Thursday, December 1, 2011

A Quiet Hope: Darkness Overload

This post is the third guest post in "A Quiet Hope," which is the first week of our season-long series called A Quiet Advent.

About the author: Sherri Edman is an introvert who processes verbally. She talks to herself a lot. She blogs about home schooling at A Thick and Dreadful Darkness and very occasionally about other stuff at Recovering Sociopath. She is most active on Twitter as SKEdman.

How long can you spend at a party? I finally understood why parties exhausted me when I realized I was an introvert. Engaging with people is hard: they are under my gaze, but that gaze is reflected, returned. I feel searched. It takes about two hours for the sensory overload of relating to shut me down.

Suffering does that, too. Not my own suffering, so much. For all the struggles, my life is not terrible and I’ve been given the grace to cultivate gratitude.

But seeing friends and family suffer debilitating illness? Following yet another mommy blogger’s link to a story of a terminally ill child? Reading yet another article about a local apartment fire or a distant genocide? Registering the sheer numbers of women and children trafficked into sexual slavery as I type this? Perusing—until the nausea hit—the Penn State grand jury presentment? Sensory overload comes quickly.

The world’s sufferings are so overwhelming it is hard to see a way out. How can we possibly hope to overcome so much darkness and pain? We certainly can’t on our own. And frankly, it rarely looks like God is doing much to restrain evil. My faulty perception, I’m sure. But facing the darkness while still cultivating hope is hard work.

That's why my favorite liturgical seasons are Advent and Lent, the penitential times before Christmas and Easter. Every year they remind me that I am neither the first nor the last to long for rescue.

In our Anglican parish, the Sunday Advent liturgy gives thanks to God,

Because you sent your beloved Son to redeem us from sin and death, and to make us heirs in him of everlasting life; that when he shall come again in power and great triumph to judge the world, we may without shame or fear rejoice to behold his appearing.

I grew up in churches that taught salvation as a singular individual event: once saved, you are delivered from the punishment for your sins. The wages of sin is death. Salvation, as it were, inoculates against hell.

In January a friend—one of the sufferers of chronic, debilitating illness—reminded me how incomplete this view is. We had heard a horrific story about a college student who committed suicide. He had grown up in an abusive family and he felt trapped by a darkness so oppressive that he called it “he” and “him.”

The presence of such darkness caused my hair to stand on end just reading about it. It caused one man to decide death was preferable to living with it. And that is another of the ways, my friend pointed out, that the wages of sin is death—sin calls down death on more than the sinner. The consequences grab on to everyone around the sinner with long, strong fingers that hold and crush and tear.

We need redemption from that kind of sin and death, too. The walking wounded are all around us—they are us. The perpetrators are, too.

But like people at a party, the gaze isn’t one-directional. I can’t search out the world’s sufferings for long before the sufferings search me out. As an introvert I have a tendency to live inside myself, and there are some dark places in here. “The heart is deceitful above all things,” says Jeremiah, “and desperately wicked: who can know it?”

Just as I have been graced with gratitude, I have come to recognize as grace the times when I recognize that I’m not only wounded and afraid: I am also a perpetrator and ashamed. I know Jesus loves me, and the Spirit is at work in my life to transform me. I’m not yet out of the murk. It’s still too easy for me to display selfishness, contempt, and arrogance, to wound—casually—the people around me, the neighbors I should be loving.

So it is a double rescue I long for: the rescue of the world from suffering and the rescue of myself from my own desperate heart.

Even in the dark—the dark outside and the darkness within—I grit my teeth and hold on to that hope. Especially in the dark.

Without shame or fear, we will rejoice to behold his appearing.