'I believe that Christ came not to dispel the darkness but to teach us
to dwell with integrity, compassion, and love in the midst of
ambiguity. The one who grew in the fertile darkness of Mary's womb
knew that darkness is not evil of itself. Rather, it can become the
tending place in which our longings for healing, justice and peace
grow and come to birth.'
- Jan L. Richardson
I remember the moment I first read this quote. It was the fall of 2004 - I was in a warm living room of a friend/mentor, drinking tea and paging through an artsy book on her coffee table. I always stayed too long at her house, a few hours after the other girls had left. She never seemed to mind. It was the middle of my 'urban studies' semester in North Philadelphia and the city welcomed me and then gave me an education I thought I already had.
Racism. It was still in full force? In Philadelphia? In our community? What was community anyway? How were were we supposed to do this in a way that was real and life-giving? What was worshiping God really about? Who was Jesus and did it matter if he was actually God? What about homosexuality? How big was God's kingdom? Was anyone excluded?
My internship was 13 blocks down the street at a shelter for women and children. I was Miss Emma's personal assistant. She was a social worker now, this strong and beautiful and compassionate world changing woman, committed to serving the families in her care. She had become a Christian in prison, where she was locked up for 'selling drugs to white kids from the suburbs'.
It was an education that I wasn't looking for, I didn't know I needed.
And every Sunday night I would spend a few hours at my friend's house, just talking. I would say my questions out loud and ramble, back track, blaspheme and recant and blaspheme again. Struggling to keep my heart intact; someone was trying to break it - either the city or God Herself.
The questions were real. They were heavy. I woke in the night thinking of them, sometimes I couldn't breathe in bed, they were sitting there on my chest keeping me from peace and sleep. And I found refuge in my friend, in her ears, her honesty that always trumped her age and education. She had discovered a way to walk knee-deep in the gray; she invited me to come along. She didn't give me answers, though. She would never tell me what to think.
She honoured the darkness as holy. My 'faith crisis' was taking me deeper and nearer, not further away - she assured me. My questions were growing me and I could befriend them rather than try to conquer them with 'blessed assurance'.
This advent season, I'm remembering those old questions. These days I'm too tired, too busy, too distracted to spend time with the questions that live in my heart. Or maybe I'm afraid of ambiguity, of the not-knowing, of the messiness of the theological implications of life on my street. I'm afraid that if I can't tell Jesus what he wants from me, he might ask me for something I don't want to give him.
But advent calls the darkness fertile.