Within the darkness, all is being changed
By expenditure of hope,/Intelligence, and work, /You think you have it fixed. /It is unfixed by rule./ Within the darkness, all/ Is being changed, and you/ Also will be changed. -Wendell Berry, A Timbered Choir
“The afflicted shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the Lord! May your hearts live forever. All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations shall worship before you. Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord, and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn, saying he has done it.” -Psalm 22: 26,27,30,31
“The Psalm verse Jesus had yelled out was of course the opening of Psalm 22: ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ On and on goes the Psalm, plunging down into the depths of despair, of self-loathing, or helpless suffering…Verses 22-31 depend entirely on the twenty-one verses that precede them. They are the fruit of the suffering. We read them today, a mere ten days into Lent, as an act, not of respite, as though they cancelled out the earlier part of the Psalm, but of encouragement. This is where it’s all going, even if where we currently stand seems dark, dangerous, and sad…Even when we can see nothing but darkness, the cross still points upwards to the God who makes even human wrath turn to his praise. This cruel cross, planted roughly in the stony soil of Calvary, will thus bear fruit, fruit that will last: rescue, mission, praise. And we who find ourselves, this Lent, standing at its foot, in darkness and perhaps even despair, must learn to train our ears to hear these verses, not cut off from the rest of the Psalm but precisely growing out of it…Watch and pray for the day when these final verses will become as real and obvious in our world as the darkness and suffering is right now.”
-NT Wright, Lent for Everyone
This has been a heavy week. One close friend lost her mother to ALS, while another lost her 24 year old sister in a tragic car accident. Friends from South Sudan have come to Kenya for unexpected medical care and surgery. Friends here at school have struggled with battles big and small. My teammates at the hospital battle daily against death, and see death taking too many children. South Sudan is becoming less and less stable. I’ve felt stretched, and weary of the distance between here and America, and also frustrated with the ways that my school-based work can be perceived as less by those far away, sometimes simply because it isn’t as remote, edgy, or publicly presented as my work was in South Sudan. And then, I feel embarrassed when I feel defensive about it (or when I wonder if they’re right).
Of course, I’m giving you the broad strokes of struggle, and that is not the whole story. There have also been so many sweet things: beautiful sunrises over the valley, and friends stopping by with brownies, and cozy fires, and laughter with kids, and change witnessed in my counseling office. Good books, and plans for upcoming trips, and time with my team and community. Have I mentioned how much I love working with students at RVA? They constantly amaze me with their resiliency, kindness, and candor. As I would assume it is with you, my life is often a mystifying mix of laughter and tears, clarity and uncertainty, joy and sadness.
Nonetheless, this last week has felt a little darker than normal. During this season leading up to Easter, as we reflect on Christ’s sacrifice, I want to remember that, as Barbara Brown Taylor says, “…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.”
In these dark days of Lent, I believe that something new is beginning, even if I can’t see it yet. Because of this hope, I can rest in the small hiddenness of my school-based work, grieve deeply with those who feel the stealing sting of death, offer meals and hugs and questions to the displaced, and pray for the places shaken by instability. On this journey, may we sense the bright power of transformative resurrection at work in the places that seem to us the most dark.
PS: Regardless of your position on his perspective on Paul, I think you should consider reading some of N.T. Wright’s Lenten reflections found in Lent for Everyone: Mark, Year B.