Thought for the Day - Rev Roy Jenkins - 08/12/2012

It must be the seasonal bargain of the week: a trip to the moon for two. For a mere 871 million pounds, the chance to tramp around in that lunar dust, take a few small steps for personal satisfaction and a giant leap for street cred with the young neighbours.

I won’t be signing up; but I confess that the prospect of being hurtled into space by a team of former Nasa executives is probably marginally more attractive than the jaunt Sir Ranulph Fiennes has just set out on.

He and his team hope to be the first people to trek across Antarctica in winter - six months with temperatures maybe minus 90 degrees centigrade, untested physical effects, the constant danger that the whole party could disappear without trace down some snow-covered crevasse. And all this in almost perpetual darkness.

The last great adventure it might be, but it’s the thought of that darkness which would terrify me.

Of course it’s possible to survive in the dark. Ranulph Fiennes is appropriately raising money for a global initiative to tackle preventable blindness, and we know that many who are born blind or who lose their sight cope in all sorts of impressive ways. The Inuit people have always managed to flourish through long periods when the sun remains hidden.

But I’m not alone in disliking the dark.

In the light we can know who’s around us, or what; we can recognise danger, can weigh a person’s words against the glint in their eye or the curl of their lip. We’re less likely to get lost, take wrong turnings. In the light we can appreciate a spectacular sunset, the colourful scribbles a child brings home from playgroup, the glory of an old master. We can experience the beauty which darkness hides.

Little wonder, then, that light and darkness are figures familiar to many religious traditions. ‘God is light, and in him is no darkness at all,’ says one of the New Testament writers. ‘I am the light of the world,’ says Jesus: ‘whoever follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life.’

But illumination is rarely achieved by anything as simple as flicking a switch. Mystics down through the centuries have spoken of the dark night of the soul. With every fibre of their beings, through intense prayer and immense sacrifice they’ve yearned for God, but often for long periods he seems absent, lost in the darkness.

A sudden bereavement, losing a job, battling with depression can do the same to any of us: if not an Antarctic winter, at best it’s all cloud and deep shade. Sometimes all we can do is try to trust that however bleak things appear, the light still shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

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