Living into Darkness
There is much in the life of Christ that points us clearly to darkness, pain and suffering. These are part of the human experience but often we try to deny this and live some kind of ‘Pollyanna’ Christian life. I am hugely aware I have spent a large part of my adult life in this place, expecting God to take away the pain and the struggle, and certainly feeling it was not what my ministry would be about – surely that would revolve around bringing hope and shininess where there is pain and bleakness? In the work at the Upper Room, I have been brought to confronting this and to seeing and dealing with my own pain and the darkness that is in me, branded through the middle like Blackpool rock, as I’ve encountered the pain of others, and learning how to live in community and hold it between us, together.
Michael Mitton (writer, trainer, Priest and Canon in Diocese of Derby, author of Dreaming of Home among others, expert on Celtic history etc) taught a massively helpful seminar on this at the recent CMS Research Conversations Day, which will hopefully appear in a book at some stage. He spoke on the line in I Peter3:18 that says Christ went and proclaimed to the spirits imprisoned in hades, not willing to avoid the darkness there. He spoke on Christ’s acceptance of darkness and the shadow side, and of our need to do the same. To learn to preach good news to our own unacceptable self, the parts we avoid seeing and therefore the parts of others we are equally unable to bear or love. He spoke on hope being needed in the imprisoned parts of our own self, preached to by Christ and not ignored.
This had a helpful perspective on pioneering, as he identified pioneers as people sometimes expected to have answers, light and hope to bring to the church as it journeys through its own time of darkness but may be yet unwilling to admit this. What instead we could do is teach how to accept the darkness. Even in this place of despair, we are still often unable to speak truthfully among ourselves of what is happening, what struggle and heavy weight the slow dying of the church is to us and how responsible people feel for being unable to reverse it. Compassion for ministers and leaders is hugely necessary as they are not responsible for the gap that has opened up between church and culture. We are finding ourselves impacted by sweeping changes in every area of society, and trying to make change and respond on the hoof in a very rigid and unwieldy organisation is going to take its toll on all of us. Pressure, guilt and criticism are not the soil from which new solutions can easily emerge.
Michael’s advice was to have patience and allow space for questions to emerge and be voiced, with no rush to answering. Let the questions speak and be loved. God is on his throne and he has seen many changes in his church – it was God who terminated the Temple era and initiated the Incarnation. It was God who brought Christ’s time on an earth to an end and initiated the Resurrection. It was God who ushered in the era of the Kingdom. “And the church will emerge alive on the other side of this era, because God himself will have kept it alive himself. “ This is not in our control. What we need is good prophetic observing, watching and listening, to hear God’s message through the darkness, struggle and clamour of these times. Because He will always speak.