Last week I was a counselor at Johnston Christian Park in South Range, Nova Scotia, Canada. JCP is consistently the only Disciples of Christ camp in Canada that requests a Peace Intern. To my extreme pleasure, this summer I was the Peace Intern chosen to fly to Nova Scotia and truly experience the Disciples of Christ in the U.S. AND Canada. I’ve started calling my summer a multi-national affair.
Along with being dubbed with the nickname “America” by Wednesday, I figured out that Canadians really do say “eh?” at the end of many of their sentences and that Canadian bacon is most certainly the best bacon in North America.
We deepened our relationships with each other by played dodge ball in a lake, slipped and slid down a make-shift water slide, captured a flag in the woods and searched for hidden counselors all over camp property, all while discussing Jesus’ miracles in the book of John.
I’m currently reading a book suggested to me by a member of the Disciples Peace Fellowship executive board called Learning to Walk in the Dark by Barbara Brown Taylor. The book focuses on our fear of the dark; how so often we associate darkness with evil, and light with goodness.
“Almost everyone is afraid of being afraid,” and so often “’darkness’ is shorthand for anything that scares [us]” (4). Barbara Brown Taylor addresses this fear and acknowledges the fact that we need darkness just as much as we need light. We need darkness to sleep, to rejuvenate, to learn, to heal, and to appreciate the light.
This concept intrigues me in such a way that I feel like I’ve been studying night and darkness my entire life. I’ve always enjoyed true darkness and felt more comfortable without artificial light. After starting to read this book I have been attempting to use flashlights less, and enjoy the dark; to put myself in situations where I challenge my fears in (not of) the dark.
So when the opportunity to go kayaking at night arose, I jumped. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to combine three of my favorite things—kayaking, star gazing, and my unusual interest in darkness. So after our late-night, sugar-filled snack, we set off with eight canoes and two kayaks to voyage across the lake and back.
While out on the lake I stopped. I set my paddle across my knees, trailed my fingers atop the obscure water and floated, letting the living water take me where it would. I didn’t pray, I didn’t sing or lift up any words to God, or meditate. I just sat and gazed at the stars. I don’t remember what I thought about, or if I even though at all. I just enjoyed my quite moment with the starlit darkness and the lapping waves.
I looked up and my breath caught in my lungs. Spread above me were more stars than I had ever seen in my life, more stars than I see at my beloved home camp, more stars than I saw in Yosemite National Park, more stars than I saw from the top of a mountain on the Navajo Reservation. A rainbow of stars caught me off guard as they spread miraculously from one side of the lake to the opposite: the Milky Way.
I picked up my paddle to resume my counselor duties of preventing campers from returning to camp completely and utterly soaked and set off again, tracing my way back to the group by the sound of their paddles sliding through the water.
We floated past obscure islands, melancholy shore lines, and stared into the tree line attempting to catch that elusive glimpse of Sasquatch or whatever other creature inhabited our nightmares and induced our fear of the dark.
I embraced the dark as I will embrace my brother when I return home at the end of this summer. I followed the sound of the paddles making never ending ripples, inherently trusting that my guide knew his way.
As we started making our way back towards JCP I remember thinking how much more I get from an hour in a kayak under the stars than from any of the magnificent cathedrals and churches I’ve visited. I felt God’s presence more at that time, when I didn’t consciously pray or listening to a sermon, and when I was doing nothing more than actively propelling myself through the dark waters.
God’s presence is everywhere, in everything, and, even more especially, in the darkest of places. I feel God’s presence in the darkest of places not because in the darkness there is evil but because in the darkness there is beauty—the stars—and because of the possibility that something hiding in the dark would force me to address my fears of the unknown.
It seems that in our lives, we are afraid of darkness because we lose what seems to be our most important sense, when all the darkness ever really does is enhance our other senses and make us more aware of our surroundings. As I work on defeating my fears of the unknown, I hope you will work on embracing the darkness, as we all learn to listen to the breeze in the trees.
A seeker of the dark
Cara McKinney is a 2014 Disciples Peace Fellowship Intern, sponsored by Disciples Center for Public Witness and Disciples Women.