My work group recently began reading some of the scripture passages from the Daily Office Lectionary each morning as part of a group prayer time. Even though we do not follow the Morning Prayer service (we just do the scripture readings and offer prayer for those in our lives who are in need), this practice gradually led to me resuming the practice of doing the Evening Prayer service on my own each night and now to doing full Morning Prayer on weekend mornings.
As I’ve begun this latest journey through the dark lands, I’ve been struck by how often the liturgy of the Evening Prayer service talks about light and darkness. I suppose it shouldn’t be surprising since it is intended to be read during the hours when day shifts into night, but I had not really noticed this language before now.
Some of the language is traditional speaking of God as light. For example, each night includes the reciting of the ancient Christian hymn Phos hilaron (translated as “O Gracious Light”). In English, the first three lines read:
O gracious Light,
pure brightness of the everliving Father in heaven,
O Jesus Christ, holy and blessed!
While there are days that this imagery is comforting, I still have a thread of discomfort with the emphasis on God as Light. It so easily leads to the idea that those of us who struggle with the darkness of depression aren’t as faithful or don’t know God or don’t have sufficient belief in God. This assumption that dark nights of the soul are signs that one is not right with the God who is Light is not helpful in times like this.
(Yes, I do know that not all Christians think that way, and I’m familiar with St. John of the Cross and other witnesses to sojourns in dark nights by Christians, but there are still enough Christians who use this kind of logic to make those of us who struggle with depression feel even worse to make me wary.)
The passage that I have found more helpful comes from one of the options for an opening to Evening Prayer. This is a passage from Psalm 139 (verses 10-11), which is one of my favorite psalms anyway.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will cover me, and the light around me turn to night, ” darkness is not dark to you, O Lord; the night is as bright as the day; darkness and light to you are both alike.
This is reassuring because it not only reminds me that others have walked that path where the light around them turned to darkness, there is One who sees through this darkness as if it were as bright as day. And that One is with me through this journey even when I can’t see anyone there.
Every night, that line brings comfort afresh.
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