Speaking to our inner darkness is the way to the light


For over a month, a Buddhist friend has shared his frustration with me that more religious leaders haven’t been more vocal about their opposition to the political efforts to endanger our democratic republic by restricting voting rights in our country. I too am frustrated with that. I feel some distress for not speaking out more to urge people to more vigorously support voting rights.

I intentionally began this column on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. His words and witness still inspire me to try to speak more clearly about so many unjust and dangerous attitudes and events in our country today.

In a 1957 sermon in Montgomery, Alabama, when he was only 28, MLK found the inner wisdom to tell his congregation that “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” That’s so obvious, isn’t it? Sadly, it doesn’t seem to be.

That truth-piece also got me thinking about my Buddhist friend’s eagerness to hear more from religious leaders. So, I say this to religious leaders specifically, and anyone else who cares to listen: Come with me into the darkness, and let’s learn to speak to the darkness in new ways.

The first darkness to which we need to speak is our own. If we don’t speak courageously, humbly and fully to our own darkness, we will project only our own fears/hates to the darkness we see beyond ourselves.

Each of us hides in our inner darkness where rabbit holes are inhabited with multiple fears/hates, lies (aka “disinformation”), baseless bravado, prejudice, unjustified defensiveness and all manner of unpleasant emotions. But those negatives aren’t alone!

The healthy side of our human nature lives there also: compassion, love, hope, reason, truthfulness and humility. Yet they are easily smothered when we choose to be controlled by our fears/hates and their distasteful companions.

So when you speak to your darkness, first decide to speak to all sides of who you are. Challenge those attitudes that imprison your heart and head. Beckon those attitudes that call forth whom you hope to be at your best. They are the light in your darkness!

When we speak light in our own darkness, we are more prepared to speak light to the darkness we experience in the world outside of our own darkness. Sometimes the outside darkness is a hard-nosed projection of our own fears. Be aware of that possibility.

Still, when we religious leaders are hesitant to speak to the darkness beyond us, I must consider the likelihood we’re only cowering before our fears/hates. We simply let them have their way with us.

What we fear, or hesitate to admit, is unique to each of us. But we each have the power to speak to our darkness in ways that free us to speak to the darkness in our culture.

What cultural darkness do you want to speak to? What strength do you want to bring to that conversation? A good start: Respect for truth-pieces you’ve experienced, courageous insistence to affirm factual information before deliberate disinformation, respect for persons as persons (seek to humanize, not demonize), humility to accept the consequences of speaking to a darkness not your own.

Whether we are religious leaders, or non-religious people with a passion for seeking justice/compassion for others, our own darkness has something to teach us. In our learning, light can illuminate more completely what lives in our darkness besides our fear-based, closeted monsters.

That light – courageously, humbly aimed at another darkness beyond us – may not result in what we want to happen. But it’s healthier than a blind shot in the dark.

The Rev. Paul Graves serves as the chair for the Council on Older Adult Ministries for the Pacific Northwest Conference of The United Methodist Church.

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