“To know the dark, go dark. Go without sight, and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings.”
– Wendell Berry
The radiation treatment began as I lay in a vulnerable prostrate position. In all appearances, my body was communicating total surrender and trust. Naturally, fear and resistance have been ever-present along this journey, but perhaps this body posture that I assume daily would encourage my head and my heart to also embrace surrender and trust. Laying face-down on the table, I began taking deep breaths to relax in the midst of so many unknowns and loss of all control. As the radiation pathologists left the room during the treatment, speaking only over an intercom, what immediately began running through my mind was, “I am not alone, I am not alone, I am not alone.” This valley felt dark and deep. Gratefully, I have known this valley before and discovered God’s loving presence and peace. In that moment, I found myself scrambling for the courage to trust that God would be present yet again.
I have been looking for joy in this third week of Advent, as we light the candle of joy. Through experience, I know that joy is found when I let go of the past and stop anticipating the future. When I am able to remain in the present moment, I discover all that God has been waiting to reveal. Could it be possible that God is not only present in the valley, but also reveals gifts, like joy? This led me to examine the question, “Where is joy being revealed in this dark valley?”
Joy showed up when I had the opportunity to witness my husband successfully complete his Ph.D after seven long years.
Joy has shown abundantly through the outpouring of love, generosity, and support we have received from those walking with us through this valley.
Joy was present as I received encouragement from a fellow cancer patient who is a few weeks further down the path on her healing journey. “You’re gonna be alright,” she said, reminding me that I have going for me what most I share the waiting room with do not, my youth.
Joy was experienced when my three-year-old nephew was ask by a stranger in the radiation waiting room, “Have you been a good boy this year?” Without skipping a beat he belted out for all to hear, “Yes, because I went poopy on the big boy potty!” The room erupted with laughter and smiles were shining on every face. This served as such sweet medicine for our weary souls.
I have never thought of a cancer treatment center as a thin place – a place where God feels near – but already I am finding it is indeed a thin place. I am reminded that in each place, and within each moment, Spirit is present. This means the hope, peace, and joy of the Advent season can be found everywhere, all the time, even in the darkest valley. Through these gifts, as I breathe deep in the present moment and listen deeper, the mysterious and radiant love of God is revealed. This serves as a reminder, and even a foretaste during this Advent season, of the Love that was birthed into the world on that one hope-filled, peaceful, and joyous night.
This then, is the gift of joy revealed in a dark valley.
“Here is the testimony of faith; darkness is not dark to God; the night is as bright as the day.”
– Barbara Brown Taylor, Learning to Walk in the Dark