Articles, Essays & Sermons

Fear not the dark

On the Feast of St. Stephen, inaugural Christian martyr

by Ken Sehested

For when lawless people supposed that they held the holy nation in their power,
they themselves lay as captives of darkness and prisoners of long night,
shut in under their roofs, exiles from eternal providence. —Wisdom 17:2

Fear not the dark, you pilgrims, stragglers, misbegotten all, disembarked from the ship of state now arising from the sinews of democracy’s disemboweled cadaver, representing not a historic quake or anomalous fate but the sepsis of a long legacy of land leeched with gunpowdery fingers, prosperity wrung from the chained sweat of chattel brow, long, longer still the ever westward spread—gallantry on its lips, guile in its heart—a destiny manifest to none but its own acclaim.

A fearful people, this: ingenious of craft but bleak of soul, however innocent of intent—an innocence blind to its own capacity for prolific misery—inheritors nonetheless of poached estates whose spoiled fruits now breed carbon-scarred fields where the soil’s fecund hymn once sang.

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I tell you naught for your comfort, / Yea, naught for your desire, /
Save that the sky grows darker yet, / And the sea rises higher. —G.K. Chesterton

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Fear not, you refugees from monetizing tenure, advent’s promise against advert’s allure, for a new and swaddled Clue emerges from truth’s eclipse, a Way appears, through the back door (as it were), from beyond every fixed horizon, seeded from below, eschewing the trappings of privilege and power’s cynical assumptions, uncomely in its appeal, a still-small voice heard only at a distance from the boulevard’s racket, out in the bewildering places beyond the market’s bridle, where conveniences are few and provisions are bestowed in warrantless grace.

Here a different Darkness shelters, under shadow of wings, shielding the shamed and the maimed, the tossed and tormented, borne by friends like the ones who, in that older story, tore a hole in the roof over the Mender’s head.

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Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was. —Exodus 20:21

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Tear a hole in the world’s veneer, you little ones—that world and its minders and binders and brokers of deceit bent on disparity’s rule; for another reign, the Sovereignty of Mercy, is marshaling beyond the reach of menace and rancor, where the armor of faith is fired in hope and fashioned in steeled compassion.

Here in this steal-away place lies the staging ground of Heaven’s planned redress, the garrison where grief’s smear turns to cheer and insurgent resolve is unshackled, from which incendiaries of the Spirit launch raids, even now, against a rancid world to reclaim the resplendent earth for its created purpose and pleasure and joy.

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To know the dark, go dark. Go without sight, / and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings, /
and is traveled by dark feet and dark wings. —Wendell Berry

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The seed of Redemption’s promise grows, but its time is not-yet. How long? Longer, for sure, than every heart-aching desire. The vigilance needed strains to outlast history’s bloody sway. Not long, but not-yet. For now, Hope is still whispered, heard only by those whose ears have yet been seared by the sirens’ counsel to life severed from neighbors in need.

In the Coming Day’s delay, wait in vigilance. Immerse yourself in patient engagement and practiced resilience. Mulch your soul with composted lament. Harness your death-defying vision in quotidian ways spread over ordinary days within recognizable neighborhoods, among nameable people, against petty malice and mischief that arise in routine encounters. Lend the spare weight of your solitary conviction to communal bonds and relational webs sturdy enough to withstand and forestall the grievous harvest.

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I will give you the treasures of darkness. —Isaiah 45:3

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Historic moments of grand-scale movements cannot be engineered. Our work is to be readied, rehearsed, abled, and allied for the season when gestating Darkness erupts in travailing labor to birth the Promise of the ages.

Remain faithful to the liturgy beckoning the Age to come: When the night’s dark fear melts from having loved so greatly the stars’ kindly light and clarifying direction.

Pray for us, St. Stephen, when Truth’s claim conflicts with law’s domain.

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The Feast of St. Stephen is commemorated on 26 December in the Western church, 27 December in the East.

©ken sehested @ prayerandpolitiks.org