Lighten our Darkness
There are some sayings we use whose origins are not immediately obvious to the ordinary person, and whose meanings are obscure to those hearing them for the first time. To be “one over the eight”, “to eat one’s words” or “to sail close to the wind” might be examples of these. But an idiom common to politicians is straight-forward enough. There is, they assure us frequently, “light at the end of the tunnel”, or conversely, “there is no light at the end of the tunnel”. Which you use depends on whether you are in government or opposition. Or possibly, vary according to whether you are in an optimistic or pessimistic mood.
The local, and at that time disused, canal near to where I lived as a child went through a tunnel. It was straight, not particularly long, though long enough not to be able to see the far end as one stood at the entrance. All was blackness in front. One could walk along the tow path which went alongside the water to the far end. As lads we would walk through the tunnel, entering the darkness with trepidation.
After a few yards, a pin prick of light could be seen in the distance, and gradually that grew in size, whilst the orifice behind us shrank until it became invisible. It was seeing the light ahead that gave us the courage to go on until we emerged thankfully into the daylight once more.
It is that picture which comes into my mind when I hear the hackneyed cliché pronounced about light at the end of the tunnel. The coming of the light is truly a promise that darkness will end and the uncomfortable, fearful blackness disappear.
In common imagery it is darkness is associated with evil, with unpleasantness or anxiety, with fear, ignorance and much else that we deplore.
Forces of evil are ascribed to Satan or the Devil. And a pseudonym for the Devil is the Prince of Darkness. The older ones will remember the black-out in the war years, and how a popular song of the day was about “When the lights come on again, all over the world”. All would be well in the light, Vera Lynn assured her audiences. The darkness itself was symbolic of discomfort, even fear, in the absence of peace.
Darkness too is associated with ignorance. The Dark Ages are historically a time not only of misery for many, but a time when learning was minimal, and what might be described as culture, was rare. To be plunged into darkness is not only to be symbolically removed from civilisation and comfort, but to be surrounded by ignorance.
Then the opposite is true of the symbolism of light. Knowledge and learning are associated with illumination. “With light of knowledge in their eyes” goes a line in one of our hymns. The previous line is of the “flame of freedom”, for knowledge and freedom are linked.
A common symbol used to denote a place of learning is a lighted torch, showing that to bring light is to abolish the darkness of ignorance and to present knowledge to the people.
Revelation and knowledge is to “see the light”. The dawn is a new beginning where optimism replaces gloom, and anxiety is reduced proportionately. From time to time, though not very often these days, I make car journeys which involve starting early in the morning. In the winter months this means leaving whilst it is still dark. To see then the sky gradually lighten and the countryside slowly revealed, is always re-assuring, a peaceful feeling. The coming of the dawn is a religious experience.
None of this is original thought. As long as mankind has existed, night and the darkness is the time when evil is planned and executed, when nefarious schemes are hatched and weaned. Those things which “will not bear the light of day” are conceived in the dark.
But what is the relevance of all this?
We live in a world and at a time when ability to spread knowledge has never been greater. Printing presses, duplicating equipment, fax machines and the like, proliferate. We are bombarded with free papers, unsolicited mail, circulars of all kinds, political pamphlets and government information sheets. Virtually every home has its radio and television set; mobile phones are everywhere, and computers continuously flash messages round the world, and to satellites in the space above it.
The news stands are weighed down with papers. Magazines are available on every conceivable hobby, interest or passion. “If all the world were paper” starts an old nursery rhyme. Sometimes it seems that is no longer fanciful supposition. Our world is knee-deep in paper.
Yet in spite of all that ability to spread knowledge, we find, paradoxically, dangerous secrets are kept. Secrets that ought not to be secrets; information that we ought to have. We are as a people kept, to coin a phrase, in the dark. It is almost as if a deluge of information is used to hide the absence of that which we have a right to know.
