"Within our darkest night, you kindle a fire that never dies away, that never dies away."
From a song of Taizé
It was the observation of a student at Compline, about midway through the St. Francis House Spring Break trip in Austin. With a quiet amazement, she noted that the Taizé service we had just shared with the UT-Austin Episcopal community had been filled with songs of alarming honesty, an honesty Brother Emmanuel had echoed by his example in conversation following the service. The songs spoke of darkness and doubt; Brother Emmanuel, too, put flesh and blood on particular challenges of the life of faith, talking openly about things like belonging, passion and sexuality, the existence of suffering, and fears of rejection, especially the fear of each person that we might, in the end, be found unworthy of love.
The student marveled at prayer not afraid of the darkness - prayer in which darkness and light are acknowledged together. Light unafraid of naming the darkness. To be a Christian is to learn to sing songs in which we dare God to find and love us in the candor of our darkest nights.
And the miracle in which we have come to believe is, God does: "Lord God, you love us, source of compassion."
Meeting the God who loves us, says Brother Emmanuel, is the joy of the silence to which we are invited in prayer: the joy of the revelation that God desires our love and that we are loved by God.
"Within our darkest night..."
Perhaps with Taizé and Spring Break on my mind, this past Sunday's gospel - the raising of Lazarus - touched me with a tenderness I had not noticed before. Initially, of course, Jesus' deliberate calm stands in unflattering contrast to the pain of those around him. Mary is too mad to come out and see Jesus. She has poured out her wealth and reputation for Jesus; her brother is dead. The bystanders, on the whole, side with Mary. While Martha is spouting credal formularies, Mary's friends foreshadow the mockery that will follow Jesus to the cross: "Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?" The words of Jesus' invitation to his first disciples - "Come and see" - are splashed back in his face by his mockers like hot water.
But then, overlooking the intent of their barb, Jesus surprisingly does what they ask: he comes and sees. He follows them into their darkness and doubts. And there, from that place, he calls forth new life.
Of course, the darkness of despair - or cynicism - can come from many places, not only from within oneself. Which is to say that sometimes we feel the "our" more nearly than others. Sometimes we may, as Brother Emmanuel suggested, struggle to love ourselves, but the struggle to love the world and others can be every bit as real and difficult. In every case, the confidence that Christ will meet us in whatever darkness with the possibility of the new life we did not expect is the same. Everywhere we discover the possibility of joy where hope for joy had been abandoned. So Brother Roger writes in The Rule of Taizé that God has made it possible for us to follow the One who follows us into darkness without fear; that we have been invited into joyful imitation of Christ:
Purity of heart can only be lived in spontaneous and joyful forgetting of self, in order to lay down one’s life for those one loves. And this self-giving involves consenting to one’s feelings being often wounded. There is no friendship without the purification of suffering. There is no love of one’s neighbour without the cross. The cross alone makes known the unfathomable depths of love.