Darkness—An Interesting Puzzle, Part 2

I always appreciate any and all comments about my blogs. This means that some of you are reading them—thanks!

My recent blog about Darkness and Light brought a number of interesting notes and additions. Some were sent to me privately, some were added as comments in the actual blog page. I gained a number of new thoughts which I want to share with you. I will quote a number of the commentators, although I have chosen to keep their names secret. Thanks for understanding.

One person responded, “Interesting and also puzzling. I read Genesis 1 again and amazingly (as I read it) God created darkness as well as light. And the statement … and it is good … would also apply to darkness. We need darkness for most effective recuperation and rejuvenation.

There are many good things that happen in the darkness. But then we confront evil, which often happens “in the dark”. But it also happens “in the light”, whether it is exposed or not. And that is when I realized that the dark has become a metaphor, the playground of evil. But the Creator made it and it is good. The conundrum is still there.

Another reader declared,“ Interesting thoughts, Gilbert. The parallels between the birth of a child and the Genesis account of the birth of our world are striking, offering virtually hours of reflection.”

One person took the comments some steps further and brought home some practical applications, “Light and darkness has interested me a great deal too. I read a book recently, entitled Them Before Us, by Katy Faust, which argues for children’s rights. It’s a book that takes the tack that because children can’t speak for themselves, adults must but often don’t. This is why, she argues, they are often hurt by the choices and actions of adults. The book is a vigorous argument for the role biological parents play in the lives of their children. Here too light and darkness are at play.

I hope the interaction has sparked further thoughts. I want to conclude with the comments from another reader who states, “Thanks for your reflection. We would certainly not appreciate moments in the light if we have not known darkness”

Darkness—An interesting puzzle for me—and for you?

As you will note from previous blogs, I have become fascinated with the comparisons between light and darkness—both find their way into our lives. Generally most writings speak to the glorification of light, at the expense of darkness. What does it mean to “live in the darkness” or to “live in the light?” Much of our literature references light in a positive “light” and darkness in a negative tone. Have we, have I, assumed that light is preferred over darkness? What do we miss if we focus on light at the cost of ignoring darkness?

As we think about darkness for a paragraph or two let us start at the beginning. After conception, how much light does the embryo receive or even require? Total darkness covers the growing fetus, and yet it grows, until finally the unborn child makes its entry into the world of light. The world of darkness was the necessary place for the unborn child to grow—the darkness of the womb was the ideal ingredient for that growth.

Some time ago I read Barbara Brown Taylor’s book Learning to Walk in the Dark. Several statements stood out. She declared, “…new life starts in the dark. Whether it is a seed in the ground, a baby in the womb, or Jesus in the tomb, it starts in the dark.” We usually refer to Jesus as the light of the world. Have we ever considered that Jesus was conceived in the darkness of Mary’s womb? Is this not another illustration of the humanity of Christ? He went “through the darkness” of  a womb just as all humanity. Brown Taylor also states, “I have learned things in the dark that I could never have learned in the light, things that have saved my life over and over again, so that there is really only one logical conclusion. I need darkness as much as I need light.”

It is well known that many people prefer total darkness in order to have a great sleep. Some even cover their eyes with black blinders, hoping for a peaceful sleep. I suspect these individuals much prefer “sleeping in the dark” in order to “live in the light.”

I hope that these few thoughts have piqued your interest, interest that gets you to study this concept further. There is a light that shines in the darkness, which is only visible there.

Can we really have light without the darkness?

The Need for Light

A few years ago I wrote a blog entitled, Light or Darkness and that both find their way into our lives. Since that time I have noted the numerous times that light and/or darkness are mentioned—whether in songs, in writings or in speeches.  Probably the more well-known song about this is Leonard Cohen’s statement, “There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.”

Recently I was reminded of this light vs. darkness tension. Many in the world celebrated Holocaust Remembrance Day during January. We were reminded of the horrible atrocities committed during WW II by the Nazis. One wonders how so much darkness could prevail in the world. Prince Charles, who is patron of Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, in a tribute speech stated: “We can be the light that ensures the darkness can never return… This is our time when we can, each in our own way, be the light that ensures the darkness can never return.”

