I’m sure you’re familiar with an ancient proverb translated into a contemporary maxim: It’s better to light a candle than to curse the darkness. But surely you’ve noticed that the proverb is insufficient—and not just because it holds a dualistic, either-or worldview.
When immigrants seek refuge in our community and encounter abusive work conditions and housing practices; when underclass youth are allowed to go hungry because we cut food provision to their parents; when elders have to choose between food and medicine; when the impression of oppression is tattooed on the souls of our society, then we must curse the darkness.
When a twelve-year-old has access to a gun and takes it to school for a shooting, when a hospital in Philadelphia—not Damascus or Kabul—is the premier training unit for gunshot care; when a Little League coach has to sue a 14-year-old to get medical bills paid but a doping athlete has a career with perks and benefits, then we must curse the darkness.
When our government can shut its doors over the interests of a few rather than lock itself into a negotiating room to serve the whole population; when public news can be co-opted as cheap programming without content; when we can be critical of true intelligence and analysis but applaud the use of megaphones by voices of ignorance; then we must curse the darkness.
There is another time that this proverb is wrong: When darkness is fertile and creative like earth cushioning a seedplant or womb sheltering a fetus. We should bless the darkness of preparedness and training—like the work Rosa Parks engaged for years before her public action on the Montgomery bus. We should bless the darkness of planning and coalition building—like that which shaped the March on Washington. We should bless the darkness of study and thoughtful conversation—like that of Martin Luther King’s seminary days. In these instances—as the gateway of gestation, as the container of composition, as the night that shapes the dawn— then we should bless and protect darkness for it is the hidden primer for the pump of holiness and justice.
In fact, as we mourn what is torn, we should curse the darkness loudly and obviously. Not simply muttering a “that’s awful” but shouting from the rooftops: THIS IS WRONG. Some things should be condemned so that our neighbors are not consigned to hell on earth.
And in all cases, even as we curse the darkness, even as we bless it, yes, we must also light candles. All weekend, organizations all over town will be lighting candles to honor the work of Martin Luther King Jr.; we have joined them tonight. We have lit enough candles to poke fun at ourselves and our society by exposing the dangerous dark and peeking in on the pure emerging from the birthing chamber. The light shines in the darkness. As we go forth, we must continue to be that light in the darkness. We cannot heal the world with simple either-or’s. So we must be light unmasking injustice. We must be light guarding the incubation of a new way. And we must be light shining forth in decency, constancy, and virtue in our personal relationships and our social causes.
The light shines in the darkness—we are that light. The darkness does not overcome the light—so long as we are steadfast in love and justice. Let us be light! Let us overcome!
REV. DR. CLAUDIA A. RAMISCH
18 JANUARY 2014