Dare I share about the romantic gestures, the knowing looks, or the whispered words? No, I dare not. After all, we were sitting in the dark, candles sputtering and flickering, because all of the electricity was kaput. Years back, I recall when a roiling, boisterous thunderstorm zigzagged across the Fresno area and we were under one of the more dramatic zags. Indeed, the next day it was reported that our part of town was drenched by a half-inch of rain in less than an hour. We also had hail, pea and penny-sized as it dropped in the backyard, but sounding like large caliber bullets when smacking against our garage doors.
Across town at the airport (where rain measurements are officially recorded for Fresno), there was “trace” moisture. Go figure.
We were wet, wild, and dark* in our part of town. I’m sure, as with most storms, some experienced serious problems like water damage or falling tree limbs or worse. This time, we just sat without electricity for a few hours.
And yet I was aware of how pleasant our conversation was during the almost two hours of darkness. Even after years of marriage, we still enjoy and delight in each other’s company. But, in the evening, after a long day’s work, we can quickly settle onto the couch and let the television inform or entertain or numb us. The first two are the preference, but I’ve been known to settle for numb.
No lights. No television. I listened to her talk about her day. I asked questions. She asked questions. The darkness was good.
In the four Gospels, the word “light” (according to one of my expensive whiz-bang Bible study books) is mentioned fifty-four times. Since the original language was Greek, and the list I consulted was English, maybe the word is mentioned more or less . . . but in any translation or language, “light” is a frequent verbal guest in the Bible.
Sure, there’s the singular time Mark’s Gospel (13:24) mentions light during an end-time’s prophesy: “But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light . . .” I suppose that would be one of those places where Biblical literalists and non-literalists might quibble. After all, the moon doesn’t have light to give, only light to reflect.
But no one quibbles, whether taken literally or metaphorically, about John’s homage to Genesis-like creation when the gospel writer introduces Jesus: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness shall not overcome it . . .” (John 1:5). Indeed, John’s opening verses, as enthralling as any words ever written, were a celebration of light. And of new, enlightening life.
And I whole-heartedly (and even light-heartedly!) agree. We light candles to begin worship. On Christmas Eve, even cynical eyes may fill with tears at the sight of one candle lighting another and another, as a symbol becomes visible in a darkened sanctuary.
We can leap from Christian tradition and talk of the Jewish Menorah, a physical reminder of Exodus 25:31-40. Or a spoken praise like “Allah is the light of the nations,” as our Muslim brothers and sisters remember. Without even researching, I am confident light would be found in every expression of faith across the globe.
And I understand. Light is a powerful, ancient symbol. It’s hard for me to imagine what the world was like in the “dark” period of Jesus’ ministry. Hey, I can’t really imagine the world before Thomas Edison. It was in 1879 that Edison improved the nascent electric bulb sufficiently enough to make it practical, and eventually ubiquitous. Nearly 140 years later, maybe there’s too much light. And though I could shift my thoughts toward environmental concerns about too much (and rightly so) energy use, I prefer stay in the realm of symbolism.
Which is to say, maybe, in those moments with my wife in a darkened room, I didn’t mind the absence of light. We slowed down. We talked. We had few distractions.
If I picture Jesus’ time, of the power of how light was used in the Bible, I envision a flickering oil lamp allowing for quiet conversation between friends. I read John’s account of old Nicodemus (John 3:1-21)—some of my most favorite verses—arriving to talk to Jesus at night. And the two trade questions and answers and hope as a light flickers. Or Peter (in Mark 14:54) settling in by a fire in the courtyard after Jesus’ arrest. In my imagination, in the tendrils of flame, Peter’s face is in shadow as he lies about himself and denies Jesus.
Yes, I understand the power of light.
But these days, maybe there is also value in darkness, in turning the distractions off or down. For a few moments, a raucous storm shut off the lights. However, most of the time, for the best of what darkness may gift, we have to throw the switch. “And God said, let there light.” But sometimes, let there be a bit of Holy darkness, of quiet.
*When reminiscing about this bygone Fresno storm, I realize it was a mere blip on the weather radar compared to recent hurricanes like Michael and Florence and Maria (and typhoon Mangkhut in the Philippines). How trivial our situation was to the rage of those storms and the life-altering damage that followed. Here is a link to the United Methodist Committee on Relief. UMCOR is my denomination’s agency that works with other NGO groups and FEMA for immediate support and eventual rebuilding.