When you follow God in wholehearted obedience, and suddenly your entire world falls apart; when your deepest, most urgent prayers are met with silence – can faith survive?
Ten years ago, Alain Emerson lost his young wife to cancer.
At the age of just twenty-seven, he found himself as a widower, wrestling with the complexities of grief and his questions about where the God he loved was in the midst of his pain. He felt like he had been left alone in the dark, and heaven was silent.
Yet he came to learn that silence did not mean absence – in the darkness of grief Alain discovered a God was not only there, but a God who intimately understands our pain. A God who walks beside us, suffers and weeps with us and who ultimately restores our joy.
This is the story of Luminous Dark.
Running in the Dark
These days I love running in the dark. On winter nights when the air is cold, I set off for a gentle gallop through the streets of my hometown village. Chasing the long shadows of the street lamps as the fog from my own breath dissolves on my perspiring face, I run over the motorway bridge, stealing away from the noise of the late-night commuting traffic, through the spookily serene railway crossing and eventually into the darkness of the countryside. The only thing lighting my path is the low glow of my phone, helping me navigate ankle-damaging potholes and providing a precautionary warning light for the occasional car. It is dark and still, dangerous and eerie, yet I am not scared.
I no longer fear darkness.
Even though the night appears vacant, the darkness is filled with, dare I say it, ‘presence’. This is the place where I do my best thinking these days. The night is flooded with mysterious luminosity. It is here my mind and soul are laid bare, the imposter is exposed and my true self revealed. I rediscover how deeply known and loved I am.
It hasn’t always been that way though.
Like most people, I have lived my life scared of the dark, fear gripping hold of my senses on many occasions. Darkness for me has been synonymous with fear, confusion and disorientation.
Yet something changed when I learned, or rather was forced, to stare darkness in the eye. I discovered something liberating happens when we acknowledge the genuine fear we are experiencing from the darkness that surrounds us, and yet refuse to let that fear have the last say. Further, the fear is disarmed when we discover there is a light concealed within that very darkness.
What do I mean? Let me try to explain.
In 2007, when I experienced the great loss of my life, I found myself for long days walking down dark trails of grief ending only in cul-de-sacs. This was due in equal measure to my inability to process my pain, and the incapacity of the culture around me to accept the reality of loss and grief.
As a means of catharsis, I began to write, journal and then, more publically, blog some of my thoughts online. Initially this was motivated simply by the fact that many of my friends were compassionately seeking to walk with me through dark and lonely days and the blog allowed me to thank them and inform their kind prayers for me. But I found the heart ponderings I was posting on my blog were gaining a much wider readership than my immediate friends and family.
I became aware that, like me, many people did not know how to grieve, no one had taught them how to wrestle with pain, how to stare darkness in the eye, how to discover the permission to laugh again. Bewilderingly they were talking to me about it, a disillusioned twenty-seven-year-old widower, who most nights, wasn’t sure if he was going to make it to the morning. All I was doing was being honest – describing how I really felt and figuring out as I journeyed through, how to articulate a language for my soul. More, I was trying to pray what I was experiencing.
Ten years on, those days still haunt me. For some of you this is your current reality. For others, your heart is painfully jabbed as you recall those days of dense darkness that have never fully worked their way through you. I hope this book can connect with all who read it, for truthfully, the valley of the shadow of death, and the way of suffering, grief and loss, is a terrain we all must travel at some point in this life. Love and loss, presence and absence, suffering and resurrection; these are not sets of opposites, rather they ebb and flow together in this current of life on earth.
My experience has taught me that most of us don’t know what to do. Of course, there is no formula. Surprisingly though, we are much better equipped to deal with the darkness than what we think. For the Christian, we reflect on how God incarnate was acquainted with grief and sorrow. Imagine, the Light of the World embodied the darkness of the world and of every human heart, his light and presence concealed in a dead body in a dark tomb. Yet even when it seemed the lights had completely gone out the story hadn’t finished. The Light would have the last word.
Not only are we image-bearers of the One who suffers loss with us, a non-forsaking companion for the dark days; we also have a forerunner who has moved through a mysterious and monumental intensity of darkness we cannot comprehend.
‘The light shines in the darkness …’
The light shines in, not outside or into the darkness, but in the darkness. And when this Light is illuminated, we witness an infinitely more beautiful, translucent and transformational light that shatters the opaque circumstances of our lives.
If you want to read more of Alain’s story, you can pick up a copy of ‘Luminous Dark’ here.