I continue to enjoy working my way slowly through Krista Tippett’s book, Becoming Wise. It is such a wonderful read because it is built around so many interviews she does with very interesting people. Reading her book is the next best thing to sitting in the interview itself or, even better, being able to be with the various people by yourself.
The latest one that intrigued me was her interview with the writer, Richard Rodriguez. I have read some of Rodriguez’s works and find him an engaging, thoughtful person. I am acquainted with his exploration of his Catholic faith. He also brings to the table his own Latino background. With all of this difference from my own upbringing, I always feel like I have so much to learn. Tippett was able to tease even more insight with her interview.
Early in her interview she cites his memoir, Hunger of Memory. She quotes a sentence from that piece. Rodriguez says, “Of all the institutions in their lives, only the Catholic Church had seemed aware of the fact that my mother and father are thinkers, persons aware of their own experiences of their lives.” Rodriguez picks up on her reading of this passage and begins to comment. He says, “The power of religion to make us reflective of the lives we are leading seems to me to encourage an inwardness, which I would call intellectual.” I am intrigued that he calls this inwardness “intellectual.” I might call it “spiritual.” In either case I want to pursue this.
After 9/11 Rodriguez pursued this inwardness by working to understand the religion, which seemingly had produced terrorists. He noted that he worshipped the same God as they did. So he moved to the desert, the place common to Judaism, Islam and Christianity. It is his reflection on the desert that led him to what I have taken from his writing, namely, a sense that we are a “people of dark.” Let’s go to the desert with him and follow his journey.
He notes the desert “is a holy landscape. It is also a landscape that drives us crazy.” I am not a desert person. I am a product of the flat Midwest scene of cornfields and soybean fields. To read him is to be take to a strange land and invited to see and to learn. I watch Rodriquez move from being in the desert to making assertions about God and how God works. Rodriguez says, “Somehow, in this landscape, we got the idea that there is a God who is as lonely for us as we are for Him.” Wow, what a thought! God is as lonely for me as I am for God. That describes God in a novel way for me.
To this notion of God, Rodriguez adds an equally insightful comment. “And there is in this landscape, also, a necessity for tribe. You do not live as an individual on the desert. You live in tribes. And that tribal allegiance, that tribal impulse, leads on the one hand, to great consolation, but also to the kind of havoc we are seeing now. That very much helps me understand how Rodriguez is processing this new century.
And then he comes to the part I want to emphasize. He comments, “You have to acknowledge when you wander the desert, how bright and blinding is light. And how consoling is twilight and darkness. In these religions (Judaism, Islam and Christianity), oftentimes shade and darkness come as consolations, or gifts…” Rodriguez illustrates this with three neat examples. Mohammed “has his revelation in a cave, in the darkness.” We know from the Old Testament that Moses saw God from a cave. And the resurrection also happened in the tomb or cave.
From there Rodriguez moves to my main point. References to desert and caves lead him to conclude, “We sometimes forget that we are people of dark. And we should accept that darkness as part of our faith.” I need to hear we are people of dark. As I am Quaker, I am so used to hearing about light and that we are children of the Light. We are indeed. But we are also people of dark.
Dark is the place of mystery. Dark is the place of not knowing. It is the place where God may be absent just as much as present. But even if God is absent, I still have faith. I still believe and act on that faith and belief. I realize that I am like almost everyone else these days; we seldom are in the dark. There is always a light switch. We always see. We have eradicated the mystery of darkness from our lives.
I like the idea that I am a person of dark. It gives me a chance to pursue mystery. I can learn to deal with obscurity. As a person of dark, I can learn to wait---to be patient. I can wait for God’s showing. I can be patient for God’s own timing. To be a person of dark is a great opportunity for growth in my faith.