Some of us have very faint recollections of WW II. Many were not even born at that time. Does this mean that we can forget all about the horrors of that wartime? Most certainly not! Somehow, the atrocities against fellow humans continue day after day. Those of us in the comfortable North American scene only read about atrocities; we are affected very little. However, as we reflect on the recent happening in Washington, DC, and the horrors of the aftermath of residential school atrocities, we must admit that peace and freedom is very fragile. Reconciliation and relationships need light to flourish. How little it would take for us to be wrapped up in darkness and tossed aside. All this because we did not allow the crack to let in the light.

If we are the ones to insure that the darkness never returns (although it seems to be close at hand), then we must walk in the light of peace and love. Martin Luther King, Jr. declared that “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”

Darkness is bombarding us from all sides. We can be the light that ensures the darkness never returns. The hatred shown so frequently in many places needs the love which we demonstrate, to drive out this hate.

We are reminded that “perfect love casts our fear” (see New Testament). As we continually show love and compassion we can be the light that takes away the darkness. Let us always strive to show that love which projects light.

I want to end this short monologue with some words from The Hill We Climb, the now well-recognized words written and spoken by Amanda Gorman

“When day comes we will step out of the shade,

Aflame and unafraid

The new dawn blooms as we free it

For there is always light,

If only we’re brave enough to see it

If only we’re brave enough to be it”


Another Tragic Loss

My wife and I are both the youngest in our respective families—large by today’s standards. We are both 80, which means that all our siblings are beyond that age, all the way up to the high 90s. What does this mean for us? We keep losing loved ones, people who have walked with us throughout our lives. To date, too many of our siblings (and in-laws) have died. We fear that soon we will be the only ones left of our families.

As we cope with so many changes and wonder how we can manage visits to our remaining family members, we realize that COVID-19 has wrecked havoc with all our travel ideas. Any plans for visiting are left on hold—no travel recommended!

Not that many weeks ago we chatted with a well-loved sister-in-law, Rose.  When my brother, her husband, was alive, our families spent many vacations together. We visited in each other’s homes (separated by many kilometers). We were close friends!  This great relationship carried on after he died. We made a point to visit, whether by phone, text, email or in person. This was a phone call, and as we shared together, Rose mentioned that she had just been informed that she had cancer of the pancreas and of the liver. Wow, that hit us hard, and to know we could not travel at this point. All we could do was pray and hope that any treatment would bring  good results. The doctor had indicated that a chemo treatment could possibly help.

We spoke a number of times in the next weeks. Rose seemed tired, but always her positive self. Then, about six weeks after that first diagnosis, we received an email from her daughter, Debbie, that Rose had gone to the hospital for some treatment—to stabilize her fluids and check her blood. This was to be an overnight stay. Little did we know that Rose would not return home.

A day later we received another email from Debbie. This stated simply that Rose had “slipped away peacefully this morning. Alissa and Mary were with her.”

What now? How could she leave us so quickly?  Only six weeks! We had fully expected to visit her sometime in fall. Instead, “she slipped away peacefully during the night” and had her own sunrise on that Monday morning!

This forcefully reminds us that our lives are fragile. We really have no control over our destiny. We may do all to remain safe (as so frequently stated during this pandemic), but so many diseases catch us unawares. Six weeks ago we had great chats with Rose.  Now we are not able to visit, and not attend her memorial service. Those joys have been taken from us forever.

Circumstances during this pandemic frustrate our daily lives, but remember this: Connections, whether phone, email or actual visit, are vital while we live, for we never know how long such joys remain.

A NEW APPROACH:A RE-OPENING ROAD MAP

When our children were younger we gave them jobs to do, especially on Saturdays. They often did not appreciate this. They wanted to do their own things, to play, to socialize, and to laze in their rooms. Our suggestions were often ignored, until we forced the issue and demanded that the jobs be done. Too frequently this led to frustrated and unhappy children. Eventually we came up with a better, more acceptable plan.

We still assigned tasks; we still expected the completion of those tasks. However, we made one major stipulation. You are free to do as you please—once the tasks are done. This meant that if a child would start working first thing in the morning and complete the task in short order, the rest of the day could be filled  with whatever that child desired (within certain family limits). This certainly helped set a better tone for the family. We all worked to get our jobs done in order that we could participate in the fun activities that lay ahead.

