While It Was Still Dark

It used to be, in my youthful days, that my nights would often go long into the small hours of the dark morning – especially as a performing singer/ songwriter making my way home. Then as my wife and I began to raise our family, it always fell to me, when we’d go on vacation, to drive us all through the dark-thirty fog until morning  — everyone fast asleep in the van . . . as I stared off into the hypnotic movement of shadowy landscape. Now a days, the smell of coffee invites me into the dark kitchen most mornings, while the rest of the house sleeps . . . I begin to think about what the day might hold.

In a world that literally has thousands of ways to preoccupy the mind with distraction and amusement, there is a particular solace in the quiet of this darkness before dawn. Likely, this is why I find it well suited to prayer and contemplation. Sometimes I find myself sifting through the past. Sometimes I’m pondering what future might be awaiting me. It’s a sort of a ruminating prayer trance, sipping coffee and whispering the things God has placed on my heart.

So when I read that passage in John 20, where Mary Magdalene is making her way in the dark to the tomb where Jesus was laid – I can’t help but wonder what her pre-dawn thoughts might have been. She had come to do what was customary of the women of her time – to ritually prepare the dead body of a loved one. But because the day before was the Sabbath, she was already a day behind, and that was surely going to complicate the process. So still in shock and mourning, over the death of Jesus, she must now focus herself to the task ahead – so that she might honor Jesus in the only way left to her.

downloadThe familiar narrative of the Resurrection in this passage takes off pretty quickly, but still I’m fascinated by the phrase in verse one, “while it was still dark” – not only is it descriptive, it also makes for a powerful metaphor. Determined to offer Jesus this final gesture of love, Mary does not allow the heaviness of her heart to paralyze her – the darkness of her sorrow was not enough to hold her back . . . and she has no idea what awaits her. Is this not the way of faith – being faithful in the dark . . . unsure of how light might reveal itself?

Given her faithfulness, I don’t think it’s coincidental that Mary was the first to see Jesus raised. Her willingness to make her way through the dark to him, to push through the pain of her loss, not knowing the outcome of her faithfulness . . . and then — there He is, speaking her name! And here we are, at this end of history where the risen Lord is our given starting place . . . and yet, sometimes we’re in the dark too – trying to figure out how to entrust the outcome of our faith efforts to a God we can’t see. So remember this – God knows you’re making your way to him through the dark . . . and he will be there in the morning light, speaking your name . . . because he knows you, and the darkness you have been set free from.


Here’s a beautiful song Mary Magdalene written by my brother Garrison Doles
and all of the wonderful art is the work of his wife Jan Richardson

Pulling On Your Last Thread

Sometimes there are dry patches in your life, seasons of going through the motions while traversing an uninspiring wasteland. There is a numbing compression of emotion, where the span between hope and despair has become a deep chasm, slowly draining you of any expectation, whatsoever. This is the most insidious form of despair. Unlike the sudden shock of despair that overtakes us in grievous events — no, this is a slowly settling despair that creeps in and puts down deep roots. And it leaves you feeling like the very fabric of your life is gradually being unraveled, until it seems it’s pulling on your last thread.

Jesus wanders in the wilderness forty days, mirroring the forty years of the lost generation of Israel. Each step of his wandering, is an emptying out, in refinement of the specific purposeful path his life is about to embark. He willingly suffers this asceticism as an essential part of what is to come. In contrast, Israel’s wandering is more of a dissipation, the pointless result of deciding to reject the life God had called them to, passing on to the next generation the task that they were unwilling to do.

Only you can answer whether or not the wilderness you’re sojourning is about avoidance or preparation . . . or even maybe a little of both. But either way there’s a purposeful distilling taking place – so you’ll be unencumbered for whatever comes next. At the very heart of your wilderness is the calling God has placed on your life . . . so your time in that wilderness is meant to be your struggle between avoidance and preparation.

imagesAs Jesus walks into his wilderness, he is preoccupied with doing his Father’s will, which is to redeem and reconcile, to seek and to save all that is lost. But even his wilderness was a struggle between avoidance and preparation. The real temptation Jesus faced there, had nothing to do with any of the particulars Satan had to offer, as Jesus had the power to do as he wished, quite apart from Satan’s participation. Rather, this is something we get a glimpse of that he will ultimately face at Gethsemane – asking for the bitter cup of his crucifixion to pass.

Therefore, the season of Lent is meant to be a time of intentional asceticism, a purposeful wandering in the wilderness. We walk with Jesus, that we might have a share in his hunger and thirst, so that we might enter into his passion and anticipate the cross . . . so that by contrast, we might celebrate the resurrection anew. Paul sums this up best in Philippians 3:10 – “that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death”.

So maybe you find yourself already in a wilderness, maybe you’re hungering and thirsting for things you can’t quite identify. Perhaps the Lord is refining your calling – will you allow him to prepare you for what comes next in your life? He knows all too well the temptation to avoid the suffering that is essential to living redemptively sacrificial . . . which is why we are given The Comforter (John 14:16). The lost generation of Israel never found their way out of the wilderness – but Jesus knows the way out of your wilderness . . . so follow him.


