First We Paint In the Darkness
On Telling the Truth as a Practice of Hope
I tell this story a lot, but really it is just always too good not to share. I knew it was time to change churches, and I knew I was too tired to find a new one. So I asked God for a sign, and that week on my way to buy diapers at Target, there was the sign of the church I still go to “Creative, Historic, Inclusive.” The other two were important, but it was the creative that sealed the deal for me. I needed a church that loved art as much as I did.
Fast forward to today when I realized we didn’t have any artist scheduled for the next few weeks. I didn’t want to do the first day of the church calendar without the piece of worship that speaks to me most often, so I grabbed a spare canvas and dug out some paints as the band finished the call to worship. Without a plan or the thesis of the sermon, I only had the liturgical calendar, knowing it was the first Sunday of Advent, the week we talk about hope, to go on.
I grabbed the black, and I grabbed the grey. Today, mostly, we painted in the darkness.
I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about my vocation. Too much time probably. I have begun calling myself a “chaplain in the wild” which mostly means that the people who frequent the bar that I manage know that they can pretty much tell me anything, and sometimes they do. They tell me they don’t quite know how to parent their aging parent, they think their marriage is in trouble, that they miss certain things about the religion that traumatized them, that the things they thought would make them happy have not in fact made them happy. There is absolutely nothing I can do, but the confessing seems to help. They just need someone to hear and witness the things we don’t mention in casual company, the things we desperately need to say. I’m a trained theologian slinging drinks and recommending beers. With me on one side of the bar and my regular on the other, I acknowledge the darkness threatening to overtake the life they are living. Together, we say, yes these things are happening and they are impossibly hard. I guess you could say we paint in the darkness.
Today is the first day (I think) that I posted about the bombing of Palestine on my instagram profile. It isn’t that I don’t care. I care a lot. I read a lot and follow Palestinian journalists. I look at the pictures of what has been bombed into rubble. I think about the children with their names written on their arms. I think about the doctors and nursed who died caring for the patients because they refused to leave their posts. I just didn’t know what I could possibly do, what posting on social media would do to stop a genocide. But also what else is there to do? I hope what other people are saying is true, talking about it is what can be done. In order to have the darkness cease, we first have to acknowledge the darkness exists. Together we paint the darkness that is already all around us.
Now that I don’t go to church because it is my job, I think a lot more about why I am going. I get community at my work, I read a lot of spiritual formation on my own. If church is a Jesus branded social club, I should for sure work brunch. Today we went as a family because my husband is the storyteller for the kids community, because everyone but me is in the bell choir and there was practice, and because even though we have been to this church for almost a decade we’ve never been in the all church photo and there was a new one being taken today. Those were the reasons we got out the door. But that isn’t what we were doing. No, today at least the sum was more than its parts. Today we heard a sermon about the space in between. We took body and bread broken for us, and remembered that we were beloved. We prayed for peace in Palestine and thought about the palestinian girl who, rumor has it, grew the savior of the world in her womb. Mostly though we told the truth, about the darkness of the world and the hard things that happen in life. It seems church is the other place people can say those things out loud. We painted in the darkness.
But we didn’t leave it there. Amidst the black I took the grey and mapped out something just a little lighter: the base for the light I hope to slowly add to the canvas. I spent most of the service adding those grey dots. From the balcony you could barely see them. Had I not put in the black base, you wouldn’t have been able to see them at all. Today is the start of Advent, we start by lighting the candle of hope. We start by painting in the darkness.