The people remained at a distance, while Moses approached the thick darkness where God was. Exodus 20:21
These words, following immediately after God gives Moses the Ten Commandments, have haunted me for most of my life. In particular, I have been struck over and over by this idea of God inhabiting the thick darkness. This, for me, has had more resonance than God inhabiting the blinding light, for I understand the thick darkness. I understand the darkness of pain, regret, fear, loneliness, inadequacy, and uncertainty. I know all too intimately the darkness of death, the darkness of shame, the darkness of grief. I have come, however, to trust the Mystery of God, unknowable, often unrecognizable, as that which has been faithful in the darkness, no matter how thick.
Over and over again, from growing up the child of divorce to standing at the funerals of children taken long before their time, I have seen the Mystery of God at work in darkness so thick you could feel the weight of it like a wet fleece blanket. In the midst of pain so present it stung like salt in a deep wound, I have witnessed the Mystery bring healing rich and wide and vast. In the midst of grief so palpable it left you shattered, howling upon the bathroom floor, I have seen the Mystery provide life new and fresh and whole.
I remember, as a child, how I longed for the thick darkness of my parent’s divorce to be lifted. I longed for God to calm the storms and put life back as it was. I remember the loneliness, the loss, the deep, gnawing hurt. I remember the wishing wells, the dandelions, the shooting stars where every wish was for the darkness to end. I remember the pain and despair of saying too many goodbyes, of clinging to a dream so long that it bloodied my fingers. Oh how well I know the darkness, how well I know the thickness of it all. And yet, even then, even there, in the darkness hovering about a little boy crying in the night, the Mystery was at work, painting upon the canvas of my life in hues as dark as midnight the story of grace. In that deep darkness, the Mystery labored and toiled, unceasing and unerring, creating out of the lumber of my life rooms inhabited by people so vital to my becoming that I would not wish them away now to change one moment of all those long, dark years.
Like so many, I search for God in the breeze, and the light, and the sun, but, more often than not, I find Him in the storm, in the shadow, in the vale. Like the people in Exodus, I often long to remain at a distance from this severe mercy, but over and over again, the thick darkness returns, like a fog creeping up a mountainside, and there, when my ears despair and my heart feels the thunder, something, somewhere reminds me that here, in the gaping maw of worry, when the prognosis doesn’t go our way, when well-laid plans fall and marriages fail, when children disappoint and age leaves us embarrassed and frail, when “sorrows like sea-billows roll,” here, even here, yes, especially here, the thick darkness that is the Mystery is most at work making all things new.