Flickers in the Dark


diana trautwein -flickers in the dark-3

We taught Confirmation again this morning, my husband, Anna, our student ministries director, and I. We have done this every Sunday since September of last year and it is a task we love. On the attendance roster this year are 17 middle school students, full of energy, kind-hearted, generous, funny and smart.

This Sunday, however was different. There were only eight students around the table at 8:45; much quieter than usual. I brought homemade granola, fresh berries, coffee cake and OJ, which they gratefully inhaled. We sat together and talked. There was no lesson this week—at least, no lesson from the binder that contains our two-year course of study. The topic for today was, “Resurrection, Jesus Lives!” We did reference that powerful part of our shared story during our time together, but a lesson plan, with discussion questions, art projects, readers’ theater or any of the other rich resources that are available to us each week? No, there was none of that.

Instead, we shared stories. We began with stories of devastation, loss, terror and sorrow. In the early morning hours of the previous Tuesday, our community was hit by a deadly combination of events. A rainstorm of record-breaking intensity fell on mountainous landscape that had just been scraped and seared by the largest wildfire in the history of our state.

And the mountain came down.

Boulders larger than small houses, century-old trees, automobiles, even entire homes, were swept downstream toward the ocean, taking twenty human lives away forever and injuring scores of others. Four of those killed were children. One of those rescued from a six-hour burial in thick, viscous mud, was a member of our youth group—the same age as the students around that table. Her father died, her brother is still missing, her mom is in the hospital with multiple injuries, expected to recover.

All of this happened in the dead of night, in a pouring rainstorm, on narrow, windy roads with limited access in the best of times. Swiftly moving debris caused a gas main to explode, destroying one home, scorching parts of several others. That blazing torch provided an eerie light in the midst of all the destruction.

In every other way, it was very, very dark.

So, this morning, we spent some time sharing stories about the darkness: a 6th grade girl who died, known and loved by several students; a friend of another who rescued a toddler; families evacuated, leaving their homes for what they thought was a 1 or 2 day absence only to discover there is no predictable return date for anyone.

I taught them about the Jesus prayer at the end of that time of sharing, telling them how helpful this spiritual practice is in times of stress and anxiety. Then we talked about what it means to be an “Easter people.” No specific study of scriptural accounts of the resurrection event, no Bible memory work, no sword drills.

And then, I invited them to share stories of light: where did they see a spark, a moment of hope, a slice of a miracle, a reminder that we are not alone, even in the muck and mess, the loss and the fear? Where were there resurrection stories?

And those stories tumbled out, too. A home spared when all those around were destroyed, prompting the owners to ask, “What can we do to help the others?” A mother and daughter, weeping over the loss of their family, strongly saying, “We are here for a reason. Let’s look for it.” Rescue workers who worked tirelessly to find and save people who were trapped. A last minute gathering for lament and prayer on our church campus—we had power, but no gas, no water and won’t have either for the foreseeable future. A community-wide prayer vigil at our historic courthouse, attended by hundreds. Yes, yes! There is light, there are signs of resurrection, even in this horrific darkness.

As our 65-minute class time drew to a close, we held hands around the table and prayed together, each student lifting to heaven the requests on his or her heart. I ended that time with these words: “Lord, you are our hope, even in the midst of tragedy. Help us to be light and love as we encounter friends who are bereft, families who have lost everything, and a city that is struggling to find some way back to normalcy. Remind us that you have called us to be light in the darkness. Please, Lord —help us to shine.

Where are the dark places in your worlds, Lovelys? How can we shine today?