December 2, 2022

Dear St. Mark’s family,

We’ve begun the season of Advent, waiting, anticipation of the birth of Jesus.
I attended an Advent service in my Mom’s (Methodist) church in 2018, not long after she died. The pastor, Rev. Dr. Cindy Ryan, was talking about how Mary may have experienced that period of waiting. It probably wasn’t entirely joyous anticipation, she said. I thought about Mary being sent away to her cousin Elizabeth’s house – to be hidden from judging eyes and gossip. I thought about her not knowing what Joseph’s response would be when he found out she was pregnant with someone else’s child – whether she might be rejected, or possibly stoned. Even if all those things turned out well enough that she’d be able to have the baby, birth itself was dangerous and had to be scary for a first-time mom.

Advent seems maybe parallel in some ways like waiting through the night for the sun to come up, literally or metaphorically. It’s not possible to force the sun to rise faster; we just have to wait. Whether the darkness we’re waiting through is painful or joyous – grief, confusion, uncertainty, or anticipation – there is a limit to our power to influence how long that waiting will be, and often we have no power to influence it at all.

I love something Barbara Brown Taylor wrote in her book Learning to Walk in the Dark: “Being in the dark is not the same as being in danger.” Being afraid of the dark relates to being afraid of anything we don’t yet know – like the future. Sometimes darkness correlates with danger, and sometimes it’s kind of the opposite – darkness can provide shelter for something to finish forming. In The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron says “creativity, like human life itself, begins in darkness.”

Another way of thinking about darkness and waiting in between momentous events, appears in the poem by T.S. Eliot, “The Four Quartets”:

“I said to my soul, be still, and let the dark come upon you
Which shall be the darkness of God. As, in a theatre,
The lights are extinguished, for the scene to be changed
With a hollow rumble of wings, with a movement of darkness on darkness,
And we know that the hills and the trees, the distant panorama
And the bold imposing facade are all being rolled away—

If you are in the dark, see if you can slow down, even come to a stop, and let your eyes adjust as you wait. It could be that something new is forming in you, in us. Or maybe the set is being changed, so that when the lights come back up, a new scene begins.

Dcn. Tracie Middleton