Afraid of the Night

Design

From the poem, “The Old Astronomer to His Pupil” by Sarah Williams.Β The last line of the poem was used as an epitaph for an Astronomer-couple
buried at Allegheny Observatory.

 

 

Almost every night as bedtime approaches, I experience a feeling of panic. I have thought a lot about what is going on in me when this happens. Hoping to overcome the fear, I say to myself again and again, “I need not be afraid of the night.” And yet the panic persists. What I do know is that there is a part of me that fears going to sleep and never waking up. I have thought long and hard about where such a feeling might come from.

I recently worked through this and discovered that the panic is related to my many nights spent in the hospital in 2014. I remember well the long nights of sleeplessness and anxiety. I remember the irrational fear that clung tightly to me following a few brushes with death. I remember that, even when I was stronger and out of imminent danger, I continued to be afraid. And I remember that the nights in the hospital were lonely and seemingly endless.

When I was discharged and safely back home, I continued to be sleepless, eyes wide open every night, all night. I stayed exhausted, of course, and slept soundly during the day. It is interesting to me how the body adjusts itself to changing circumstances and schedules, physically and emotionally, even spiritually. Body and soul, I easily accepted an intense fear of the night. Perhaps I could just as easily embrace the reality of a caring God who watches over me through every dark time. Perhaps I could find the God of the Psalmist.

You have searched me, Lord, and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.

You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.

Before a word is on my tongue, you, Lord, know it completely.

You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me.

Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.

Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?

If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.

If I take the wings of the morning,
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,

even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.

If I say, β€œSurely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me,”

even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you.

– Psalm 139:1-13

I need not be afraid of the night.

It is true. Through every dark day, I could not flee from God’s presence. In the β€œdark night of my soul, in every difficult time, there was a reality I needed to learn, an eternal truth waiting fir me to discover. My discovery was about the captivity of fear, especially fear that descended on me in the dark of night. My discovery was alsoΒ about a Light that is brighter than any darkness I could ever experience.

I need not be afraid of the night. Thanks be to God.

 

Light for a Dark Path

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Life can be a very dark path, frightenly uncharted. Inching through life often finds us hesitating in dark places, afraid to take even one step into an unknown future. The darkness can be daunting. Still, for me light has at times eased the darkness, and with even a tiny ray of light, I was able to move forward.

Brother Curtis Almquist writes of the grace-filled presence of beacons of light.

There have been people in our past who have been beacons of light, and whose life still shines into the present . . . and we remember them because they help us find our way and know our place in life, which is otherwise so terribly uncharted.

– Brother Curtis Almquist
Society of Saint John the Evangelist

How fondly I remember and give thanks for the people who were beacons of light for me.

Yiayia, my beloved grandmother, who was my faithful and loving protector and whose energy nurtured me.

Thea Koula, my favorite aunt, who was like a mother to me and who brought joy and lightheartedness to my life.

Ethel, my forever friend, who was a constant beacon of light, always helping me find my way.

In the darkness, the light of faith endured and made the journey possible. Most certainly, the people in my life strengthened my faith and were for me a welcomed light for a dark path. And yes, I stumbled over more than a few nasty obstacles and rough spots. But even when I languished in the darkness of an uncharted path, my faith was enough. My faith was my brightest light.

I will be forever grateful for the beacons of light that helped guide me on the journey and for the enduring, constant presence of a faithful God.

The Lord will guide you always;
will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like a spring whose waters never fail.

– Isaiah 58:11 NIV

Out of the Darkness

Design

The heart that broke for all the broken-hearted
Is whole and Heaven-centred now, and sings,
Sings in the strength that rises out of weakness,
Sings through the clouds
that veil him from our sight,
Whilst we ourselves become his clouds of witness
And sing the waning darkness into light . . .

– Excerpt from “A Sonnet for Ascension Day” by poet Malcolm Guite

Out of the bombing in Manchester emerge brokenhearted families — mothers, fathers, grandparents, children. We live in a brokenhearted world. We wonder what we might do with our broken hearts. Do we respond with anger, sorrow, disinterest? Do we chalk it up as just another tragedy that is inevitable in a world of terrorism and unbridled violence? How must we respond in a way that honors our faith in the Prince of Peace?

I certainly do not have answers to all the questions we may be asking in the face of this tragedy, but these things I know. We must stand firmly, always, for peace. We must speak boldly when our words might ease violence. We must pray without ceasing for a world without violence, and hope constantly for a world that is gentle and hospitable for every person.

Finally, as poet Malcolm Guite writes, we must raise our voices in the strength that comes after weakness. We must sing on, people of God, for our songs might just help bring the world out of darkness into God’s wondrous light!

. . . You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.

– 1 Peter 2:9, NIV

The Balm for Our Heartbreak

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We do not anticipate much to happen on Holy Monday. It is a Monday, after all, not a great time for hope and expectation. It’s more a time for heartbreak. For on this Holy Monday, we need a reminder that God’s love is ever-present with us.

Mary has prepared Jesus’ body for burial, for death, and we know all too well where the road to Jerusalem leads. We know thatΒ the hosannas have fallen silent. We know that the high ranking officials are meeting secretly to plan for the death of Jesus. We know that Judas will betray Jesus and Peter will deny him.

