Radvent 1: The Dark
“But when she could hide him no longer, she got a papyrus basket for him and coated it with tar and pitch. Then she placed the child in it and put it among the reeds along the bank of the Nile.“
— Exodus 2:3
Song: “I’ve Got Life,” Lauryn Hill, ft. Nina Simone
“The future is dark, with a darkness as much the womb as the grave…The old certainties are crumbling, but danger and possibility are sisters.”
Sometimes the darkness feels like breathing through a towel. Heavy and thick. Oppressive. It’s lonely.
I’ve heard it can make you go crazy, too, and I’m scared of that. The depression can crash like a wave, and the dark feels the worst when you can’t even get your head above the water. One breath, and another wave. Exhale and feel your kicking legs grow heavy. Struggle against the tide, pulling you down as your lungs scream for more oxygen. Heart pounding, lactic acid building, is it even worth the fight?
The darkness is a prison, and on days like this, I feel paralyzed until someone storms the Bastille.
The present seems dark, and the future IS dark. When the mother of Moses hid him away for three months, the future was intensely dark. Pharaoh’s decree to kill all the baby boys was the only thing visible, and as the poet Warsan Shire told us, “No one puts their child in a boat unless the water is safer than the land.” That waterproofed basket carried a crying three month old, but it carried a glimmer of light too.
I imagine that the sky was pretty bright on that Egyptian afternoon as Pharaoh’s daughter walked along the Nile. Nobody could have seen that flash, wrapped in a woven basket and coated with pitch, lost in the glint of sunlight off the whitewater. Had she seen the future, had the future been illuminated for her, there was no way that basket would make it out of the water.
It is in the flicker, unseen except in the dark, that we remember our story. A voice from elsewhere that lets us know that even – and especially – in the dark, we are not at the end of history, regardless of how many institutions crumble. The future is coming, and it is undoubtedly dark. But that is the only way we can see it. That’s what the first candle means to me: a reminder to sit in the dark, embrace the dark, learn to love the dark. The weight of the air holds immense possibility: for rupture and irruption, for space and for movement, for a new future to be written.
Ben Swihart is a community development practitioner, consultant, writer, educator, and activist. He currently lives and organizes in the Chicagoland area along with his wife, son, and dog.