so much light.If there’s too much light coming at us, we’re blinded. Light can be as blinding as darkness. Sometimes, we need to turn off all the screens after the sun sets. Sometimes, we need to watch the darkness fall, and be present to it.
We have limits as human beings. Better learn early in life to embrace those limits of sight, limits of physicality, limits of intelligence and knowing, limits of our capability. It will help us down the road.
We cannot presume to bless others — be a conduit of God’s blessing — if we believe we can do anything and everything on our own. We make a mistake when we presume we know what others need before asking them, when we think we understand the truth about others before getting to know them. Unless we first come to terms with and respect our own limitations, we cannot bless others with words of affirmation, gifts or acts of kindness without genuine humility.
On the other side of the paradox, we make a mistake when we don’t trust in the limitless vision of God’s love for everyone, when we limit God into boxes of our own creation, when we act as if God is only on our side. The irony is when we act in ways that respect our limitations, we can be empowered to do incredible things as conduits of God’s blessing for all people.
One piece of advice given to writers is that you must be master of the world you write about. When the setting and subject of the book know no bounds – if it’s a book about this, that, and everything but the kitchen sink – the weaker the writing will likely be. However, if you can contain your world, draw in the boundaries about what you write and limit its scope, the better your writing will be.
Watership Down, written by Richard Adams in 1972, was a fiction tale I read in my early teens. The book left an impression on me that I can still feel to this day. From what I remember, the entire story is written within the confines of a relatively small area of land where rabbits go about their adventures. The story’s telling occurred on this defined area of land above and below it. And yet, within the limited parameters of a unique setting, the author created a compelling masterpiece of plot, character and image.
God’s scope is universal. The trajectory of God’s love and promise knows no bounds. Yet, the way we shall enjoin the work and wonder of God’s Spirit is by seeking God in the darkness of our lives. By acknowledging our weakness. When we fumble and trip and shuffle in the dark trying to find God. When we recognize the limits of our own human being …
Then, we can do so much for good within the container of our own lives. We bloom where we are planted. We exercise the limitless love of God within the parameters of our own circle of life. We reflect the light of God especially in the dark recesses of our soul. The darkness can be a safe, nurturing space. “It’s how we began our life in our mother’s womb and it’s how we restore our life, day by day.”
And we know that for God, there is no dark nor light,only loving presence everywhere and always.
Saint Paul, Romans 4:16
Michael Frost, Surprise the World: The Five Habits of Highly Missional People (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2016), p.35-39.
Psalm 139:12 – “Even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you.”