Shuck and Jive

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Embracing the Dark

In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.  Mark 1:35

Mark’s gospel is the busiest of the four gospels.   In Mark, one of the most common words is “immediately.”   Immediately, Jesus does this.  Immediately, Jesus does that.  Jesus is on the move, preaching, healing, and casting out demons.  He passes from one town to the next, from one emergency to the next.   In the first few verses of the opening chapter of Mark, Jesus has been baptized, tempted by Satan in the wilderness, calling disciples, teaching in the synagogue, casting out an unclean spirit, healing Simon’s mother-in-law, and for an evening nightcap,

“they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons.  And the whole city was gathered around the door.  And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons…” (1:32-33) 


In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.  (1:35)

We aren’t sure how long he is able to be alone.  The next verses read:

“And Simon and his companions hunted for him.  When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.”  (1:36-37)

Little rest for the righteous.

As I reflect on this passage, I think it is nice to be needed.  It is good to be able to do meaningful things that help others.  It must have felt good to do good.   I also notice that I am exhausted just reading it.    Jesus healed people all day and all night.   The text doesn’t tell us, but we might well assume that there are sick left unattended.   A healer’s work is never done.

Mark is careful to tell us that Jesus took time “while it was still very dark” to find a deserted place and pray.    You can define what it means to pray in your own way.  Personally, I walk my dogs.    

Some people meditate.  Others run.  Others practice yoga.  Some sit quietly with a sacred text or icon.  My mother would pray while she tended her garden.   Maybe there is a right way or a wrong way to pray.   I’ll leave that for others to judge.   We do need our “down time”--our deserted place in the dark time, however we practice it.  

I find myself exhausted by the news that comes at us 24/7 through our smart phones.   I get a case of compassion fatigue just from reading the latest reports and analysis from and about Gaza, Iraq, and Robin Williams.   Not only the news of the suffering of strangers fatigues me.   The suffering of those I know including my own worries is enough to send me to a deserted place in the dark for a long time.   

The wise tell us that we need to practice the dark ways in the deserted places, in part, so we don’t end up in them.   Also, we need the dark to keep our balance and to find what the dark has to offer us.    A beautiful book is Learning to Walk in the Dark by Barbara Brown Taylor.  This book is an invitation to embrace the dark, both physically and metaphorically.   It is in the dark that we find the sacred.    God comes to us in the dark.    

I am going to explore the dark this Fall during worship by looking at biblical texts that feature darkness as place to touch the Holy.   If light is the via positiva filled with action and good works, the dark is her lover, the via negativa, whose work is emptying, receiving, and solitude. 

In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.  Mark 1:35


  1. John - this is beautiful. "God finds us in the dark." Alhumdullilah, He does. As Pr. Paul Heins, First Presby of Logan, UT, said "God promises not to remove the darkness, but to walk with us through it." After I got back from Palestine and discovered that this (then to me) local pastor had said that I took a hold of it and I've never let go. God, Allah, promises to walk with us through it, if we can see him. Sometimes the dark is shrouded so He can't be seen, but he is still there.

    God is also in the light. In the past months I've discovered laughter again. I mean, really, laughter as a part of my daily life. Today I laughed when I found out that my friend Mai and I are finalists for a grant that would take me back to Jordan. I continued laughing at the ludicracy of how much work it will take to implement what we proposed in the grant, but then I laughed at the joy of potentially getting to see 'Amman, and dear ones again. God, Allah, I know is a part of that laughter.

    God, Allah, is also, for me, in those moments when I put things in perspective. When I remind myself that a lost object is nothing in compared to lost lives and homes that so many many dear people are experiencing in Gaza and Syria. When I think about stupid politics at work in comparison with what is going on in other places at work. When I compare my life 5 years ago, to my life now. Allah is here, walking with me through the perspective making.

    I think sometimes we maybe embrace the dark too much and look for God, look for Allah, there more than we should. Maybe that's just me. Maybe I've spent so much time in the darkness that now, during this time of more light, I want to find Allah there too. Maybe others don't need what I need - maybe they need to find guidance in the dark - something I have too much experience doing.

    Anyhow. I'm rambling. I love that you are still out there being a radical Presby pastor and writing about being human and radical all in one. I recently took shahada and have been following Islam. Because of people like you, Paul Heins, and others I know to look for the radically progressive Islam. You all have taught me that I can be extremely religious while also being radically liberal. I also suspect that I will always be welcome in your church, and a few others. Folks like you understand that that it's okay that people seek and see Allah differently, and still welcome us at the table of God's Kingdom.

  2. Thanks for sharing that! The balance between light and dark is a good place. I love that you are "extremely religious and radically liberal!" Absolutely!