Why am I bringing this up? Let me tell you. The medical experts want us to shut down the fun activities for a certain length of time. These “rules” do not seem to work—the Covid-19 numbers continue to rise or at least remain too high. Surely there is a need for a different approach.

Why not hold the proverbial “carrot” in front of us? Set up the shutdowns but specify that when certain targets are reached, then, and only then, will restrictions be lifted. At this point we go through the motions of being careful, but know that the restrictions will be lifted on a certain date. Will this also be the case if we do nothing or very little? It seems that the medical experts are more interested in opening up on a certain date than they are in making sure we do our “jobs”.

I would strongly urge the powers that be to make a change. Why not set up restrictions with the proviso that these will be lifted once a target is reached (such as x number of cases or y number of deaths)?  In this way the entire population has a stake in reducing the Covi-19 outbreaks. Once we have achieved our goal, we are able to “do our own thing” and enjoy life as we desire. If we refuse to obey the restrictions, these will remain in force for a long time, until we realize that obedience to the rules will bring us freedom—whenever that may be. Setting a date for “opening up” has not been working. Maybe this “work before play” approach will bring more of us to our senses and push us to finish the tasks at hand in order that we can enjoy our lives.

Let me end with two illustrations from other constituencies.  First, the “Re-Opening Roadmap: A Gradual, Measured Approach to Easing Public Health Measures” as provided by the government of Saskatchewan.

This “Re-Opening Roadmap” is a three-step plan gradually to lift current public health restrictions as Saskatchewan reaches significant vaccination levels.  It also provides Saskatchewan people with an incentive to continue following public health measures and a clear reason to get vaccinated.

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe said.  “This is not only a re-opening plan. It’s also a plan to encourage people to get vaccinated and to keep following all the public health orders and guidelines.  Those are the two things we all need to do in order to move forward through the three steps of re-opening so we can enjoy a great Saskatchewan summer and get back to normal.”

The Re-Opening Roadmap includes three steps based on vaccination thresholds, vaccine availability and timing between steps.  The thresholds are related to vaccines received by residents, not to specific dates.

The second example comes from Minnesota where Governor Tim Waltz revealed a three-step timeline for ending nearly all statewide COVID-19 restrictions.  Again, this timeline is based on acceptance of restrictions now in order that the opening of the state may occur as soon as possible. Although dates are suggested, Waltz states that these are projections, dependent on the Covid-19 outbreaks.

“Good” Friday

What’s Good about Good Friday?

Reflecting on the meaning of this day.

In Hart’s cartoon, B.C., one character said, I hate the term ‘Good Friday’;

Why?

Because his Lord was hanged up on a tree that day.

The response is equally provoking—

How would you feel if He took your guilty place?

Good!

That is really all one needs to say.

Good.

Good Friday—a  time of sorrow and pain

Because the Lord took my place,

And yours as well

He suffered.

Christ sacrificed his kingliness and lined up with the sinners all around.

Wow!

He walked that lonely road up to the garbage dump

And allowed the soldiers and the crowd to nail him to that cross.

He suffered in silence all alone

And died.

This is Good Friday but thankfully we know that’s not the end.

Sunday’s coming!

Now we quietly remember all that God has done

And partake of communion as we remember what Christ did for us.

We reflect on what the suffering means and what it brings to us—

Resurrection!

Streetsweepers of Jerusalem

I am glad we cleaned the streets so carefully.

I always want the best for our Sabbath celebrations.

But now it’s over and a spot check is a must

To make sure all is ready for the week ahead.

One never knows what may be left after the weekly celebration day.

We, you and I, the streetsweepers of Jerusalem, carefully make sure all is clean.

 But, as we swept away what little dirt we found,

I heard a commotion on a far off street,

And wondered what that all could mean.

Jacob and I stopped to listen and soon became aware

Of an unscheduled parade coming down a nearby street—

In fact, the street we had just cleaned.

What could the meaning of this be,

And why had we not been notified?

