Aleteia

Still afraid of the dark? You’re not alone

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…and there is a simple solution that will quell our fears, as we learn in Sunday’s Gospel.

 

You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lampstand, where it gives light to all in the house. Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.
—Matthew 5:14-16

Were you afraid of the dark as a child? Are there little ones (or even “grown-ups”) in your life who can’t stand being left in a room with no lights?

If so, you might be happy to know that science now has some insights to offer.

Centuries and millennia ago, our ancestors lived in a world in which darkness was a time when people were especially vulnerable. In order to stay safe outside of the small ring of light that a fire or, later, a lamp might provide, human beings developed what would become an innate fear of the dark. It’s perfectly reasonable, if we stop and think about what was at stake. While there have been numerous studies and articles about this in recent years, I like the clear way science writer Josh Hrala summed things up in an article for sciencealert.com: “Our ancestors were constantly on the look-out for predators that wanted nothing more than to chow down on human sandwiches. To make that even scarier, most of these predators hunted at night—a time of day when we are especially vulnerable to attack because of our relatively poor eyesight.” He continues, “Over the years, this nightly fear became instinctual, and we still experience it today as a form of mild anxiety.”

This danger of darkness remained in force until the modern era when street lights and flood lights began to push away the darkness more effectively than anything that we ever had before. But there still remains, in each of us, a certain fear of what may be lurking just beyond the reach of the light or hiding in the shadows. Ultimately, our fear of the dark is a fear of the unknown.

In this Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus uses the image of salt and light to remind his followers of what they—we—are called to be in and for the world. Part of this means that we are called to live lives that, like salt and light, enhance the “flavor” of the world and dispel the darkness of fear and doubt.

We can see what this looks like when we think of so many of the great saints of our faith tradition. Saint Francis of Assisi certainly embodied this ideal in his willingness to commit his life wholeheartedly to living out the demands of Gospel poverty and joy in an age when the Church was becoming more and more mired in bureaucracy and the quest for power. With his band of “Lesser Brothers,” Francis shared the light of his faith and the “salt” of his joy to brighten and enhance the world in which he lived.

At the heart of Jesus’ message and Francis’ mission is love. Certainly, this means our experience of God’s love and our love for God. But, on a more practical level, this means the love that we show to one another. Our First Reading this Sunday brings this point home, as we hear these words from the Prophet Isaiah:

Share your bread with the hungry,
shelter the oppressed and the homeless;
clothe the naked when you see them,
and do not turn your back on your own.
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn…
If you remove from your midst
oppression, false accusation and malicious speech,
if you bestow your bread on the hungry
and satisfy the afflicted;
then light shall rise for you in the darkness,
and the gloom shall become for you like midday.

This is what love looks like, and when we reflect on all of the acts of mercy Isaiah describes, we can see how these good works—expressions of our love—can help drive away the ugliness, fear, and, yes, darkness that brings grief, despair, and death into the world.

In the end, our liturgy this Sunday is reminding us that we don’t have to be afraid of the dark any longer. If we have love—and live that love—then the light of Christ that we carry within us will drive away the darkness of fear and sadness.

How does your relationship with Jesus bring savor and brightness to your life?

How does that relationship help you keep your light of love and faith burning brightly?

In what recent world and national events do you see the darkness of doubt, fear, and sadness? How do the words of Isaiah challenge you to bring light into that darkness?

Words of Wisdom: “The true light has come, the light that enlightens everyone who is born into this world. Let all of us, my brothers and sisters, be enlightened and made radiant by this light. Let all of us share in its splendor, and be so filled with it that no one remains in the darkness.” –Saint Sophronius

 

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