A Theology Adequate for the Night

The eclipse is now old news, dimmed by the daily rush of images and messages in our politics and happenings in our personal lives. Yet I remember the power of the gathering darkness and the stillness as the world seemed to enter a time-out-of-time.

One person I spoke with described the experience of watching the eclipse as a life-changing event. She spoke of being awed, of feeling small and of remembering that the universe moves on despite the challenges of her own life.

Religiously, humans have been reeling from the realization that we are neither the center of the universe nor the reason for creation for centuries now. Though that is not news, it is helpful to remember.

The eclipse, for me, was a reminder that we need a way to shape the movement of our own lives toward wholeness, even as we put our power in perspective. That we are not the center of, nor the reason for creation, should not obscure the truth that we remain participants in creation.

Even as we work, day by day, to understand more deeply how we can help that arc of the universe in its bending toward justice, we must also deal with loss, with disappointment and with the many ways our far-from-Beloved Community presses down on us.

Our liberal religious theology specializes in empowerment. Our practice is engaged with the world, both its shortcomings and its possibilities.

Yet the eclipse reminds us how small we are and how much we are in need of comfort and companioning.

Nancy Shaffer’s poem, “A Theology Adequate for the Night,” spoke to me this morning. I offer it for those of us turning toward the fall more mindful of our place in creation even after the light returned on Monday morning.

A Theology for the Night by Nancy Schaffer

Not God as unmoved mover:
One who set the earth in motion
and withdrew. Not the One to thank
when those cherished do not die—
for providence includes equally
power to harm. Not a God of exactings,
as if love could be earned or subtracted.

But—this may work in the night:
Something that breathes with us, as others
sleep; something that breathes also
those sleeping, so no one is alone.
Something that is the beginning of love,
and also each part of how love is completed.
Something so large, wherever we are,
we are not separate; which teaches again
the way to start over.

Night is the test: when grief lies uncovered,
and longing shows clear; when nothing we do
can hasten earth’s turning or delay it.

This may be adequate for the night:
this holding: something that steadfastly
breathes us, which we also are learning to breathe.