Would this mean more work for us,

And on a day which, for us, was usually

A day for family and for guests?

What were we now to do?

Listen—Jacob, the sound is getting louder

And the crowd is getting bigger!

Let’s hurry with our sweeping so we can rush on home

Before this crowd comes through.

And forces us to move aside.

Sweep, sweep, before all is for naught

Ah, but Abram, too late for that my friend,

People are tossing clothes and branches all over the roadway.

We’ll just have to do that street all over again

Before the markets open for the day.

No getting home early today

If we expect to have clean streets before the shops re-open.

But, Jacob, look

Someone is in the midst, riding on a donkey.

What is the meaning of this?

Well, my friend, Abram

Let’s set aside our brooms for a bit

And check on what this parade is all about.

Good idea!

But let’s push through to get a better glimpse

Before the Romans squash this demonstration.

They certainly never want a riotous crowd.

Jacob—isn’t this quite a sight!

People are everywhere, even crowding right up to the shops along the way.

Look at the mess they’re making;

Tearing down all those palms,  and tossing them down along the road.

Jacob—you’re taller—can you see?

Obviously we will have to clean this street again.

This is a disaster! No going home early for us.

What a sight!

Someone riding a donkey—that’s a laugh!

No one in their right mind rides a donkey,

And certainly not down a street in Jerusalem!

Jacob do you know who that is?

I heard someone yell something about Jesus from Nazareth.

Who is he? And what does he think he’s doing?

People spreading branches and leaves along the road? 

What does this all mean—is he trying to incite a riot?

But look my friend, everyone seems so happy.

No one is yelling against the Romans;

No one is set on a path of destruction.

This crowd is somehow different.

Jacob, maybe we should just leave all alone

And get our sweeping done.

And yet this is too exciting—we can’t leave now!

I guess I will just have to work later than I expected

Jacob, you are taller than I

What are you able to see?

Ach, my friend Abram,

This is the man the Pharisees hate

Because he threatens their lives of wealth and power.

But what this means, I just don’t know.

Jacob, look, Is that not Reuben, whose dad, Simeon,

Blessed a child some years ago; a child he said was our Messiah.

Reuben, what is going on, do you know?

What’s that?—this Jesus is the same person

Whom your dad blessed many years ago while in the temple?

Wow—really? Are you saying THIS is the MESSIAH?

But, riding a donkey?

Doesn’t seem very “kingly” to me!

And yet, he looks so serene, so—so authoritative.

And, listen to all the people flocking to him.

The crowd is jubilant but not destructive;

Joyous but not yelling; excited but not angry.

What a lot of noise—yet not really a noise,

But rather a sound of praise and worship.

What does all this mean?

Reuben, Jacob—what is going on?

This Jesus, this Messiah—what is he trying to accomplish?

You really think he is setting up his “kingdom” now?

But, riding a donkey?  And talking about peace?

Certainly different from other insurgents.

There must be something to his claim.

He’s not riding a chariot; not carrying any weapons;

Not working to incite the crowd.

What do you think, Jacob?

I’d like to follow him to see what happens?  

Let’s leave our brooms where we hid them and follow this Jesus.

We can clean up later, or come very early tomorrow to finish the job.

I can’t believe I’m actually doing this—but I just can’t help myself.  

I must follow.

Jesus is so persuasive, without saying anything.

He has such a holy air about him.

Truly, “blessed is the King that comes in the name of the Lord.”  

I just feel so filled with joy and excitement.

This Jesus, he must be the Messiah!

I must worship him—he is the one who comes in God’s name as our, as my redeemer.

I want to obey him in everything.

This Jesus, he is the Christ,

The Redeemer for us all.

—————

Hey Jacob, wasn’t that quite the weekend?

I am still so excited,

Jesus has become the most important person in my life.

And now I want to worship with Hosannas every day.

Wow—what a time as people shouted praise.

Once home, I was wide awake—hardly slept at all!

Don’t worry Jacob, I’ll do my share of the sweeping.

But it was hard to get up so early this morning.

Yes, yes, I know we have to get all the streets cleared before the markets open.

We’ll have to work hard.

But I am so convinced about Jesus—he must be the Messiah.

