Saturday, February 9, 2013

Spirituality: Nighttime

Nighttime is an odd time in human life, indicated by the fact that young children never want to go to bed. It is a scary time. It is a time out of control, plus the fact that you might miss something. In the daytime, before we go to bed, we mostly manage and cope, and even do well, and stay in control of our lives as best we can. When we wake up the next morning, we may sleep late or
get up early; but either way, we take on the day and pick up our activities and responsibilities and cope, more-or-less as best we can.

But in between going to bed and waking up, there is that odd time when we let our guard down. We can’t help it. We let our guard down because, as we say, we “lose consciousness.” In an age before electricity, it was a very dark time and the forces beyond our control—either real or imagined—crowded in our lives. That is why ghosts and spooks operate at night, out of control, when we cannot see them. That is why, moreover, the pivotal events in biblical faith happen at nighttime, when we cannot see them. Specifically, the deliverance of Israel from Egypt happened at night and the resurrection of Jesus from the dead happened at night when no one saw. All of us, moreover, know about the night when we hear strange noises and our anxieties become large, and we go over and over and over things that are beyond our control. Sigmund Freud, of course, made a defining study of dreams; understood that in dreams unexpected and sometimes unwelcome messages come to us that have force and meaning, often embodying those arts of our life that we do not understand or control. Unlike the daytime, the nighttime is vulnerable and exposed and dangerous. It is that time when we cannot manage, and people of faith are drawn to God as a source of safety when there is no other source of safety, and as a source of presence when the world feels absent.

And now, nightmares are very big in our world . . . wars and rumors of war and terror and assault and threat and violence. We feel unsafe and we dream up all kinds of security programs that do not in fact make us any safer, but if anything, only more anxious. Daytime is for obedience and virtue and morality. But nighttime is for threat and danger and anxiety.