My family was roadtrippin’ last week, headed to sister #2’s college graduation. We left late, after my parents could get home from work and pack. We piled in the car, and as usual, sister #4 and I entertained ourselves for about half an hour before promptly falling asleep. Pretty typical. It’s one of the small joys of letting Dad drive – you know you’ll get there safely, he doesn’t need you to stay awake, so you’re really just along for the ride. I love sleeping in the car!
We stop to get something to eat at McDonald’s (p.s. strawberry lemonade = so good!). I really only eat there when I’m on the road, so I take advantage of having two hands free and order a burger instead of the driver-friendly chicken nuggets. I’m chillin’ in the far back seat of the ‘burb’ as my sister passes the box back to me. As we jump back on the highway, the lights of that little exit faded quickly behind us. I am suddenly aware of how difficult it is to eat a burger in (almost) total darkness. I can hardly see what I’m doing, much less what I’m putting in my mouth! With each bite, I’m trusting that 1) it is what I expect it to be, and 2) it will fill me up and be good for me. It all tastes great, don’t get me wrong. But I can’t help but feel like I’m missing part of the experience of eating. Without anything to look at, I realize that presentation really does matter — maybe sight does have something to do with it! Part of the anticipation and the fullness of eating was lost in the dark.
I know we talk about heightening the senses by removing one or more so it is easier to focus on just one stimuli. (I think of those crazy “dark cafe” type of restaurants like they visit in When in Rome, with the waiters with night goggles and everyone else ridiculously blind to what’s going on around them.) And while that might be true from a physiological or psychological standpoint, I doubt that’s what we really want from life. I think of Pavlov’s dog experiments where sight and sound signal the anticipation of a meal, and I think reality and our humanity is more about desiring a total experience. Aren’t we always looking for ways to be ultimately stimulated? We want all of our senses to work, to take in and experience as much as possible. Immersive experiences like theme parks, surround sound and imax screens, and integrated, immediate technology define our culture.
As a Catholic, I can definitely appreciate that. Our faith is one of sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell. We see cathedrals, sacred art, tabernacles, relics, and even our Lord Himself in the Eucharist! We hear the Word proclaimed, prayers spoken or sung, and the chants, hymns, and music of worship. We taste when we consume, we can touch almost everything, and we smell burning candles and incense. It is a beautiful reflection of the reality and pervasiveness of our faith. It isn’t something ethereal that exists only in our minds — we experience it here and now.
It makes sense that our faith is integrated into our physical existence. I immediately think of how the Theology of the Body brought all that home for me. Blessed John Paul II reassured us that our world makes sense. It is cohesive, complementary, and designed for a specific purpose. Our physical presence and experience is a gift, meant to be integrated into our very personality and soul. Our senses, then, give us the means not only to live, but to seek and find God revealed in all these “earthly” and physical things.
John’s Gospel is so rich with understanding about light and darkness. That trip in the dark car was a moment to realize where I am. Sometimes, I feel like I did then — sustained, but without much enjoyment. True, those times of peaceful trust are a blessing. I relish the opportunity to rest while my Father takes the wheel. I am grateful that the Eucharist feeds and nourishes me, even in my darkness. But I know there are times when I feel like I can’t see what’s going on in my life, or that I am lacking the light of love. My heart feels dark as I remember times of greater enlightenment and joy. I am not seeking darkness, but it has found me. I haven’t turned away from the light, but it has faded away. I keep moving, because I can’t stand still. I constantly await and expect the light to reappear at any moment, casting aside all doubts, fears, and hesitations. I know this darkness is a trial.
Despite it all, I know that what I have, in this moment, is good and good enough for me.
What I hope — for us all — is that we might continue to seek a full experience. An immersive, extravagant, total experience of God’s love. A truly authentic life that is blessed because we see God in everything.
Search for the light. Seek the warm glow instead of the cover of darkness. If you are not seeking darkness but just moving through it, hold on. You are sustained, even if it feels like something is missing. Pray, and wait. Grace will come, and the light will return. He is the Light, and He opens our eyes to see it.
Sometimes the darkness is what we need. It reminds us to trust. Trust in His goodness, and trust that His nourishment is enough. We will never go hungry; we will always be sustained. But for a little while… we might be eating in the dark.