. . . where there is a peace that passes all understanding.

Along The Way To Somewhere Else

Every once and awhile, lost in the motion of any given week, while tending my conveyer belt filled with all of the squeaky wheels I have to keep greased – I wonder how it is I got here. It’s not that here is such a bad place, it’s just that I thought I’d be somewhere else by now . . . perhaps, someone else by now. No doubt, I am not alone in feeling as if most of my life has been spent on a treadmill – so much going on, while not really going anywhere. Sure, I could choose to step off the treadmill – but what then?

The idea of choice always has a certain allure – as if anything and everything were possible. But if you’ve lived long enough, you likely know what it means to see plan A work its way down through the alphabet . . . until you find yourself, with the noise of squeaky wheels ringing in your ears, trying to remember which plan letter you’re currently on. Until invariably that reoccurring “what if” daydream about plan A begins to whisper its familiar siren song, only to quickly become the mocking voice of disappointment over what might have been.

46aef803925ee34cf9c3123e86f1e2f4All of this particularly comes to mind as I think about two weary and emotionally depleted travelers, who were on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24: 13-32). They were on their way back from Jerusalem, where they had just experienced a very dramatic pendulum swing — having met a man who had given them a life changing glimpse of hope, one they would have never imagined possible . . . only to have the religious class haul him in before the roman authorities, eventually ending in a scandalous execution. So with heavy hearts, this familiar road seemed especially long and unforgiving . . . and that’s when, unbeknownst to them, Jesus joined them along their way.

They began to explain to him how everything was on the verge of forever changing . . . and then it all fell apart. Sure there were those still holding out hope – but let’s face it, plan A had just crashed and burned beyond all recognition. At this point Jesus interrupts, telling them that God’s plan involves far more than their narrow expectations were allowing for – suffering isn’t derailment, but an important part of the path that must be traveled. These were likely puzzling and unsettling words for the ears of these weary travelers, as they entered into Emmaus. I mean, what could this stranger possibly know about God’s plan? It was at that point when Jesus broke bread and all was made clear.

On this side of the Resurrection, after having internalized its theological significance, and celebrating it as the centerpiece of our faith — sometimes we think about the road we’re on, and wonder if it’s really going anywhere. We begin to wonder if God is off somewhere else on an extended business trip, leaving us here on our own to figure all this stuff out . . . and that’s when Jesus joins us on that road, reminding us that the plan hasn’t changed. So that we might also say “. . . were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road . . ?” ~ Luke 24: 32


Here’s a song my brother Garrison wrote about the Emmaus Road . . .

The Enchantment of Spring

Already there’s a stirring in the stillness, as things dormant for months begin to make themselves known again. The planet shifts its weight, reaching for the light, for the all too familiar warmth, long absent from this hemisphere. Each passing day seems to sweep what’s left of the thinning shadows off into the shimmering expanse of morning sun spilling over the horizon. These are the days that make one believe promises made about an everlasting day – the promise that all things can be made new. This is the enchantment of spring.

The whole point of a good enchantment is that it allows you to suspend, if only briefly, your normal expectations, your usual way of knowing things – so that a deeper magic of knowing might emerge. So that you might imagine yourself standing in a field of Easter lilies spreading out like a sea of supple white flags waving as if floating on a gentle sun lit breeze.

Then out of the soft rise and fall of this swaying meadow, comes the rousing applause of angelic celebration, like an ancient melody sung by nascent voices. And as you are being swept up in the elation that has overtaken this pastoral setting – you begin to wonder what wonderful thing has occurred that could cause such a music? And then you turn and stare in disbelief — it is the great eucatastrophe of the crucifixion and the empty tomb . . . and you are undone by the sheer weight and wonder of it.

The Passion of Christ is like a winter’s menacingly dark sky looming over God himself, hanging on a cross . . . a darkness cracked wide open by the Resurrection, which moves with the force of a spring morning exponentially multiplying the life of everything it touches. Where death is broken by the power of love, tears give way to joy, and fear is chased back into the shadows of disbelief.

hqdefaultThe relentless beauty of all of this goes far beyond a theological knowing of salvation. Rather, we find it in far more visceral ways of encountering these profound truths, ways that lift right off the pages and penetrate the soul, ways that alter the way we see everything else . . . like spring. So as I step out on a clear spring day, I feel as if the promise of new life is more than a theological contractual clause – rather, it is as certain as spring following winter.

We don’t live our lives in our heads, we live them in the dimension of lived out experience. So the rich significance of the gospel narrative isn’t merely a cognitive switch we throw about an intellectual proposition – rather, it is a narrative that captivates us at the core of our being. There exists a hint of God’s redemptive work vibrating with new life hidden in the details of everything we experience – waiting for us to tune into that frequency . . . as we take a walk on a spring day.


Not sure, what it is about this old hymn – but I have always associated it with the emergence of Spring in the way it seems to call for all of creation to celebrate God.