The Darkness of Faith
Tony and Charmaine Chvala-Smith of Independence, MO, USA
He reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what is in the darkness, and light dwells with him. -Daniel 2:22
Mystics love paradox. For example, take the paradoxes from French priest Jean-Pierre de Caussade (1675-1751). “When we can’t see ahead,” he says, “we’re really on the right path. Wandering in the darkness is the best way not to stray.” One wonders what kind of directions he would have given if asked for a map to his house.
This language sounds absurd on the surface. But it’s not on the surface that we’ve been called to live. The way to the depths passes through paradox. So, it’s worth following de Caussade for a moment.
He is sharing a profound principle of the spiritual life: that faith does not so much put us in the light as in the dark. That sounds odd at first, even contrary. But not when we look closer. For as much as grace lets us walk in the light, faith has little to do with seeing. Frankly there are many times when following Jesus lands us squarely in a land of shadows where vision, landmarks, and handholds fail. But the truth de Caussade has glimpsed is that in these moments, God is not less present, but more. The less you can see, the closer you are to the true God. The true God, as scripture says, dwells in thick darkness, or as the theologians say, is invisible and incomprehensible, and thus is known solely by trust. This is the “darkness of faith.”
There is a harder paradox still. The mystics believed that we are better off in the dark than in the light. Why? Because ironically, spiritual self-deception happens to Christians more often when we “see” than when we fumble in the dark.
No lesson could be timelier for the church today. We are called to share the peace of Christ in an era of dangerous religious excess. Our time is characterized by too much claiming to know, too little modesty in the face of our vast ignorance; too much theological self-confidence, too little walking humbly with our God; too much spiritual bravado, too little awareness of our distorted vision; too much self-assertion in the name of Jesus, too little self-emptying in the spirit of Jesus. Too often Christians have confused loving their convictions with loving God. Paths lit by dogmatic certitude tend to lead in the same direction-away from the love of neighbor.
But the gospel does not offer us certainty. It offers that unlit path called the darkness of faith. Yet it is on this path we will find the God who “dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see” (1 Timothy 6:16). This journey in the dark turns out to be the best trip you’ll ever take.
(excerpt from January 2006 Herald)
I surrender into your love.
Set a timer for 20 minutes. (If that feels like too much at first, choose a time that will be comfortable for you as a starting place, committing to expand that time in future prayer.) Allow the rhythm of your breath to draw you deeper and deeper into silence. As you breathe, claim one sacred word (Christ, peace, grace, trust, etc.) emerging in you as an anchor to return you to the intention of your prayer when your thoughts begin to wander. Gently release the thoughts and images that come, making space for presence to the One who is with you here and now. Release, return, “be vulnerable to divine grace” (Doctrine and Covenants 163:10b).
Today’s Prayer for Peace
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