Shuck and Jive

Thursday, October 08, 2015

Gifts of the Dark Wood, Worship Guide for Fall 2015

Here is the plan for worship for the Fall based on a new book by Eric Elnes, Gifts of the Darkwood:  Seven Blessings For Soulful Skeptics (And Other Wanderers).   An interview with Eric about his book is upcoming on Religion For Life!

Worship Guide for Autumn 2015, Via Negativa (the way of letting go and letting be)

October 11th through December 20th

Summer—      Path 1:  via positiva (the way of awe and wonder)
Fall—              Path 2:  via negativa (the way of letting go and letting be)
Winter—        Path 3:  via creativa (the way of creativity and imagination)
Spring—         Path 4:  via transformativa (the way of justice-making)

During Autumn we travel the spiritual path of the via negativa, the way of letting go and letting be.   This is the path, while often not chosen, that leads to self-awareness and spiritual growth.   It is the path of darkness, silence, pruning, and emptying.   It is the negation of images, the deconstruction of beliefs and truths, and the stripping away of certainties, so that we are vulnerable and open to a direction and calling. 

Our guide this season will be a book by Eric Elnes called Gifts of the Dark Wood:  Seven Blessings For Soulful Skeptics (And Other Wanderers).  Eric was a year ahead of me at Princeton and now is the pastor of Countryside Community Church (UCC) in Omaha, Nebraska.  In 2006, Eric walked 2,500 miles from Phoenix to Washington D.C. to promote awareness of progressive Christianity.   He hosts an interactive weekly webcast called Darkwood Brew.

He has just published his latest book in which he uses Dark Wood as a metaphor for the place of “awakening and discovery.”  The things that we find in the Dark Wood that we might judge as bad or unpleasant, are if we pay attention, gifts.   He writes about seven gifts or blessings of the Dark Wood:  uncertainty, emptiness, being thunderstruck, getting lost, temptation, disappearing, and misfits. 

I will spend a Sunday on each of these blessings or gifts—gifts of the Dark Wood.    Let’s enter the Dark Wood and see what we find. 

If you have a creative element (poem, song, children’s sermon, etc.) for one of the services, it will be most welcome!   Look up the readings and if something sparks your creativity, send an email to me.

October 11th                Entering the Dark Wood                               

Theme:                        The Dark Wood Is As Light To God                      
Scripture:                    Psalm 139:7-12

This Sunday will be an invitation to enter the Dark Wood.   What is that invitation?  What are we invited to do?  We are invited to recognize that where we are right now, with all of our bruises and faults, insecurities and broken dreams, is where we are.    And no matter where we flee we are still here, as the psalmist writes:  “If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.”  God’s presence is the Dark Wood.   The invitation is to discover its blessing.
October 18th                Rev. Don Ludwig Leads Worship

October 25th               

Theme:                        Uncertainty
Scripture:                    1 Corinthians 13:11-12

In Paul’s famous chapter on love in 1 Corinthians 13, he admits that he “knows only in part; then I will know fully….”  Then.  It is a statement of trust and acceptance that we live in ambiguity and uncertainty.   We don’t know what will happen and for the most part, we can’t control it.  But uncertainty is a gift of the Dark Wood.   When we have as the Buddhists call it, a “beginner’s mind” we can be open to possibility, a gift denied us when we think we “know it all.”      

November 1st              Nancy Ellen Abrams:  A God That Could Be Real

We stop at a rest area in the Dark Wood and welcome Nancy Ellen Abrams via Skype to worship.  She will engage with us about her book, A God That Could Be Real:  Spirituality, Science, and the Future of Our Planet.   This book was our summer “Southminister Reads” selection and we are thrilled to have the author share with us her insights and field your questions. 

November 8th                        

Theme:                        Emptiness
Scripture:                    Thomas 97

Jesus tells a parable about a woman who is walking down the road with a jar full of meal.  She doesn’t realize it, but the jar breaks and the meal pours out.  She arrives home with an empty jar.  Jesus says the realm of God is like that.  Huh?  Emptiness is a gift of the Dark Wood.  

November 15th           

Theme:                        Being Thunderstruck
Scripture:                    1 Kings 19:11-13

In the ancient world thunder and lightning were viewed as signs that the gods had something to say.  Today, we might call it a flash of insight.  One of the gifts of the Dark Wood is the moment of awareness, an “aha” moment.    Call it the voice of God, call it insight, call it as Ebeneezer Scrooge did, “bit of undigested beef,” but it could be calling you!
November 22nd           Reign of Christ           

Theme:                        Getting Lost
Scripture:                    Matthew 2:1-2

Wendell Berry is a wise man.  He said, “It may be that when we no longer know what to do,
we have come to our real work and when we no longer know which way to go, we have begun our real journey.”  Being lost in the Dark Wood does not feel like a gift.   But like the wise men who came from the East looking for Jesus, sometimes you have ask directions. 

November 29th           Advent One

Theme:                        Temptation
Scripture:                    Luke 4:1-13

Usually we begin Lent with the story of Jesus tempted in the wilderness.   Since we are lost in the Dark Wood, we’ll mix it up a bit and begin Advent with this story.   The Dark Wood is a place where “the adversary” wants to mess with us, to test us, to tempt us, not to do bad things, but as Eric Elnes points out in his book, to do the things that are not ours to do.    

December 6th              Advent Two

Theme:                        Disappearing
Scripture:                    Luke 4:14-30

Eric Elnes writes in this chapter, “refuse to let any situation or circumstance mark you in a way that does not reflect your highest identity.  You must disappear.” P. 129.   We disappear to the allure of a false self.   That is a gift of the Dark Wood.   This is knowing when to let go and let be.

December 13th            Advent Three

Theme:                       Misfits
Scripture:                   Luke 6:20-21

We need companions.  The best companions are those who have “spent a little longer in the Dark Wood than you have” writes Eric Elnes.  P. 157.    The Dark Wood is best travelled with another, with someone who has been there, who knows.    Sometimes we enter a club we would never want to enter, but it is what it is.  We take our place with the other broken misfits.  It is home. 

December 20th            Advent Four

The children will present a program during worship. 


  1. Looks like a fascinating journey. I'm excited!

  2. Whatever gifts, talents, skills you have are from God. Don't let anyone belittle them because they didn't give you in the first place. what to get girlfriend for Christmas