We know that what comes next will break our hearts. But broken hearts are not so bad. At least that’s what Glennon Doyle Melton says.

I have learned that when I run from heartbreak, from pain, I bypass transformation — like a caterpillar constantly jumping out of its cocoon right before it was about to become a butterfly.

Pain knocks on everyone’s door. It we are wise we will greet it and say, “Come in, sit down, and don’t leave until you’ve taught me what I need to know.”

She tells us to ask ourselves what breaks our hearts. And then she explains that the heart, like every other muscle, has to be worked, even ripped apart. That’s how it grows stronger. So instead of shrinking back from our heartbreak and finding ways to disconnect from our suffering, perhaps we should run right into the painful middle of it.

Heartbreak in our lives, like heartbreak on Holy Monday, is very real. That’s why the words of the Psalmist sing so loudly inΒ our hearts, bringing us hope and love and light.

Your mercy, O Lord, is in the heavens;
Your faithfulness reaches to the clouds.

Your righteousness is like the great mountains;
Your judgments are a great deep;

How precious is Your lovingkindness, O God!
Therefore the children of men put their trust under the shadow of Your wings.

They are abundantly satisfied with the fullness of Your house,
And You give them drink from the river of Your pleasures.

For with You is the fountain of life;
In Your light we see light.

— Psalm 36: 5-9

God’s love is the balm for our heartbreak — today, tomorrow and forever.

The Light in the Harbor

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Photo from the February 13-20 cover of the New Yorker magazine featuring the light of the Statue of Liberty snuffed out.

Lady Liberty’s torch went out last night due to a power failure. New York harbor was absent her light. There was even online speculation that the move was deliberate, to show solidarity with the “Day Without A Woman” inequality protests taking place today. We will possibly make more of this than we should, seeing the loss of her light as a commentary on our times. For certainly these days, some of our citizens experience the light going out on their freedom.

For those young people we call Dreamers, the light seems dim and their dreams seem to be in jeopardy. For our Muslim brothers and sisters, freedom’s light has dimmed. For Mexicans seeking refuge, there is the shadow of an unwelcoming dividing wall. Women once again fear the affliction of inequality.

Is it true? Has freedom’s light really gone dark in our country? Is there no light in the harbor?

The answer is a resounding “No!”

The Light was out for only two hours. What is more important is that America — the land of diversity, freedom, welcome and acceptance — will endure. The Statue of Liberty lights the harbor again, and the inscription on her base will remain as a testimony of welcome to the immigrants, immigration ban notwithstanding.

Inscribed on the base of the statue is the poem that Emma Lazarus penned in 1883. Protesters across the country cite the Moving poem as a clear argument against President Donald Trump’s travel ban and immigration crackdowns.

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

God grant that America will always welcome the tired, the poor, from every corner of the world.

Morning Mercies

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Every new morning reminds me that I have been given a gift, another day to live, another chance to make a difference in my world, another day to love and grow and enjoy. Not so long ago, I lived some days of fear. Each dark night brought a sense of dread, and I allowed myself to believe that another morning would not dawn. I was afraid to let myself sleep, and did not expect to make it through the night.

Obviously, I was wrong. Fortunately, I got beyond those dark times and willed myself to believe in hope and new dawns. But the process of finding hope again was no easy task. It took time, prayer, and talking about my feelings with a trusted friend. It was a process that required persistence. Most of all, it required getting re-acquainted with God’s grace and faithfulness. I learned to find hope again in each morning’s new mercies.

The writings of Steven Charleston were a part of my process toward hope. These words gave me an extra measure of strength.

Here is the hand of morning, coming so quietly to part the curtain, letting in the first light, welcoming the wide-eyed day into the sleepy corners of our lives. A new beginning is the miracle that awaits each one of us. We are the people of new beginnings, each one of us, brought here by more mornings than we can count, fresh chances from an older life, a turn of events, a change of mind, an unexpected friend, how many different mornings have we seen? You and I are made of morning, set free by the new light, forever being welcomed into a life that is just beginning.

– Bishop Steven Charleston

Now I expect mornings again. I fall asleep these days with new hope that morning will come. As for all of us, new days are not guaranteed. We live with that reality, but we do so without fear and with faith in the faithfulness of God. The beloved hymn says:

Great is thy faithfulness . . .
Morning by morning new mercies I see.
All I have needed, thy hand hath provided.
Great is thy faithfulness, Lord unto me.

The Scripture says it this way:

Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope:
Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.

– Lamentations 3:21-23 New International Version

Thanks be to God.

New Light Chases the Darkness Away

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It was an old dream proclaimed by the Prophet Isaiah. He dreamed of an earth filled with justice, righteousness and peace. He dreamed of a world where children do not fear, a world where all people live in God’s light. The people of God have dreamed the very same dream, just as we dream it today. Hear the words of the Prophet:

With righteousness he will judge the needy,
with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth.
He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth;
with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.
Righteousness will be his belt
and faithfulness the sash around his waist.
The wolf will live with the lamb,
the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling together;

and a little child will lead them . . .

