What I Learned in the Darkness

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I didn’t want to go there. Sitting in stunned silence as Ella Mine performed her Dream War show, I battled emotions that took me by complete surprise.

She is twenty-two. Twenty-two. I didn’t like the demons that haunt her. I didn’t like how her pain made me feel. I didn’t like that redemption seemed far off, that her suffering was still present and all too real right now. I hate that a seventeen year old girl suffered as she has and now, at twenty-two, she is still clawing her way out of the grave that she did not dig, wresting with demons that she did not invite to play.

I felt the weight of her suffering, suffering that felt scarily familiar even in its great difference from my own. My heart raced and my breathing became labored as her voice raged and the pace of the music waxed and waned. Suffering and pain, anguish and drowning. Down, down, down.

No part of me was comfortable. I furtively glanced around, noting the door all the way across the room. I wanted to leave. I could use the excuse of needing to go to the bathroom, then just stay in the hallway, out of sight, with a wall between me and her pain.

Between her pain and mine.

But I stayed. I wondered what my friends were thinking. I struggled to understand. I begged for relief, for release, for hope.

Where was the hope?

I scanned the pages of lyrics, looking ahead, wanting to see the happy ending tied up in a bow.

But it wasn’t there. A slight up-tick? I guess you could call it that. My friend described it profoundly: Ella Mine scraped the bottom with her music. Yes, that’s right. She scraped it clean and didn’t promise we would rise from it. Not today.

Isn’t that right, though? Isn’t that the truth with which we are cursed, caught between the now and not yet?

I listened to Ruth Naomi Floyd singing the songs of her great-great grandmother’s generation. A woman whose legacy lives on in her great-great granddaughter’s strong and courageous voice.

Then we heard the stories told by Odessa Settles and Buddy Greene, products of a similar era with vastly different experiences, two lives merged into a friendship wrought by music and the work of the Holy Spirit. Story after story of brokenness, of darkness, and of the light which darkness has not overcome.

Finally, we experienced the reading of The Hiding Place, adapted by A. S. Peterson. This play is a work of sheer brilliance. Though I knew the story, this time I felt it. Viscerally, painfully. Corrie raged against the God she could not see while Betsy determined to love him despite their suffering. Forgiveness. The scandal of true forgiveness. Redemption.

Hope.

At the end the people stood, one by one, to tell what this weekend had meant to them. My heart burned to speak out but allergies had stolen my voice and I didn’t want to croak, detracting from the sacred atmosphere in the room, so I work it out here in silence as children’s voices waft from a bedroom down the hall and my daughter converses softly with her dad. We plan to light the first hearth-fire of the season tonight and I am glad. Glad for the light and, oddly, glad for the darkness.

For without darkness how would we recognize the light? Without pain, how would we know the relief of healing? Without the root of suffering, how would we appreciate the fruit of deliverance?

My brother used to scare us. An incredible artist, he would fill page upon page with images of demonic battles, dark creatures, blood and gore. He went to a counselor once who reassured his wife that this was, in fact, healthy.

“This is how he deals with his emotions,” she said. “This is healthier than beating someone.”

My brother knew what I have not wanted to face. It is better to sit in the grief and brokenness, to let it do its hard heart work, and not rush through it. We all like the happy ending. I certainly do. But I’m learning I cannot rush redemption. I must sit in the hard places and not run away. I must sit with those who suffer and mourn with those who mourn. Silence may be the balm they need instead of trite answers.

In Matthew 10:27-31 Jesus tells us to speak into the light what we have learned in the darkness.

What I tell you in the dark, speak in the light. What you hear in a whisper, proclaim on the housetops. Don’t fear those who kill the body but are not able to kill the soul; rather, fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. Aren’t two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them falls to the ground without your Father’s consent. But even the hairs of your head have all been counted. So don’t be afraid therefore; you are worth more than many sparrows.

Until then we must do the hard work of grief, dying one Paschal death after another, wrestling with God and coming out with a limp.

