Eight years ago, a fluke malfunction of epic proportions caused the entire city of San Diego (and a huge chunk of Southern California) to lose power. Millions of people were affected, literally left in the dark. It was wild.
I was sitting at my desk at work in the middle of the afternoon when everything shut down. Having grown up in Southern California, I was used to power outages now and again, so this seemed to be no different. But after about an hour, we weren’t sure that this one would simply pass, so our staff was sent home early. Even though I lived only about a mile from the Church where I worked, it took me almost 30 minutes to get home because of all the cars that had bottled up due to the traffic lights being out.
Once I finally made it home, it became apparent that this was gonna be a long-haul outage. We did the usual — found all the candles, flashlights, and dug up all the batteries we might need. My mom suggested that we all conserve the batteries on our cell phones. I chose instead to use it up texting a bunch of my friends making plans to all get-together. Though my mom was uneasy, especially as it was getting darker out, I eventually convinced her it would be fine and off I went.
By the time I made it to my friend’s house, it was nearly night. Most of our other friends were already over. They were sitting in the driveway with the garage open, had gathered a bunch of games, candles, flashlights, and an infinite supply of snacks. A couple of the guys had brought their guitars. And for hours, as the city of San Diego remained in darkness, we laughed ’til we cried, played games, sang songs, and were, like, really together — just enjoying each other and being truly present to the moment.
I remember a particular moment where I realized just how eerily dark it was outside. None of the streetlights were on and everything just felt different. It was definitely the makings of a horror movie, but none of us were scared. Finally one of us noticed the stars and we all looked up. Normally we would have to drive out to the mountains to be able to see the sky like that. But now it was right overhead – and that’s how 12 or so rowdy 20-somethings were quiet for more than a minute. And when I say quiet, I mean *quiet*, because there were no appliances running, none of the humming and stirring and buzzing that comes with a city with power. It was just quiet, and dark, and still.
Are You Afraid of the Dark?
We all have different understandings of darkness. Sometimes that understanding is just instinctual, like when little kids are afraid of the dark. I have really young nieces and nephews, six of them, all under five years old, and they would never be able to sleep in their own room without their night light. Nobody tells them to be afraid, they just are. We even tell scary stories in the dark, because we understand that this fear is sort of built into us. As children, the darkness represents a vast unknown that is far more frightening than it is exciting, and so our parents and caregivers do anything and everything they can to dispel it.
There is also a deeper darkness that, though not physical, frightens us far beyond our childhood. I am referring to the figurative darkness that we come to understand due to the circumstances of our lives and of our world: poverty, gun violence, disease and illness, war, racism, terrorism, depression, anxiety, and death. Our world and our lives can be chaotic, hectic, and definitely dark. We see suffering in our world and in the lives of those around us and we experience it ourselves. I think more often than not, we want to run away from that kind of darkness. We find ways to tune it out, to numb our experience of it. We push it aside; we sweep it away; we invent new ways to avoid it.
But how different could things be if we didn’t run away from the darkness of our lives? What if there was something, like my experience of a blackout in San Diego all of those years ago, that can flip our understanding of darkness? That it would give us a new way to look at the darkness so that we could face it head-on, to be still, be quiet in it, and embrace it as an opportunity to see and welcome the light of Jesus that exists in it?
In the beginning of time, when God created the world, there was darkness. What was there had no form, no light. God saw that and opted to do something with it, to make something out of it. In the very first book of the Bible, the book that tells us our origin story, we read: “Then God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light” (Genesis 1:3). In the Latin translation of the Bible, the word fiat is used, and the whole phrase is fiat lux, which translates to “let there be light.” The word fiat means “to do” or “to make”. Fiat is something that is willed by the one doing or making. It isn’t forced, it’s not mandatory. It’s a decision made freely. In reading that phrase of the Bible, fiat lux, “let there be light,” we can begin to understand a new relationship to darkness. In that short but powerful phrase, we realize that God sees the darkness and chaos in our world and in our lives. God isn’t dispassionate toward it or uncaring; God faces it head-on. He says fiat lux, “let there be light,” and gives meaning to the darkness.
All throughout the story of humanity, we realize it is a story of women and men trying to figure out what to do with darkness. This carries on for generations, from Adam and Eve to Abraham, to Isaac, to David, to the prophets, and so on. Some were able to acknowledge the role of darkness in their life and invite God into that experience. Others weren’t so good at doing so. But once again, through it all, God is not dispassionate or uncaring about our darkness. Instead, He sheds light once more. A new Word is spoken, and this Word is incarnate, it is made flesh, in the Person of Jesus Christ, who is God’s response, God’s fiat, to the darkness of our lives.
The Darkness We Choose
God knows there’s a lot of darkness we don’t choose. As sure as the dark night that follows the light of day, it happens to us. It is a part of our human experience. But God also knows that some darkness comes as a result of us shutting out any and all light and opting to remain in the dark. We call that sin. Through sin, which is a free human choice, darkness and suffering are made unbearable. But in Jesus Christ, God once again chooses to face darkness head-on. Thanks to Him, we experience freedom from sin. Thanks to His death and Resurrection, we can endure the darkness of our lives, even that darkness of sin that we choose, and in it find the light. If we say yes to Jesus and respond to His sacrificial love for us, then we no longer have reason to choose darkness. Because of Jesus and His light, we no longer have to fear entering into the inevitable darkness that our lives will face.
Through Jesus Christ, God enters into our world to be with us in order to save us. Light is not overcome by the darkness. It is God’s will – God’s “fiat” – that we not fear the darkness of our lives, but rather find Him through it. In our times of difficulty and suffering, that means looking for those small sparks of light, the way that a tiny flame from a small candle can illuminate a large room even if it were in total and complete darkness. And in the darkness of our sin, that means handing it over to the light of the world who is Jesus by repenting, asking for forgiveness through the Sacrament of Confession, and choosing to move in the direction of light from then on.
Light of the World
In the darkness of our lives, we are invited to be still, to be quiet, and to let the light of Jesus Christ guide us in whatever darkness that is overwhelming us. He is the one who is calling you to live unafraid of the darkness. He is calling you to entrust the darkness of your life to Him. He is calling you to wade through the darkness of your life by finding Him and following Him, the light.
What darkness can you hand over to Jesus, the light of the world? What pain, suffering, fear, struggle, or sin overwhelms you? I don’t know the answer to those questions. But you do. And Jesus does, too. In every moment, Jesus is asking you not to run away from that darkness. He is asking you not to tune it out, He is asking you to stop numbing it. He is asking you not to push aside the darkness; not sweep it away; not avoid it. Instead, He is asking you to face the darkness head-on, knowing that it is not overcome by His light.
In this moment, and in all moments, let us welcome Jesus into our darkness and let His Light guide us through it.