This has been a week of reflecting on darkness.
On Friday 4th March, Jo and I were woken up by the bomb that led to the death of Adrian Ismay, a prison officer described by the head of the Community Rescue Service Sean McCarry as:
a person who was in the business of building communities, not destroying them; he was in the business of saving lives, not taking lives; he was in the business of helping families not hurting families and there is a stark contrast between Adrian and others, and its as stark to us as black and white. Adrian was everything that anyone wanted to be. We described him as the ‘big man’ and he was big in heart and big in everything.
(Do read my friend James Currie’s blog post for more reflections on Adrian)
Brian Anderson, President of Methodist Conference, told mourners at the funeral of Adrian Ismay that “in the darkest part of night – probably dressed in dark clothes, dark men did a dark, dark deed, leading to the loss of Izzy.”
At the same time, ISIS is threatening “dark days” if the West should retaliate for the suicide bombs in Brussels.
Then there is the darkness over the Daniels, Lee and McGrotty families after losing five of their family at Buncrana pier.
It reminds me of the famous quotation from Sir Edward Grey, British Foreign Secretary, at the start of the First World War:
The lamps are going out all over Europe, we shall not see them lit again in our life-time
Certainly, Donald Trump appears to think so as he adds Brussels to the places he paints as increasingly dark.
I think I prefer this quotation by Wesleyan minister William Lonsdale Watkinson in 1907:
Yet is it far better to light the candle than to curse the darkness.
At the funeral of the Buncrana pier victims, Father Paddy O’Kane referred to:
one ray of hope bravely breaking through the dark clouds
He was speaking of Davitt Walsh’s action to save Rionaghac-Ann.
Darkness cannot withstand light. Even a torch with worn out batteries presents a little light.
Holy Week is a time to remember darkness.
Between Sunday and Thursday, Jesus enters Jerusalem as king on a donkey, recalling Zechariah 9:9, and then highlights the darkness in the Jerusalem Temple by driving out the money-changers (not for the first time) and spending days teaching in the precints, before being anointed with a very expensive alabaster jar full of perfume at Bethany.
In the meantime, the chief priests and elders secretly plotted to kill Jesus, but only got their opportunity when Judas promised to give him up.
After the Passover meal, which we know as the Last Supper, Jesus found himself in the darkness, and alone as Peter, James and John fall asleep while he prays. Betrayed by Judas’ kiss, then arrested and tried in the dark with the testimony of liars while being denied by his friend. Then there was the literal darkness for three hours before Jesus died on the cross, and the darkness the disciples felt without him.
That darkness only lasted for two nights. With sunrise on the Sunday morning came the resurrection – Jesus was alive. The light could not be extinguished.
How one tackles the darkness of terrorism is beyond the scope of this post, and if I’m honest, beyond me, apart from two notes: a people wronged by the actions of terrorists who claim to share their faith should not be further wronged by the response to that terrorism; and a response to terrorism, as with any other wrong-doing, should not merely address the crimes thus committed, but also ask why – what excuses are offered, and what fuelled those excuses?
What I do know is that fear perpetuates the darkness and darkness causes fear to grow, but light reveals the truth.
The darkness of grief is far easier to deal with, and I don’t say that lightly.
Presence. Being there. Space to grieve. Support. Freedom to feel (or to be numb) without expectations that the person grieving will be a particular way or do particular things.
Walking with the grieving person. Knowing that only they can decide when they can make what tiny steps, because trying to drag them doesn’t work and can actually push them backwards.
Celebrating the life lost. Remembering, and learning from them.
All incredibly difficult, but all things that can be done.
Perhaps I shall indulge myself by recycling a quotation I have used more than once, but at least it’s one of my own:
On the darkest day, in the loneliest night, when everything is lost, we know this one thing deep within. We are never alone, because the Holy Spirit, our comforter and guide, is with us. Our heavenly Father doesn’t promise to protect us from heartbreak, cancer and evil, he walks with us through it all – and knowing that makes all the difference.
And perhaps that story Tony Campolo loves to tell of the famous sermon by SM Lockridge.
It’s Friday. Sunday’s coming.