Midweek Musing: Enter the dark

Lent began this week, and we went into the wilderness with Jesus. 



Consider a seed. Part of a flower or tree or blade of wheat. It has lived with the plant, breathed with the plant, then felt the time draw near for it to leave the plant.

Separation. Loss. Grief.
Or life as a seed independent and free.

But if the seed remains a seed, stays as and where it is, it will dry up, its life will fade, and all the potential within will go unrealized.

The time draws near for the seed to fall from the flower, the tree, the blade of wheat. Scary and liberating: and only just the beginning.


Jesus’ baptism seemed full of life and joy and freedom, too. Perhaps it was also, at least a little awe-inspiring, if not downright frightening, with the heavens torn apart like that.

And it was only the beginning.

Parting company – from pray the story blog

tear the clouds apart,
rip open the sky,
let me through, let
me through - and Spirit
nose-dives like a dove for
a worm, 'tward Wisdom
Incarnate to embrace,
as the voice, the Source
declares what is: Beloved,
offspring of Love Divine,
such delight --

and then she turns,
she drives him out to the wilds
and the beasts; did Spirit speak
to the angels as they passed
in flight? Don't leave him
alone, though he must go and we
must stay, I'm away
to wait for time to pass,
and to mend the hole in the sky ...

To realise the potential of this baptized life, Jesus had to enter the wilderness, as a seed must enter the ground, the dirt, the deep, dark, earth.

The time comes in any journey towards life for a death, a letting go, a withdrawing from the light.

In the warm embrace of earth, the seed might find comfort, perhaps even joy in leaving the light for a darker place.

But then it begins. The seed bulges, expands, early joy at growing bigger replaced by pain when its shell cannot contain what is growing inside. The breaking open hurts like nothing the seed could imagine, if seeds could imagine; and if it could scream, I imagine it would scream
Pink roots stretch from within to draw deeper into the earth. A single, fragile, green shoot unfolds, slowly reaching back towards the light and a new becoming.


For Ash Wednesday here this week we saw a film composed of images by UK artist Si Smith, images of Jesus during his forty days in the wilderness.
Early on, the images depict Jesus a little perplexed at his situation perhaps, then delighted, as he played games with rocks, watched foxes, talked to birds, and lay down to closely observe a flower.
The joy of Jesus’ solitude turned to pain as the artist imagined the heat of the desert, the agony of hunger, the demons we face when we are alone with ourselves.

The very first images of this series depict Jesus putting down his carpentry tools and walking away from the town, more his own choice than the being driven out by the Spirit of the story in Mark’s gospel account, and my poem.
Jesus withdrew from his old life in order to enter the new one. In Smith’s forty images, we are invited to consider that Jesus needed a season between his season of carpentry and family and that of announcing the realm of God. A time in which the shell of the seed broke open, so that the promise and potential could begin to emerge.

It is a seasonal cycle the earth enacts with each turn around the sun; constant letting go in order for life to continue to grow. And it may seem beautiful in creation, but it is costly and painful, too.

So why is this important for us?

We are entering a new season as a church, the season of Lent. Our church calendar is like the earth’s turning around the sun, bringing us regularly into the different parts of the story that will stir something in us to keep us growing and alive.

And in this season of Lent, what is provoked is a withdrawing, a letting go; a sometimes painful shedding of old shells, old ways, in order to take on something new, to emerge renewed and ready for who we are to become.
Lent is often described as a season of repentance, which we might think of as a change of heart, a change in the way we relate to one another and God and ourselves. [Dorothy McRae-McMahon / Andrew Collis Bringing the Word to Life Together Year B]  If to repent is to change, to turn around, then Lent is a long, slow, turning back towards the way of God during which we pay attention to the ways we have chosen ‘death’ rather than ‘life’. The ways of God that the psalmist prays to remember in our psalm today, and throughout so many of the psalms, are ways of vitality, of fullness of life. The ways we choose are often paths that diminish vitality and fullness of life for ourselves and each other.
To truly turn away from diminishing of life, to truly embrace the fullness of life, we must understand the paths we have trod, the ways we have been. It is no good to close a door on the darkness and pretend it does not exist.
That darkness may be our own greed and selfishness and unkindness. That darkness may be the collective systems of power and abusive injustice. We cannot change any of it without facing it, seeing it for what it is, and understanding it.
[riffing off provoking the gospel]
To live more fully into the light, we must first enter the dark.

That is the invitation of this season of Lent.

I would like to finish with the litany I wrote for our Ash Wednesday service, an invitation into this season of withdrawal, of blowing out the candle and paying attention to the dark in preparation for reclaiming the light once more. I invite you to close your eyes if you wish, and use this as a meditation.

In secret
(Sarah Agnew)
litany based on Matt 6:1–6, 16–21

Come into a secret room,
come away from the crowds
and the light.
Come into the secret room
of your heart, your depth,
your all.

Here you are met by God,
and God alone.
Here you confess to God,
and God alone.

In secret, name your hurts,
your fears: none will hear
but God.
In secret bear your scars,
your tears: none will see
but God.

Here you will need your courage,
beloved;
here you will need to be brave.
But there will be no fanfare,
beloved;
no heroes’ welcome as we look
only to ourselves.

Look closely, look with care
and attention, at your fullness
of humanity.
See and do not turn away
from what you have done or left
undone.

Look closely, look with care
and attention, in a mirror
of God’s deep loving;
look, be seen, and in this secret
place of honesty, find hope,
and healing, and humility.

pause

We enter the darkness knowing that death is only the beginning. We enter the darkness with hope and trust that we will emerge again into the light.

For the seed is pulled by the sun’s rays, and emerges to grow into a flower, a tree, a blade of wheat.

Jesus is carried by angels out of the wilderness, and emerges to grow into the Christ, Messiah, Redeemer of all that lives.

And you. This season of Lent, as you enter the wilderness, the deep earth, your own self, may you break open towards new life, the way of life towards which we are called by God.
Amen.


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