Jim Taylor's Columns - 'Soft Edges' and 'Sharp Edges'

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Published on Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Reclaiming the goodness of darkness

A while ago, my wife Joan had to get up early for a hospital appointment. Very early -- her alarm went off at 5:30 a.m., when the world outside was still as dark as, well, my thoughts about getting up that early.
Joan tried to make as little noise as possible, which of course made every noise more intrusive – the click of a light switch, the rush of the shower, the buzz of the electric toothbrush….
We live in an open concept house. We wanted it that way. It works wonderfully, except at 5:30 a.m., when the light in the walk-in closet spills over the hall, the bed, and me.
And sounds carry in an open house: the clink of a spoon on a bowl, the gurgle of the coffeemaker…
The last switch clicked off as Joan headed out the door. And blessed darkness descended once more.
Why, I wonder, do we dislike darkness so much?
When Joan and I lived in Toronto, it felt as though everything had to be lit up, all night. Perhaps not quite like Las Vegas. But downtown office towers gleamed like lighthouses. Shopping malls flooded their parking lots with light. Every street had to have streetlights.
If a pool of shadow fell on a sidewalk, people avoided it – it might hide a mugger or a rapist. A bush that caused the shadow would be cut back or pulled out.

Warm soft blanket
And yet the darkness that settled around me that morning felt good. It felt like my mother’s arms, many years ago. It felt like a warm soft blanket, enveloping me, letting me sleep again.
It crossed my mind, in that fractional moment before my mind turned off completely, that perhaps this is what death is like. Not a desperate struggle to hang onto the fading light, but a welcoming calm that settles as gently as dew, that soothes away the tensions of the day as surely as a skilled masseuse gently loosens knotted muscles.
I know, I know, most stories about near-death experiences describe being drawn towards some kind of brilliant light. And religion tends to equate light with salvation, darkness with sin.
But those are selective stories. We hear only from those who did not die. We don’t hear, we never hear, from those who didn’t come back.
Nature tells us something different. Animals who know they are dying don’t head for the centre of the pack. They slip off quietly into the night. They find a cave. They curl up under a log. They want to be alone. So that the blessed darkness can settle around them.
When we thought my father was dying, a small group of us set up shifts in his hospital room so that he would never be alone. He didn’t die. He waited another six months. Until a Sunday morning. When his visitors went away to church. By the time they came back, he had died.
I still wonder if he chose that time, when no one would try to shoo the darkness away.
After all, as David Webber noted in the Presbyterian Record, it was out of “thick darkness” that God spoke to Moses on the mountain.
Maybe we shouldn’t be so afraid of darkness.
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Copyright © 2016 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups, and links from other blogs, welcomed; all other rights reserved.
        To comment on this column, write jimt@quixotic.ca
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YOUR TURN

People like different things about my columns. Christa Bedwin wrote, “Tying cats and the oil industry together -- no mean feat, Jim! Nice. And sadly correct. I've been wondering about the same thing myself, the zombie-ism. Sigh. People mostly aren't very smart, even the smart ones.”

And on the subject of cats, Ted Wilson asked, “Are you starting a petition to nominate your cat for Moderator? Where do I sign up?”

A couple of letters tackled the matter of institutional inertia. 

Peter Scott didn’t agree with me that very few members of the United Church of Canada still believed in a literal hell: “As a born-only-once Christian and life-long member of the United Church of Canada who served 20 years in pastoral ministry and 15 years as executive secretary of a Conference, I have struggled long and hard with the institutional inertia of which you speak, and I have great sympathy for those who still do that work. However, I suspect that about half of those who profess some affiliation with our church would still like to see a few of the "finally impenitent ... go away into eternal punishment" flaming or not.
“The only escape from inertia that I see for our church, our society, and the human race itself lies in the actions of the planet which gives us life and can therefore take it away. I don't see people or institutions willingly giving up power or luxury or comfort, but I do see the planet starting to take those away from us through global warming, through severe climate changes, and through catastrophic extinction of species (maybe even including ours). 
“So here is my hope. Not that our churches, our governments or even our species will do the right thing because it is right, but that after much suffering and loss, some generation in the future will turn the ship around because the only way to survive is to live in harmony with the whole of creation.”