Jeanine Joyner

We are precious to him. He does not ask us to walk lightly or quickly through suffering. He has much to teach us in those dark places but we must exercise great patience and faith in order to learn, for learning is not a quick process. It is a product of time and discipline, of focus and intention. In order to discern what God is teaching me in the darkness I have to spend the necessary time there, gathering and gleaning what he is teaching me in order to bring it out with me into the light that is surely waiting, even when I cannot see the first glow of dawn.

The dawn is promised. Light will surely pierce the darkness. One day we will dance in the fullness of joy before our Father, bathed in the light of his presence, the tears of grief long left behind.

One day.

But until then we must do the hard work of grief, dying one Paschal death after another, wrestling with God and coming out with a limp.

At Hutchmoot, many were limping and as the unintended theme revealed itself over the weekend I realized I was, too. Isn’t that the beauty of a community like this? That we can come with our struggles, insecurities and scars and not be expected to have figured it all out? That it’s OK to sing a little off-key or miss a chord on the guitar as long as you keep pushing forward, refuse to stop creating, pound out one more paragraph of that book in your heart in direct rebellion to the sinister voices that whisper to stop?

We have all been wounded. At some point we have all had to learn to walk again. Some have rediscovered how to dance, but many have not. Like the beautiful Ruth Naomi Floyd said, “Someday I will dance, but not yet.” Despite our scars, though, we are walking forward, getting stronger every day, side by side, armed with weapons of light, color, story and song. We will face the darkness. We will fight despair. We will grieve with those who grieve and not rush the process. We will exercise patience with our brothers and sisters who struggle to believe the dawn is coming. We will await the first light of morning together.

Then we will dance.

Photo by Luiz Felipe on Unsplash


5 Comments

  1. Chloe

    @chloe

    What a good reflection. That amazing hour of music made me uncomfortable, too, and I’ve been thinking of both the show and my reaction ever since. In the midst of it, I wasn’t gauging distance to the doors but reading ahead, counting how many more of those exquisitely crafted and powerful songs were left until I could feel a little emotional relief. Since then, as I’ve described it to a few friends, I’ve realized quite a bit more how valuable Ella’s music is. It puts such words to suffering, and there are people in my own circles who will experience some healing by realizing they’re not alone. And this fit in with one of the things that really struck me at Hutchmoot: the sense of a deep, abiding joy and extreme beauty in the midst of acknowledging some pretty real and severe pain. Neither were shied away from, and I also believe that the light will shine all the brighter for having been contrasted against the dark.

  2. Janna Barber

    Here are a couple of things that comfort me with regard to the darkness. The first is Psalm 139:12 – “the darkness is as light to God; night is as bright as day.” The second comes from a poem I learned at this year’s Moot, from the incomparable Wendell Berry. It’s one of his Sabbath poems from 1991, Number 5: “The seed is in the ground./Now may we rest in hope/While darkness does its work.” Thanks for sharing your story, Jeanine. I appreciate everything you’ve said here. Wish I could have made it to the Buddy and Odessa session!

  3. Alexandra Prosser

    @julywildflower

    Yes. Yes. Yes.
    ” It is better to sit in the grief and brokenness, to let it do its hard heart work, and not rush through it. We all like the happy ending. I certainly do. But I’m learning I cannot rush redemption. I must sit in the hard places and not run away. I must sit with those who suffer and mourn with those who mourn. Silence may be the balm they need instead of trite answers.”
    I shared these words with a friend. They encapsulate very well my own season of grief. And a hundred thank-yous to Ella for being brave enough to unmask raw pain and loss and invite us into it as a feast of its own.

  4. Ocieanna Fleiss

    Thank you. I’ve been stuck, not wanting to feel the pain of suffering anymore. Not wanting to learn anymore. I’ve learned enough, I thought. But my writing has become shallow and weak. I think I have to go there again. I don’t think the lessons have all been learned. And he loves me too much to let me miss them.

  5. Tyler

    I’m encouraged to be reminded to not rush through the darkness and the pain, to continue to limp along, to continue to create. Thanks for this beautiful post!

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