I want to follow him and do whatever he asks.

He has changed my whole outlook.

What an exciting time—the Messiah has finally come.

Oh Jacob, this is so wonderful. God is so good to us.

Life now is so exciting.

I wish I could follow Jesus wherever he goes.

That would be the best.

Oh, Jacob, I know, I know.

Someone has to stay to do the work.

But following Jesus would be so wonderful.

I am so filled with joy, I can hardly do my sweeping.

And…these streets are sure a mess again aren’t they Jacob?

This mess will take a long time to clear away.

But I don’t mind.

I feel like this is a job I’m doing for Jesus.

This street really is a mess—

Look at all the branches, jackets, coats, scarves and caps.

We better pile all the clothing into a basket and mark it “Lost and Found.” 

Someone will come asking for this stuff.

What did you say, Jacob?

I am following the Messiah if I stay and do a good job.

God wants me to be the best sweeper that I can be?

Yes, maybe, no surely, that makes sense.

But this certainly is not as exciting as waving branches

While shouting “Hosanna.”

—————

But yes, serving Christ is an everyday thing.

Yes, serving Christ is an everyday thing.

We can’t always be shouting excitedly,

But we can excitedly go about our everyday affairs!

Is Sunday a day of excitement and praise,

And Monday an existence of humdrum boredom?

Are we connecting our Sunday experience to our weekday work?

The Sunday excitement must translate

Into committed action on Monday—

Christ must affect our everyday lives.

Knowing the “Hallelujahs” of Palm Sunday does not bring completeness.

It must impact our work on Monday.

As followers of Christ, we too need to work between Parades.

Monday through Friday shows others what we really are about.

Our attitudes, our work ethic, our relationships

Demonstrate the impact that the Hosannas have made.

When we live in submission to Christ,

We live with a jubilant attitude that carries us through each week.

Christ’s presence in us does not mean

That we must change our daily lives—what it does mean is

That our daily lives are to be lived in a different attitude.

If a street cleaner, then remain a street cleaner; if a teacher, continue teaching;

If a business person, remain in business, if a service worker, keep on serving.

Following Christ, for some, may mean remaining in the place where you were found.

What a thought—proclaiming Christ’s message between parades;

Between the highs of Sundays,

And  in the humdrum days between.

May Christ’s Palm Sunday joy give us the impetus

To get beyond the Crucifixion Parade

In order to “keep on doing” what we have been doing,

MAKING MEMORIES, NOT JUST APPOINTMENTS

Recently I heard an ad on TV that set me thinking. I must confess that I do not remember much about the ad—no remembrance of the product being sold; no remembrance of the TV show in which it was aired. But, what I do remember is the one phrase. This struck me and got my creative juices flowing.

The phrase—Making Appointments, not Memories—was said by a relatively young person. I believe he was bemoaning the fact that as people age they forget to enjoy life but merely keep a calendar of appointments, mostly medical. This hit me, as my wife and I have been busy checking our calendars to make sure we don’t miss our next “appointment” or doctor visit.

Making appointments to maintain good health is important. I am so thankful that we are able to visit clinics and doctors with little hindrance (except for the time lag!). However, I am also very thankful that these appointments do not control our lives. We still are able to enjoy life, and are making memories more frequently than we make appointments!

During these months of pandemic we have been forced to change our lifestyle to adjust to all the protocols. No more visits with friends at a favourite restaurant; no more hugs with our grandkids; no more gathering at church; no more touring with friends in our vehicle. However, no way were we planning to hibernate away from all activities. We just needed to adjust and make other memories.

Recently we took a drive out to a park, just to enjoy God’s creation. On another occasion we took a drive along the river to check on the ice breakup. In fall, we drove down to Morden, MB to “see” a sister. We were able to chat for a while as we sat outside, physically distanced. However, the trip was part of the memory-making. We drove through the Pembina Hills and enjoyed to changes in the fields and hills. Some places the harvest was complete. In some the trees were a beautiful fall colour.

Throughout the summer and fall of 2020 we toured Manitoba, enjoying the many sites, including the creative town symbols scattered across the province. We might never have done this if all was normal. What memories we were able to make—and many pictures to capture the sites.