Occasionally a little light is thrown in some dark corner and we learn that nations are preaching peace and selling armaments, often to both sides of states in conflict. Information is secretly amassed through telephone tapping and by other means, on citizens going about their own lawful private business. Folk are excluded from jobs, facilities or benefits for dubious reasons unknown to themselves. Prying and the preparation of dossiers is a way of life for many employed in secret places and on hidden tasks.
Powerful institutions, be they governments, multi-national companies, large public utilities or local councils, should not and must not operate in darkness, or even in twilight, but in the clear light of day.
There may be those who say, “What has this to do with my Church or Chapel attendance? I commune with my God and let the material world look after itself.”
But for my part I find it impossible to separate the world of everyday affairs from my Christian philosophy. If knowledge is freedom, then knowledge withheld is to be placed in chains. If I am free to worship, but constrained in my ability to put into practice my religion in the world outside, then I am not truly free.
Freedom is never absolute. One accepts that must be so in a democratic society. But the restrains upon freedom should be in the light, not applied under cover of darkness.
Our fore-bearers fought hard against oppression and tyranny that they might be free to live their lives without constraint within just laws. What is done to us, or what is done in our name to others is of proper concern.
That which is applicable to large institutions of state, commerce or industry applies with equal force to lesser institutions. Like many of you, I have been involved in numerous clubs, societies, church committees and similar institutions. Always there is a temptation to establish inner councils of one kind or another. Then unless there is vigilance, a danger exists that such special groups become secret societies, having private consultations and retaining self-certified confidential knowledge.
And because knowledge is power, there is a reluctance to share knowledge, to let in the full light of day. Where there is light, there is health; in the darkness lies decay. Let there be light, must be our watchword.
And finally there is self-knowledge leading to personal freedom. Darkness lies within ourselves. We push into the dark corners of our inner being that which we don’t want to see; rather like pushing things under the cushion when the visitor comes, or placing the unwanted gift into a high cupboard, hoping to forget it is there.
If we are to be ourselves free, we have to illuminate within our being. An important part, arguably the most important part, of coming here to worship, is not to listen to the preacher, to sing the hymns, to meet friends, or even to see who has stayed away this week, but to shine a light inside one’s inner self, and examine what is there.
In the peace of the Chapel, in the feeling of being close to an almighty power, the torch is shone and ignorance is replaced by self-knowledge. That knowledge is a step to freedom, the peace which passes all understanding.
Let there be light. In that light we shall see the way our feet shall go, as we wander with freedom in the world, going about our duties. Let us dedicate ourselves to abolishing the dark places, whether within the material world without, or the spiritual world within. By this means we shall surely emerge fully into the daylight at the tunnel’s end.
The words of that old prayer come to mind. “Lighten our darkness, good Lord we beseech you, …” . We should seek illumination within ourselves so we should know ourselves the better, and so free ourselves, as another prayer has it “…from groundless fears and needless anxieties”. But our faith in practice should lead us to become a beacon to illuminate all darkness, that all men and women should be free.
A well-known, if rather sentimental, picture by Leigh Hunt is entitled “The Light of the World”. Jesus sought fearlessly to throw light upon the dark prejudices, selfish interests, and pious hypocritical practices he saw around him. It should be our mission to aspire to that example, and to open up dark places to revealing sunlight whenever and wherever they are discovered.
So my plea this morning is for frankness and truthfulness. We start with ourselves and our private thoughts, trying not to hide from ourselves our imperfections under a cloak of excuse. We fight furtiveness and secrecy in our dealings within our communities, whether they be social or business, formal or informal. We speak out against leaders of society or nation who hold on to power by operating under a cloak of darkness. We believe in the light which gives knowledge and freedom, and acts as a beacon of truth.
The whole of the world was merry,
One joy from the vale to the height
Where the blue woods of twilight encircled
The lovely lawns of the light.
The lovely lawns of the light are where the world may dance in freedom, and the children play free from fear.
Fulwood 28 July 1991
Mexborough 5 December 1993
Hucklow 13 June 1999