Similarly, Ruthanne Ward wrote, “I am an Anglican priest doing some experiments in ministry -- attempting to help the church community be more focused on the community beyond them, not on themselves. Last week I wrote my blog post on the topic of inertia as well. I got mixed responses -- which I am always happy about since I'd rather create conversation than pure praise or dissent. I was made aware though of how a true word can be difficult for those who are wrapped up in the steady pace of inertia. What gives me hope is how those folks who very much seek and engage ‘the ground of all bein’, but don't do so through the institutionalized church, are so open to these conversations, to these ideas. 
“Inertia might kill the institutionalized church (I think on many levels it is already doing it), but it will never touch the Spirit! And thank God for that.”

Peter Clark shared an epiphany of his own (the subject of the previous week’s column). He described running a 7.5 km race: “Coming in well last, I was not surprised to find few people at the finish [but there were] my mates cheering me home! They had waited for me in spite of   the cold. That’s friendship. And something else, which I   suspect will surprise a couple of them. Their action in waiting to the bitter end to welcome me; the one who in almost all walks of our society would be considered to be The Loser in this event, was a wonderful demonstration of Godly behaviour -- the so-called losers are not only welcomed, they are positively cheered on. That’s   how I believe God behaves -- the least, the lost and the last are not to be excluded from God’s largesse, but are positively to be embraced in it!”

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PSALM PARAPHRASES

If I were re-writing this paraphrase of Psalm 99, the only thing I think I would change is the instruction to “look up” to find God. But I don’t have time today to rewrite, so here’s what you get. 

1   Raise your sights from the ruts of routine; 
Look up, look up, to the Lord who stands above everything. 
2   For God is greater than any abstract theory, any set of principles or moral values. 
3   God embodies all that is right and good.
4   Whatever is true, honest, and just, 
Whatever is pure, lovely, and admirable --
If it deserves praise or commendation, it is of God. 

5   But we mortals keep our heads down. 
Like ants at a picnic, we busy ourselves with crumbs 
and miss the banquet. 
God is too great for us to grasp. 
6   We know God through the lives of those who have known God; 
They depended on God, and God did not disappoint them. 
7   Our spiritual ancestors stumbled over God's unexpected presence; 
When they stubbed their toes, God forgave them 
8   because they were willing to learn. 
God watched over them, guiding their feet. 

9   God has been good to us. 
In God, we find the ultimate example 
of how we should act towards others. 

For paraphrases of most of the psalms used by the Revised Common Lectionary, you can order my book Everyday Psalms from Wood Lake Publishing, info@woodlake.com.

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YOU SCRATCH MY BACK…
Ralph Milton has a new project, called Sing Hallelujah – the world’s first video hymnal. It consists of 100 popular hymns, both new and old, on five DVDs that can be played using a standard DVD player and TV screen, for use in congregations who lack skilled musicians to play piano or organ. More details at www.singhallelujah.ca
Isabel Gibson's thoughtful and well-written blog, www.traditionaliconoclast.com
Alan Reynold's weekly musings, punningly titled “Reynolds Rap,” write reynoldsrap@shaw.ca
Wayne Irwin's "Churchweb Canada," an inexpensive service for any congregation wanting to develop a web presence, with free consultation. <http://www.churchwebcanada.ca>
Alva Wood's satiric stories about incompetent bureaucrats and prejudiced attitudes in a small town are not particularly religious, but they are fun; write alvawood@gmail.com to get onto her mailing list.
Tom Watson writes a weekly blog called “The View from Grandpa Tom’s Balcony” – ruminations on various subjects, and feedback from Tom’s readers. Write him at twatson@sentex.net

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TECHNICAL STUFF

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        I write a second column each Sunday called Sharp Edges, which tends to be somewhat more cutting about social and justice issues. To sign up for Sharp Edges, write to me directly, jimt@quixotic.ca, or send a note to sharpedges-subscribe@quixotic.ca

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Author: Jim Taylor

Categories: Soft Edges

Tags: goodness, darkness

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