In this darkness

A couple of months ago I read a blogpost about facing and entering into darkness, which introduced me to a scripture passage I had somehow never been aware of before. It immediately resonated with me, in a way simultaneously inexpressible and filled with clarity, because I know that over the years I have lived, learned and grown in my understanding of its central truth:

I will give you the treasures of darkness
And hidden riches of secret places,
That you may know that I, the Lord,
Who call you by your name,
Am the God of Israel.

Isaiah 45.3

I was reminded of these words and that blogpost in the aftermath of Mary Oliver's death a few days ago, when, amid the well-known, well-loved extracts from her poetry being shared on social media, someone shared the extremely short poem which is effectively that passage's companion. Entitled The Uses of Sorrow, it is only five lines long:

(In my sleep I dreamed this poem)
Someone I loved once gave me
a box full of darkness.
It took me years to understand
that this too, was a gift.

Yes, I have spent time in darkness and somehow, mysteriously, at times indescribably, come to know it as gift. Never easily, and certainly not rapidly, but in the darkness of loss and pain, or of dry, unrewarding prayer, the gift of its treasures has been there and has come to me, eventually. But I have realised that nowadays, whenever I write of darkness or dark times, I'm not referring to personal grief or spiritual dryness, but to how I perceive and experience the state of our world, with its increasing crises and cruelty. And with this comes another realisation: that this is a darkness it is so much harder to be in, and so much harder to understand as gift; a darkness which can be frightening and overwhelming, which contains confusion, instability and nastiness, and which severely tests my faith and hope.

In the darkness of a world mired in cruelty and crisis I have to remind myself that this was how the pierced Heart came to be, and what lies at the heart of its mystery: hate seemingly triumphant, Love a spent force, and savage cruelty unwittingly unleashing a flow of redemptive, super-abundant love, gifting us a Heart which can never be closed. Yes, I believe in redemption and resurrection, and I believe in Love... and I have so often seen love and generosity and goodwill shine out, in even the darkest of times. So I hold on to this, as I face this darkness, cling to the faith founded on a triumph over death... and remember too that the opening words of our Constitutions are in themselves a powerful declaration of that faith:

God's mercy and faithfulness shine forth in a world wounded by sin