April 2017

A LETTER FROM THE ASSISTANT CURATE

 

As a church this April we see a stark contrast with one half of the month being well into Lent, and the other half, the beginning of the Easter season. When we imagine this contrast between Lent and Easter it can so often be through sorrow vs joy, self-restraint vs abundance, gloomy weather vs spring sun or perhaps dark vs light. The contrast of dark and light is one which has stood the test of time, and always will. It is a contrast that we see deep-seated within our theology, liturgy, spirituality and sociology. Barbara Brown Taylor an American Episcopal Priest (who is always worth a read!) has written and spoken very wisely and sensitively about the contrast of light and dark. When I was still at Theological College I went to a talk where she was publicising her book Learning to walk in the Dark. Brown Taylor’s observation was that our culture, to the point of obsession, through fear tries to shut out the dark. In an article in TIME magazine Brown Taylor points to the obsession for How-To or Self-Help books which fanatically try to point us to the ‘light’, and even our mobile phones which she describes as a little ‘light box within reach when any kind of darkness begins to descend on us’.

Fear of the dark is normal, and never anything to be ashamed of! Within our liturgy at church there are often little hints of using and exacerbating that fear to express a bigger theology, and perhaps as Brown Taylor suggests darkness is a synonym for sin. For example, the Collect known from Compline and Evensong “lighten our darkness, we beseech thee, O Lord; and by thy great mercy defend us from all perils and dangers of this nightor even the stark warning that opens Compline as darkness descends and we prepare for sleep, “be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: whom resist, steadfast in the faith. But thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us.” And of course the baptism liturgy, where the Godparents face the setting sun to renounce the Devil.

There is plenty in our liturgy and theology to suggest that dark is bad and light is good, dark is sin and light is glory. However, Brown Taylor suggests a level of caution. She suggests that encouraging such a divide between light and dark, allows us to leave all negative things in the dark and God in the light, leaving our own strength to deal with things in the dark, and seeing God again when the light has returned.

However if there is anything we can take from our Lenten journey and Easter season, it is quite contrary to that. Rather our theology is about God present in the wilderness, on the cross. and risen again in equal amounts both in the light and in the dark. With this in mind, I feel Brown Taylor offers a helpful image, not of night and day, or sun and moon, but rather looking at the moon in its changing phases. Not a faith with God present in the light and absent in the dark, but rather a living faith for all seasons in our lives, which sees the glory of God in constant phases. In times of just a glimmer, dull brightness or in times of full sight, sometimes when we least expect it or when we most need it.

Ben