Group reflection: From darkness to God’s peace

Another snap shutdown, a house blessing cancelled, a quick pivot to an online service, and things are feeling a bit grim. So we came to Jesus and sat with the story of Nicodemus. What follows are notes from our conversation about the darkness which surrounds us, as well as the spiritual practices which are helping us experience God’s peace.

“Now there was a man named Nicodemus, a Jewish leader. He came to Jesus under cover of darkness …” (John 3:1-2a).

What darkness surrounds you today? What have you had to give up due to shutdown? How are you feeling?

  • Cancelled social events with family, friends, colleagues (admittedly, for some, it’s nice to have an excuse to stay home!)
  • Loss of work opportunities and income
  • Loss of a conference and a (very rare) significant professional networking opportunity
  • Significant shifts in how work is done, some good, some bad, some unresolved
  • Worry for the future, for children and young people and how they will grow up after this long experience of fear and uncertainty
  • The tension of simultaneously holding contradictory feelings e.g. really not coping and yet coping just fine; being thrilled to not have to travel for work yet being frustrated at not being able to travel
  • For some, staying home is normal, even delightful; for those with e.g. chronic fatigue, it brings everyone else to the place where they are.
  • For one person, shutdown reminds them of how chronically ill they are, since it has no effect on their life. Some disability advocates have named that elements of shutdown and moving life online has been a great equaliser. When things go online, “the blind can see, the deaf can hear,” and everyone’s at home; and this presents a challenge to keep worship (and society) accessible in the long run.
  • Someone observed how this gives us insight into other protracted trauma e.g. war – something none of us have experienced.

Just as Nicodemus asked questions of Jesus, we can too. So, what questions do you have for Jesus?

  • What is the future – for work, climate, socialising, viral variations etc.?
  • What’s happening to the world?
  • Where do we focus our hope?
  • How will young people be shaped by this, and how can we companion them?
  • You (Jesus) tell us not to to worry: how do we manage that?

darkness (noun): in the gospel according to John, darkness represents a state of not-knowing, spiritual blindness, alienation from God

Nicodemus journeyed from darkness to discipleship, and we can too.

  • Ch. 3: Came to Jesus in darkness, not-knowing, spiritual blindness, alienation from God
  • Ch. 7: Defended Jesus: “Our law does not judge people without giving them a hearing.”
  • Ch. 19: Honoured Jesus, bringing myrrh and aloes to anoint Jesus’ body.

The Apostle Paul was someone else who moved from darkness and spiritual blindness to discipleship–and joy! He was imprisoned, his work was being attacked, and he was exhausted after two decades on the road sharing the gospel. Yet in a letter overflowing with joy, he encouraged the Philippians to “Rejoice in the Lord, always; again I say it: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand. Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need. Thank God for what God’s done. Then God’s peace, which exceeds anything you can understand, will ground your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever has integrity, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, keep your mind on these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:8-9)

What do you notice that is honourable, just, authentic, beautiful or commendable at this time? What is worthy of praise? What can we focus our minds on? And what are you doing, learned from Paul or another Biblical teacher, that helps you, sustains you or grounds you in God’s peace at this time?

  • Bearing one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2), even simply by creating spaces like this where people can name their grief and darkness, and can listen to and pray for one another.
  • Noticing little things, small graces: a manager who asked everyone to show off their lockdown footwear at an online staff meeting; the kindness of a stranger
  • Children bouncing on a trampoline, or dancing, or playing instruments
  • Savouring blue skies, golden light, the beauty of creation (‘The sky tells the glory of God …’ Ps. 19)
  • Sitting in the garden. Gardens are a rich part of our Biblical heritage from Genesis (God walks the garden in the cool of the evening) to the gospel (Jesus is laid in a garden tomb, and the Risen Christ mistaken for a gardener) to Revelation (the heavenly city is a garden city lined with fruit trees and healing plants)
  • Noticing breezes, breath, spirit. Every time we inhale, remembering we are connected to each other, to the wind, to the Holy Spirit – and remembering that the word ‘spirit’ just means breath, breeze, air-in-movement (Greek: pneuma from which we get pneumatic, pneumonia etc.)
  • Listening to and playing music, especially ‘psalms, hymns and spiritual songs’ (Ephesians 5:19). (Archie Roach’s ‘Closer Walk with Thee’ got a special mention!)
  • Noticing how people care for others: by wearing face masks, by buying take away from local businesses, by checking in on each other (‘Love one another …’).
  • Getting physical / embodiment, including chopping wood, running, cycling with teenagers. ‘The Word became flesh and moved into the neighbourhood.’ (John 1). We are not Gnostic: we do not believe we are spirit alone but corporeal, material, physical beings located in a particular time and place. So getting active, moving out of our heads and into our bodies, defusing anxiety through physical exertion, and locating ourselves in specific neighbourhoods is a healthy spiritual practice (and very calming).
  • Praying: Telling God what’s going on, how we’re feeling, what we need; listening in silence to anything which might bubble up.
  • Reading the scriptures, especially the Psalms and the gospels.
  • Practicing gratitude: ‘Be cheerful no matter what; pray all the time; thank God no matter what happens.’ (1 Thessalonians 5). Remembering God’s goodness sustains us even in setback and suffering.
  • Just sittin’ doin’ nothin’: Which can begin from a place of high anxiety and frozeness, but becomes a time of noticing, becoming attentive: to our heart racing, to light streaming in the window, to God’s presence all around.

And with that, all the people said: Amen!

A conversation around shutdown, darkness, and the practices which sustain us, on 30 May 2021 (Trinity Year B) © Sanctuary 2021.

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