Overcoming Darkness with Prayer

“John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sin.” Mark 1:4

Last week we began our Advent series by reflecting on the darkness of the world. We reminded ourselves of the darkness of these days as well as the darkness within our minds and hearts. The darkness in minds and hearts creates fear and anger causing violence in countries and families. We reminded ourselves this darkness of Advent portrays the coming of divine light back into our lives through the awakening to Its presence.

Today we reflect on awakening to life through inner disciplines of prayer. The Bible says John the Baptizer appeared in the wilderness proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. (Mark 1: 4) Baptism is the sacrament or symbolic ritual which declares our sins forgiven and in our inner essence pure and one with God our Creator. Prayer is a way that we keep reminding ourselves of this truth even after we have seen the sacrament administered many times.

The practice of prayer can be exercised in many forms. It can be as simple as conversation with Spirit. This self talk can give reminders of the baptism teaching of forgiveness of sins. Historically many people have practiced prayer as John the Baptist by going into deserts. Some simply take a day or more of quiet retreat to contemplate and renew their sense of oneness. The season of Advent historically was considered a short Lenten season. It was a time to pull back and embrace the darkness by going inward to evaluate our thinking and our sense of Divine oneness. Originally this season was considered a holy time. When we hear the word “holiday” we probably don’t necessarily think of quiet solitude and evening prayer. As a stressed mother wrote on Facebook, “If I won a lottery, I would hire someone else to put up all my decorations and then return on January 2 to take them away!” Our Holidays are often stressful. Yet we can observe aspects of a holy practice during with specific prayers in Advent.

What is prayer? The most common word used in Hebrew and Greek Scriptures is a word which means “to judge one’s self” or to “observe oneself.” The Hebrew word is tefilah, or literally to “judge oneself.” The Greek word, proskartereo, points toward both self observation and intercession. Self observation is not how most of us tend to view the meaning and practice of prayer. We think of prayer as asking for health, safety or peace from dangers and violence in the outside world. Most of our judgment or observation is directed toward others rather than ourselves. We tend to think if others would change their actions and behaviors then we would find more peace and happiness. Self judgment in this is not judging whether we can forgive others but rather can we forgiven ourselves. It is living the Lord’s Prayer “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors,” or as the new ecumenical version translates, “forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.”

I visited my mother in Sherman last Monday, staying overnight and taking her on a few errands Tuesday morning. While she was at the hairdresser, I waited for a prescription to be filled for her at the Sherman Pharmacy. As I was leaving, a classmate of mine walked into the store and we recognized each other immediately. I told him how I missed not seeing him at our 50th class reunion last August. He looked fairly sedate compared to what I remembered when he owned and ran the popular bar and saloon in Sherman called, “Cafe Espanol!” He asked me what I was doing in retirement and I mentioned among other things speaking weekends to a small congregation in West Seneca. Then he said, “You know, we’d love to have you pastor our small Community Church here in Sherman!” I was surprised. Later when I got my mother back home where lunch/dinner was waiting, I told the cook and my mother of my friend’s offer. The reply was, “Oh, that man! They made him a Deacon in that church. So many people were disgusted they moved up to our Baptist Church!” We sat in silence for a few moments and I finally said, “Maybe God forgave him his sins! Which ones would He not?”

Prayer is mostly to be a judgment on ourselves and not others. Indeed, we can’t forgive others their debts and sins unless we first forgive ourselves. When we constantly observe our fixation on the sins and faults of others, it is but a signal of our own lack of self-forgiveness. We are simply projecting our errors and sins onto others. As we sit, drive, or walk, we can pray and observe, “What guilt and fear am I still carrying around, projecting onto others?” When I realize my own “sins,” can I let them go, forgive myself, or do I hang onto them for “security” in making comparisons?

Prayer is also the reminder that as God’s Son or Daughter, we do have it all! In our core we are as the sign says in front of this church; “…A Magnificent creation!” Can you say that about yourself? About others? Until you can, you miss the great Light in Advent’s darkness. Referring to the Lord’s Prayer, we repeat each Sunday, “Our Father, who art in Heaven.” Where might Heaven be? The great spiritual teacher Teresa of Avila said centuries ago, “Heaven is here in my heart, my soul!” Yes, Heaven is our Center, our Essence, our Eternal Self, our Oneness with God.

Gary Zukov, Viet Nam Green Beret survivor turned mystic said, “Can we see ourselves as having won the big lottery!” We hear of people or groups winning lotteries worth several millions of dollars, but do we realize our Divinity Self is worth million times more?

Prayer also moves us from the temporal world of time and space into the Eternal dimension. It moves us past the experience of bodies in time to the Oneness of Eternal Spirit. We are not bodies who have undertaken a spiritual experience but we are Spirit entities having undertaken a temporary earthy/time experience. We live in the Eternal Now.

Prayer is the medium or exercise in which we bring ourselves back to the present, our closest experience of the eternal. Prayer through simple focusing on breath brings us into the Eternal Now or what the Course in Miracles calls the “Holy Instant.” Yes, it’s hard to come into this space with minds racing over so many things and concerns. Our ego minds become fearful and threatened as we move past guilt and the pending decisions which weigh heavy upon us.

Sitting in prayer or meditation allows fears, guilt, mistakes, and worries to come into our awareness. We don’t run, however, we sit with them. It has been called the “spiritual alchemy” process. Alchemy was an image from the Middle Ages when people were encouraged to go deep to feel their pain, hurt, and guilt until it released. When it did, the awareness of the Gold Spirit would increase. So it is. Embrace darkness, sit with it, walk with it, feel it, and cry, scream, and journal until relief lifts. It will grow Spirit Muscle Power, enabling us to face and overcome even stronger obstacles of darkness.

“My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, considerate nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2)

In prayer we experience moving beyond past worries and the fears before us. We come to the holy instant or as writer Eckhart Tolle writes, “The Power of Now!” Prayer reminds us there is no past and there is no future; they’re all in our imaginations and minds. All the baggage from the past which continues to torture us with guilt and regret is but nothing but illusion. Paul wrote the Corinthians, “Behold, now is the accepted time! Behold, now is the day of salvation!” (2 Cor. 6:2) Our future fears are about things which haven’t happened. Yet in these imaginary pasts and futures we spend so much of our time receiving so much of our worry and guilt. John proclaimed a “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins!” It means the past is gone as everything becomes new!

The late Leo Buscaglia said “worry never robs tomorrow of its sorrow, it only saps a day of its joy.” Or as Mark Twain once wrote, “I have lived a long life and had many troubles, most of which never happened.”

Yes, Advent is the season of darkness but as the darkness is dispelled with the coming of light, so may it symbolize the coming of the Eternal Light in each of our minds changing thoughts of from sorrow to deep peace. Let us prepare the way in being attentive to our times of prayer, setting aside time each day to reset our minds in the realization we have been forgiven all our sins. Thus we are free. Amen.


Talk given Sunday morning, December 4, 2011, at the 1st Presbyterian Church of West Seneca, 2085 Union Road, by Rev. David G. Persons.

About David Persons

Retired minister who still writes, speaks some, hikes less, and golfs.
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