Gratitude: A Meditation in Darkness
By The Reverend Ms. Denise D. Tracy
Presented by Omni-University
"History, despite its wrenching pain cannot be unlived, and if faced with courage, need not be lived again." Ancestor Dr. Maya Angelou
I began writing this sermon on election night. An MSNBC Commentator did a kind of politically reflective monologue during which, for about 12 minutes, she kept referring to the current resident of the White House as part of a larger darkness and the next resident of the White House as part of the coming light. I knew what she was trying to say-- Trump/dark/negative,Biden /light/positive.
I knew she was trying to be artistic. As she went on and on, I found myself growing increasingly uncomfortable. As much as I like that commentator, I had this rising sense that her metaphor was, quite simply, racist. Equating darkness with the negative and, therefore, bad and whiteness with the positive and, therefore, good predisposes both the speaker and the hearer to experience-and perhaps internalize- racist concepts. This is the kind of subtle use of language that reinforces inherent racism. We cannot comprehend how deeply our minds are imbued and impacted by these images.
In the work I have been doing on racism, I have made a promise to myself that when I experience racism, I will speak up. So, I sat down and wrote her a letter. I suggested that she employ other metaphorical pairs such as "divisive and unifying, "defeatist and hopeful". I have not heard from her. I do not expect to get a response. However, the reality is clear. The language we employ- the descriptive phrases we use- impact how we respond to the world and raise the issue that we must pay attention to our words and pose the additional question of how, exactly, do we move beyond racist language and imagery? When we say that light is good and darkness is bad, we create a stark, binary choice.
As a child I had dark eyes. I remember thinking that blue eyes- not brown- were preferred. If darkness is seen as negative, how much of this cultural negativity do children with dark eyes, dark skin and dark hair internalize? If our culture is constantly posing darkness as bad, are we not harming our minds and spirits as well as those of our children? As I was growing up, there were a number of cowboy and Indian movies. I always found it interesting that the dark -skinned Indians, the guys wearing black hats, were the bad guys. The good people usually had white skin and light-colored hats. This was not subtle. It was "normal". It takes vigilance and awareness to undo the power of culture and language.
I have heard these Pandemic days referred to, repeatedly, as dark times, dark days. The "before" of the pandemic is referred to as light, or better, days. Nowadays are viewed as dark. I think of the pandemic days as perhaps difficult and challenging yet, I also think there are blessings in what we are experiencing. In my pre-pandemic life, I would not have taken the time to have long and extended conversations on my previously busy days. Now, I have the gift of time: - My grandchildren and I talk once, if not two or three, times a day. I live over 1,000 miles away and I have never been as close to my grandchildren, as I am now.
- I have extended long talks with friends and other loved ones.
- I now have time to knit, sew, and cook.
- I have time to enjoy tasks that I would often hurry through because I was fitting them in between the “important” work I was doing. - I have time to read. I've read 13 books of a series, in about 3 weeks. - I now take naps. My husband, Bill, will tell you, I have never napped before in my entire life.
I have the gift of time. I know that many people are experiencing this time with great struggle and uncertainty. I do not mean to ignore the difficulty of the times. However, I also know that difficult times can be times of great creativity: a time for finding new internal resources. I can now see some of the most difficult times in my life as the times that have defined my character, given me resources that have made me resilient. I hope this pandemic will give us gifts to hold onto in the months and years to come. Difficult times can be blessings born of necessity. I do not see them as dark. Instead, I see this as a challenge to be met as well as a time to be creative. The reality is quite simple. light and dark are both needed in order for us to live. We are created and live in our mothers’ womb for 9 months while our cells divide and our mothers' bodies feed and nourish us. During these nine months, we live in darkness. Many newborn babies cry at the shock of the light. Consequently, there are new birthing procedures that utilize soft music and shaded light, to welcome a child more gently. If we are lucky, we spend 8 hours of each 24, sleeping, eyes closed, in darkness. How wonderful the night is with its gift of the renewing power of sleep. My friend, Ann, calls sleep her “Moon time”. She says she has creative dreams and an entire life that happens while she sleeps. I do not remember my dreams often but, when I do, I remember visiting my parents and the places on earth that I have lived and loved. Dreaming deeply can be healing. This is another gift of darkness. It would be difficult to live in bright light all of the time. In the next weeks, as the days move to the darkest and longest night of the year, and we celebrate the Solstice, I want to suggest that we enter into a time of finding the blessings in the darkness. Remember that under the hard, cold, earth, there are seeds storing their energy; their cells are regenerating the memory of growth, and fruit, and flower. As the year wanes, we, too, store up our best selves to face the days ahead. In these days that are the darkest and shortest of the year, may we gather our energy, saving it up as blessings for the days ahead. Joan Chittister Rowan Williams in her book, "Uncommon Gratitude: Alleluia for All That Is", describes it in this way:
“Darkness deserves gratitude. It is the Alleluia point at which we understand that all growth does not take place in the sunlight."
May this be so for you. May you shine in the darkness and with the darkness. May you gather strength, beauty and faith in the darkness. May you find the gifts and blessings of darkness in this and every season. Amen. Shalom. Blessed Be.
"Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination" By Ancestor Toni Morrison