Prior to the pandemic, we enjoyed frequent visits with friends as we as together over our cups of coffee at a local Tim Hortons. Now, our conversation is via ZOOM. What a wonderful gift! We are able to enjoy great conversations while safely at home. Each week a group of us shares several hours of wonderful conversation—including news of happenings in each family. Then, once a week, several of us “meet” together for supper, each in their respective homes, but sharing a meal together. Again, what a feature to add to our memory bank.

Yes, the ad is accurate in that we make many appointments. But it is inaccurate in that the appointments overtake the memories. May we never allow the various appointments to dominate our lives. Making memories is life-giving; making appointments is life-maintaining. We need both.

Light That Keeps the Dark Away

Back in 2015 I wrote a blog entitled, Light or Darkness, and that both find their way into our lives. Since that time I have noted the numerous times that light and/or darkness are mentioned—whether in songs, in writings or in speeches.  Probably the more well-known song about this was written by Leonard Cohen as he stated, “There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.”

Recently I was reminded of this light vs. darkness tension. Many in the world celebrated Holocaust Remembrance Day during January. We were reminded of the horrible atrocities committed during WW II by the Nazis. One wonders how so much darkness could prevail in the world. Prince Charles, who is patron of Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, in a tribute speech stated: “We can be the light that ensures the darkness can never return… This is our time when we can, each in our own way, be the light that ensures the darkness can never return.”

Some of us have very faint recollections of WW II. Many were not even born at that time. Does this mean that we can forget all about the horrors of that time? Most certainly not! Somehow, the atrocities against fellow humans continues day after day. Those of us in the comfortable North American scene often only read about atrocities; we are affected very little. However, as we reflect on the recent happening in Washington, DC, we must admit that peace and freedom are very fragile. How little it would take for us to be wrapped up in darkness and tossed aside. All this because we did not allow the crack to let in the light.

If we are the ones to insure that the darkness never returns (although it seems to be close at hand), then we must walk in the light of peace and love. Martin Luther King, Jr. declared that “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”

Darkness is bombarding us from all sides. We can be the light that ensures the darkness never returns. The hatred shown so frequently in many places needs the love which we demonstrate, to drive out this hate.

We are reminded that “perfect love casts our fear” (see I John 4:18). As we continually show love and compassion we can be the light that takes away the darkness. Let us always strive to show that love which projects light.

I want to end this short treatise with some words from The Hill We Climb, the now well-recognized words written and spoken by Amanda Gorman

“When day comes we will step out of the shade,

Aflame and unafraid

The new dawn blooms as we free it

For there is always light,

If only we’re brave enough to see it

If only we’re brave enough to be it”

A White-washed Canvas—A New Start for 2021

 A canvas filled with life situations

                   Filled with sadness and grief;

A canvas covered with the stories of those who came before

  And wondered where God was when all those troubles came.

A canvas filled with stories of rebelliousness and strife

                  Filled with hatred, pride and uncontrolled revenge.

This canvas, an ugliness that forces all to turn away, can be renewed

                  As the artist compassionately views the scene.

To start afresh a white-wash is required

                  A white-wash that covers all the old

And gives the artist a canvas cleared of all past grief.

When Jesus spoke about the Pharisees

                  Calling them a white-washed sepulcher

Was he providing a cleared canvas ready for a whole new scene?

                  A white-washed canvas

Prepared for scenes with splashes of new colours?

What a wonderful canvas filled with beautiful brush strokes.

                   God’s involved but always stays creatively unchained.

He paints a canvas demonstrating his trademark on the world

                  With brushstrokes showing only good.

God wants every canvas, every stroke and blazing colour

                  To show he cares that beauty shows its face.

This canvas—white-washed—Jesus strokes to paint an all-new story:

                 The lepers have a lease on life,

                  The many fed with fish and loaves,

                  So many others given an abundant life

But more than merely life—

                Their lives are splashy colour strokes

                 That fill the canvas

                  Making it much larger than it looks.

How will Christ fill the canvas of our lives?

                How will the strokes of beauty fill the scene?

And how will this New Year flow onto that canvas

                Prepared so wondrously by Christ for us.