Where there is light there is often darkness
The story of my Faith is as much a story of Darkness as it is of Light. There are days when the thorns are more visible than the lilies, when the rains flood my heart with grief, when the hills appear too steep to climb, when the darkness is so thick, light seems illusory. Yet, so too are there moments of blinding Grace, when Truth flourishes so purely and abundantly that it is difficult to breathe, when goodness, mercy, and love flow as if there is no alternative. It is easy for us to recognize these two extremes of Darkness and Light in our lives, and we spend a lot of time religiously seeking out opportunities to experience the latter while resisting, running, or hiding from the former. However, it is much harder to recognize and live into the moments when Truth tangos with Darkness, when God nudges or shoves us into the thorns, when living faithfully means living vulnerably and without certainty. My story of Faith is a story of swirling shadows and dancing sunbeams, of total eclipses and crystal clear starry nights–all phenomena that require both darkness and light to occur. In my work, this looks like an evening playing board games in a police safehouse with an eleven-year-old whose step-father had been sexually abusing her. I am forced to reconcile the laughter I remember with the pain and nausea I still feel when I think about what happened to her. Swirling shadows. It looks like an eight-year-old boy who can’t read who cried when I had to leave because I was the first person of the day to tell him he mattered. I am forced to reconcile the love and pleading in his eyes with the reality that the system designed to support his wildest dreams has failed him. Dancing sunbeams. It looks like a forty-five-year-old high school dropout getting a full-time teaching job in the neighborhood where he grew up after spending ten years in jail for being eighteen and black in the wrong place at the wrong time. It is impossible to reconcile the miracle of his resilience with a society that is content with exiling and forgetting children. Total eclipses. It looks like middle schoolers beginning to recognize the power of their voices in a world that doesn’t want to hear them. It looks like grown men reduced to tears when they realize they can do more than society ever told them they could. It looks like city college students questioning the allocation of resources across the state, cries for help in the middle of the night, and the tiny, fading voice on the other side of the phone that says, “I don’t want to die anymore. Please help.” Crystal clear starry nights.
I feel lucky to have a Faith that is not conditional, that does not focus on virtue or sin but instead dwells in the murky grey where the human spirit—in all its clumsiness and capability—brilliantly and beautifully collides with the universal and revolutionary Love I call God. I also feel lucky that I get to organically witness and intentionally orchestrate these collisions between God and the human spirit on a regular basis in my personal, social, spiritual, and professional lives. For me, this is the core of my calling.
In 2004, when I was sixteen and visiting Sedona, Arizona with my family, I wrote the following poem highlighting the lightness and darkness of my experience with God in nature. Today, I am struck by how the images translate to my life and work in the world. Ultimately, I believe that so long as we remain open and responsive to the Light within us and the Light around us, we will be guided, strengthened, awakened, healed, and ever-inspired, even in the face of darkness.
An Arizona sunrise
Unveils God’s rusty shoulders
Hills formed by the waves of time
And long forgotten seas.
An Arizona sunset
Silhouettes God’s swollen thumbs
Pillars piercing awesome skies
And countless possibilities.
An Arizona sunrise
Brightens God’s eternal steps
Canyons crested gold with sun
And morning’s painted amber haze.
An Arizona sunset
Shadows God’s foreboding jaws
Cliffs protruding out of deserts
Lost within a fiery blaze.
An Arizona morning
Sanctifies God’s azure eyes
Mirrors from which life reflects
And magnifies the orange glow.
An Arizona evening
Alleviates God’s ancient corpse
Majestic darkness blanketing
What morning never fails to show.