I have been reading, lately, Barbara Brown Taylor's book Learning to Walk in the Dark. In it, she explores the mostly-forgotten faith metaphor of darkness, encouraging readers to discover the deeper and less obvious benefits of walking by dark.
Why do we fear the dark? There is pretty compelling evidence that at least part of the problem is in our faith tradition itself, with all of its emphases on the goodness of light, and the evils of darkness. After all, the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. After all, God is our light and our salvation. Whom shall we fear? After all, Jesus Christ is the light of the world. After all….
And yet, I can't help thinking, as I am reading this book. I can't help thinking that "In the beginning was the Word", not "In the beginning was the Vision." As much as we love the light, it seems as if our own faith tradition is warning us that light, at least a certain kind of light, is not enough. Seeing, at least with our eyes, is not enough. In the beginning was the Word. Even when it is dark, you can hear. You can hear the words, the music, the prayers, the Word.
As for me, I am always looking for a vision, or some kind of sign. I'm keeping my eyes peeled. Isn't that what I am supposed to do? It could be a small shiny rock, it could be a story taking place before my eyes, it could even happen to me, but I'm always looking for a vision. But in the middle of keeping my eyes peeled, sometimes I feel a judgment come upon me, a voice telling me not to depend so much on visions. "In the beginning was the Word," the voice says reminds me. "We walk by faith, not by sight," the voice says. "Sometimes you don't get a vision. Sometimes you just get a Word.
But what if you can't hear? In my faith tradition, it seems to me that this can be an even greater alienation than blindness. The Christian faith is so word-y. It is story and song and prayer, listening and speaking. For centuries upon centuries, it has been a feast for the ear, in one way or another.
I love words, almost as much as I love visions. But I have come to realize the words are not enough, especially lately. If Barbara Brown Taylor believes that we need to learn to walk in the dark, I am starting to believe that we also need to learn sign language, to write with our hands, to pray without words.
Many years ago, our congregation had a deaf couple who worshipped with us regularly. We had a sign language interpreter each week as well. For some reason, we decided to learn a certain prayer in sign language one year during Lent. Every week, we prayed and we practiced the signs. On the fifth Sunday in Lent we gave up the words, and we prayed using only the signs. In the beginning was the Word. But what kind of Word was it?
I am thinking now of the two creation stories in Genesis. In the first one, God creates with a Word. God says, "Let there be light." And there was light. In the second story, God bends down and creates a human being out of the dust, and breathes into him. In the second story, God touches us, and we come alive.
Maybe the point is this: God touches us, and we come alive. Darkness, light, presence and absence, word and touch.