They will neither harm nor destroy
on all my holy mountain,
for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.

– Isaiah 11:4-6, 9 New International Version (NIV)
We must keep dreaming, seeking the dream with hearts and hands, giving ourselves to the work of justice. Bishop Steven Charleston, as always, eloquently expresses the thought.

I dream the old dream, the one that has been with us for centuries now, passed down from heart to heart, shared by great leaders and simple believers alike, the dream of a day when the scales of time will tip, when the long suffering will end, when justice will finally bring the peace we deserve. The tyrants will be history. The wars only a distant memory. The Earth will sparkle beneath clear skies, every hungry child will be fed. I dream the old dream, the one you have dreamed too, the one that arises in the long hours of night, before the new light chases the darkness away.

We dream of the day when tyrants will be history, wars a distant memory, where every hungry child will be fed, and the long night of suffering will end for every person. Though we may experience the deepest, harshest darkness, it is the new light of our dreams that chases the darkness away. May this be our prayer.

The Bright Light of Hope

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Take chances, make mistakes. That’s how you grow. Pain nourishes your courage. You have to fail in order to practice being brave.

– Mary Tyler Moore

I have never been very brave or adventurous. As a child, I was hesitant to take physical risks. I didn’t play sports. I didn’t ride a bicycle much. I was terrified of theme park rides. When I was a teenager, though, I took a turn, living on the edge, speaking my mind, taking chances.

In my adult years, it was a part of my calling to stand up with persons who were abused. I developed enough courage and tenacity to do that. It was a meaningful career, one that rewarded me by seeing women and children move away from abusive relationships and begin to thrive.

They were brave, not only facing their abuser, but also facing a system that was often stacked against them. I had the privilege of walking with a mother of three who fought for custody of her children for many years. She left no stone unturned. When the family court system ruled against her, she patiently and wisely stood her ground.

Most often, she had to face the darkness of injustice. But her courage sustained her until she prevailed for the good of her children. She, and so many others, have inspired my life, showing me how to take chances, how to get past mistakes, how to walk forward in courage.

I am grateful for the lives I was privileged to touch through the years, and for all that they taught me. I am grateful for the opportunities I had to watch them stand bravely before the darkness and to remain there, for as long as it took, until they would again face the bright light of hope.

My Healing Days

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If I say, β€œSurely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me,”
even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you.

– Psalm 139:11-12 NIV

I am drawn to light, to brightness and color. Dark shadows and muted hues can cause melancholy in me. And in those times, I try everything I can do to fill my day with brightness. It is a healing balm in troubling times.

In 2014, I spent most of the year very ill and in the hospital. As I recuperated at home, I found that I had no energy to surround myself with brightness and color. I did not notice it really, until my sister-in-law came to Little Rock for a visit. A seasoned decorator, she began to transform my surroundings in little ways. She and my brother also insisted that we relocate to Macon, Georgia so that we could be near enough for them to help Fred with my care.

They prevailed. We moved. Our belongings arrived at our new place (a place we had never laid eyes on) before we arrived. My family unpacked all our things, set up the house, and my sister-in-law filled the place with flowers, candles, and all kinds of beautiful things. We arrived late at night. When we walked into the house, it was filled with good smells, brightness and color. It looked like a Southern Living decorator house.

In that brightness and color, lovingly created by my family, I began to heal and get stronger. My days became day’s of calm. I was able to take my intense focus off of my illness and instead aim my gaze toward God. There was healing power in that, a transformative power that strengthened my spirit. The words of John Muir provide a lovely description of my healing days.

Oh, these vast, calm, measureless . . . days, days in whose light everything seems equally divine, opening a thousand windows to show us God.

– John Muir

How grateful I am for the thousand windows open to God. How grateful I am for the love and care of my family, for the light, color and brightness that fills my life. How grateful I am for these healing days.

Running Toward the Light

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Running toward the light is no easy thing. It’s an imperative for our better angels. It’s what we do when we are inching closer to the person we aspire to be. I have to admit that it’s far easier for me to dwell in a darker place, Β place that is darker because of the despondency that sometimes assails me, a place that is darker because of my tendency to criticize others, to avoid those who do not hold my views, to exclude and disregard.

But the outrageous act would be to rush to embrace others, to welcome relationships and to say, “Here I am. I care for you. I invite you into my life.” I am so inspired by the words Steven Charleston.

Go ahead and be outrageous, as wild as you want to be, in your generosity, in your compassion, freewheeling in your mercy, without limits in your kindness, totally out of control in loving those around you, breaking all constraints of who is in and who is out, ignoring prohibitions about not associating with “those” people, running amok in joy for every living creature, helping all that you can, flat out happy, flat out forgiving, no turning back, no excuses, running toward the light, inviting others to do the same!

~ Steven Charleston, Choctaw elder, author, retired Episcopal bishop of Alaska, and adjunct Professor of Native American Ministries, Saint Paul School of Theology.

I plan to be more outrageous in the days ahead. It would be a God thing, I think, to be “flat out happy, flat out forgiving.” It would be living wilder than I’ve ever been, freewheeling and unfettered by my own intolerance. It would, indeed, be running toward the light, God’s light.