Inspired by Joshua 10: 7-14
I imagine we can all think of stories where the absence of light has caused us challenges.
I was eleven years old when, waking up in the dark of the night at our lakeside cottage in Pennsylvania, I ran full speed into a closed door on my way to the bathroom.
If I hadn’t been in a situation of some urgency, perhaps I could have allowed my eyes to adjust to the darkness and prevented my painful faceplant into a thick, solid wood door. But like Joshua, who finds himself in need of light to emerge victorious from battle, crisis tends to provide little time to adjust our perspective as we discern where to go and what to do next.
Today’s commentary tells us that, “the use of meteorological elements in battle was commonplace in biblical war.” However commonplace meteorological manipulation as divine expression may have been to persons living in biblical times, I would argue that for the contemporary reader, it remains an unexpected event.
The sun stopping, the moon standing still, may very well be the most fascinating story in the Bible.
Joshua speaks to God, with all of Israel listening, and says, “’Stop Sun’ …and the Sun stopped.”
Joshua needs God’s intervention in a time of crisis. Specifically, Joshua requires light to complete God’s mission of bringing peace to a land. With enemies attacking from all sides, Joshua leans on God to provide him with the most valuable resource in a time of crisis; light so that in the darkness of the times, we can see what we are doing.
Crisis as a noun has a few meanings. Crisis can be defined as a time of intense difficulty, trouble, or danger and crises can be defined as a time when a difficult or important decision must be made. It can also be defined as the turning point of a disease when an important change takes place, indicating either recovery or death.
As a noun, crisis is a ‘thing’ that exists outside of our selves. Crisis is not a personality trait nor is it an active agent with its own agenda. Crisis is not who we are as sentient beings. More accurately, a crisis is the makeup of the materials around us with which we are given to work with for the times in which we live.
Every crisis, then, is the presence of circumstances inviting us to respond in ways that enlighten the world to the realities of hope and the promises of peace. This is an important framing for those of us living in a time of overwhelming, traumatic loss because it reminds us that crisis is not an individual burden but a collective call to reconcile with reality and repent in postures that pose us toward resurrection.
Our biblical ancestors understood ‘God as alive, always and everywhere working his will, challenging people with his call, evoking faith and obedience, shaping worshiping communities, showing his love and compassion, and working out judgements on sin.’
Joshua is aware that he is in the middle of a battle and, consequently has the ability to make a snap judgement regarding how God can best come to his aid in this crisis. Joshua knows what he faces, who he can call on and what he should ask for all because his eyes are open to the realities surrounding him.
In defense of the contemporary Christ follower, Joshua knew he was heading into battle.
I am not sure we can claim the same sense of agency in the crises we now face as participants in the 21st century. Perhaps we identify more closely with the experience of the Canaanites who neither left home nor imagined that anything could ever challenge their place of power in the world. Perhaps we too find ourselves the passive recipients of an unwelcome awakening delivered through a multiplicity of traumatic alarms.
Undeniably, this year we are waking up to an unprecedented darkness formed in political division, viral death and planetary destruction. As Michael Mead suggested in his recent podcast, “Within a matter of just one lifetime, the world has been turned upside down and we have fallen out of one story and into another.”
Mead argues that we have fallen from the epic tale of progress which promises freedom from all limitations into the myth of decline pronounced by descending periods of darkness finalized with a predictive collapse.
To further explain our context, Mead lifts up the myth from Ancient India telling of the fall into darkness known as the Kali Yuga, meaning the age of conflicts or roughly translated as ‘things simply at their worst.’ Unlike popular Christian apocalypse interpretations, The Kali Yuga is not a sudden fall or end to the world but a gradual decline into darkness marked as an age fraught with selfishness and recklessness.
However we frame the time we find ourselves in, awakening to our arrival in such a decline triggers deep grief, anxious denial and ruthless grasping for positions of power. Panic stricken we awaken in the dark with an urgency resulting in a collective faceplant into doors that just days ago were well lit and wide open. Having not been fully aware of the direction we were headed, this arrival into a darkness occurs before our eyes have had time to adjust and before requests for divine intervention to leave those lights on just a little bit longer were made.
In the Western world, addictions to quick fixes and perpetual progress create delusions of false deadlines for the eradication of darkness; an election cycle, the arrival of a new season, the turn of a new year. Every problem approached like a battle to be won. Every tragedy received like an enemy to be eliminated. These addictions of our Western culture function like snooze buttons hit from the comforts of a cozy bed placed in a house where the neighborhood is on fire. The fire hasn’t reached our home yet. There is still time to sleep, still time to fix a problem that before the situation becomes dire.
Contrary to the delusions bred from denial in the West, in the tradition of the Kali Yuga, this descent into darkness embraces a much more generous timeline, claiming a period spanning four hundred and thirty-two thousand years. A reflection of the labor of darkness which leads to the renewal of life and the return of divine breath into all of creation as slowly light creeps back into the world.
Unlike the denial of darkness which diminishes the work of death in many forms, the Kali Yuga suggests a time of discernment during which we declare our devotions and make meaning in the realities existing around us. In the Kali Yuga, a small act of goodness makes a larger impact than it would in any other age and thus permits a deep sense of empowerment and possibility for our lives in this time. The light of this tradition shone upon our own, allows us to see that we are not on a battlefield but in a birthing room, being prepared for a long, painful labor of love that will plant seeds for a renewal which will occur in a time beyond that of our own.
As Richard Rohr states in The Universal Christ, “Light is not so much what you directly see as that by which you see everything else.”
Our task is not to deny the darkness but to wait in the darkness long enough for our eyes to adjust so that we can see what it is we are supposed to be doing. The darkness has a purpose, a landscape, all its own. In our time, light is not the destination but the tool offered to illuminate the fertility of darkness where our stories have been planted.
It is this darkness in which we find ourselves. It is this darkness in which we are called to stillness, to communal contemplation. A call to wait patiently for the gaps to be filled in, without insisting on quick closure or easy answers. If, like Joshua, we are to discern and demand anything from God in this time we live in, may it be that we never sit alone. That God would sit among us and work with us. That the depth of this darkness would become that by which we see everything else … after our eyes have adjusted just enough for us to truly see where we are and know in which direction we should begin moving. Amen.