Commentary
By Cari Willis 7-09-2018

Lately I have been sitting in the dark with my incarcerated friends. One of them has been waiting for months for an opinion on his appeal, a few of them are trying to find another lawyer who will work for free to finally exonerate them, one has struggled to find a friend on the inside who will sit and listen to him, and another just got news that evidence that could exonerate him can’t be used in a new court hearing.

When I read Isaiah 42:6-7, I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the peopleand a light for the Gentiles, to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness, I tear up. 

These ancient words of Scripture are still true today. God has always known about those who sit inside prisons and the darkness that surrounds them. I found other Scriptures that included prisoners and darkness. Scriptures like Psalm 107:10: Some sat in darkness, in utter darkness, prisoners suffering in iron chains and Isaiah 45:7: I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things which two of my friends shared during our time together. 

Again, the ancient words of Scripture shine a light on the utter darkness that some of my friends sit in.

My friends know that God made the day as well as the night. They know that the day follows the night, just as much as the night follows the day. They know that some days can be like winter, where there is an overabundance of night and there are other days that can be like summer where there is an overabundance of light. They know that it isn’t either or but a both and. And when they are experiencing day, they also know just how deep the darkness of night can be.

As a listener in this space, I choose to sit with them no matter where they are sitting — in the dark or in the light. And maybe, not surprisingly, I have learned more from sitting in the darkness with them. We have all learned by dwelling there. God abides with us as we sit in the darkness. We do not sit alone. The creator of darkness s sits with us. We feel to the marrow of our bones God’s abiding presence. We also know that darkness does not have the final word — light does. If we will but wait long enough, eventually the sun will come up and the darkness will end.

As a Christian, I believe I am a light-bearer. So in order to sit with someone in the darkness, I have to turn my light down. I have to be willing to stop with the quick platitudes that have never been helpful and be willing to be vulnerable and authentic with my own pain so I can experience my friends' pain. I have to be willing to turn off the noise in my brain to be fully present to another person’s story. I have to be willing to feel the claustrophobia of the dark knowing to my core that God is still there. I have to sit and be a non-anxious presence, knowing that God has us both in the palm of God’s hand. I have to surrender my time and my being to the Spirit who will lead and who will guide right there in the midst of the darkness. I have to trust, with an unwavering trust in God, that little step by little step we will move out of the dark into the light even if we have to sit a spell longer than I would like in the dark.

I know that I do not journey alone. I know that God is always with me. And it will be God’s unconditional love that will draw us to God’s side even right there in the deep, dank darkness.

Rev. Cari Willis is a volunteer Chaplain for men on Virginia and North Carolina's death row. 

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