Luminous Dark - An Interview With Alain Emerson

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Luminous Dark interview

Why did you decide to write Luminous Dark?

During the months of Lindsay’s illness, through the operations and treatments I was keeping friends and family up to date with her progress through my blog. People where faithfully praying and walking as best they could through the journey with us. When Lindsay died, I suppose I felt a degree of connection with these people, even virtually. They had left loving and compassionate comments, gathering to pray together etc. throughout her sickness and I guess there was apart of me that was aware that after she died these same people where now praying and directing their loving thoughts towards me. So I began to share some of my thoughts with them. I also found a degree of catharsis in the process. My observation was that as I posted thoughts and feelings in as honest and authentic way I could, it seemed to resonate deeply with lots of people.  The comments on the blog, moved to private messages and emails, and then people began to call and to see me.  I became aware of a whole section of people, who have never been given permission to grieve properly and fully; people who simply wanted someone else to ‘get them’; someone else who could give a language to describe the turmoil of their soul. Many of these people in the words of U2, where ‘stuck in a moment, and they can’t get out of it’. 

Initially I wanted them to know that it was ok to not be ok, and then as I began to fully embrace the pain, I found that this gave way to the first shimmers of hope.  I didn’t want them to stay in that place of darkness forever, as much as I understand not wanting to ‘move on.’  I wanted them to move with me towards hope. It was the experience of how the vulnerability of my own story was resonating so deeply with others, that I realised I might someday collate my blogs, journals, and reflections into a book that could be some kind of resource and connection for those walking through the Valley of the Shadow. 

Alain Emerson

Where did the title Luminous Dark come from?

As I made a decision to lean into my pain, stare the darkness in the eye, with an intuition that hope could only come through a true acknowledgement of the pain I became aware that a profound mystery was also taking place.  While there was a deep ache inside me, I was also, almost disconcertingly, aware of the presence of God strongly resident within me.  I was vaguely familiar with the idea, rooted in the mystic and contemplative tradition of the church, of ‘the dark night of the soul’ and how it was a mystical place of enlightenment. As I dug into some of these classics of the Christian faith and as I searched the theme of darkness through scripture in a whole new way I begin to realise God did some incredible things out of the place of darkness and concealment. It was through this search and study I stumbled across the phrase ‘the luminous darkness’ which I think Gregory of Nyssa used to describe Moses encounter with God in the dark clouds described in Exodus 20, and it was from this concept that the derivative 'Luminous Dark’ seemed like the perfect title. 

What role did your faith play in your experience?

My faith was central to everything about the experience but not necessarily in the way you might think.  My faith in Jesus for a number of years before Lindsay died had been the central motivating factor in my life. My hopes, ambitions and dreams for life were bound up in surrender to Him and living in obedience to him. So when Lindsay died, while in one way my faith was the primary reason I ‘got through’, in another way it increased the torment, for my faith was more or less completely deconstructed and my worldview shattered. I just couldn’t figure out why and how God wouldn’t have stepped in and delivered Lindsay from her sickness or how HE or anyone else was better of with Lindsay not here. So particularly in the early days, it may seem strange thing to say, but it felt like my faith made the grief and torment more difficult.  Not only had I lost Lindsay but it felt like I was losing faith in the God whom I had loved for years and in whom the plans for my life where shaped around.  The man-made religious parameters of everything connected to my concepts of God shifted, my sub-councous illusions and self constructed expectations of how God acts where shattered and I eventually came to realise that the only thing that doesn’t change is Him. He is there. Beyond questions and answers and fears and doubts. He is there.

Ultimately, the glimpses I had known of God’s love before Lindsay’s sickness and death where proven in the most incredible ways through my dark nights of my soul and the faith which at times felt it was hanging by a thread was strengthened, refined and deepened in ways I could never have imagined. 

Luminous Dark interview

Are there any particular Bible verses or books that particularly helped you through that time?

As I mentioned above, I found great help in the comtemplative tradition of the church which helped me encounter God in the silence. C.S Lewis, A Grief Observed was also a source of great comfort and help to me as he recounted so honestly his own grief journey.  Just having someone else who could ‘get me’, who could understand the pain and intense loneliness, was a solace in those days. Honestly though I came to realise, and this is one of my motivating factors of penning Luminous Dark, that the Bible was full of language that describes these grieving and painful days.  The Psalms, Job and Lamentations in particular, are the most incredible resource to us in these seasons of life and during my darkest days I came to realise this with fresh-eyed wonder. There were honest, real but inspired articulation for my broken soul. I didn’t need to ‘study’ them for some kind of intellectual assent or pious attainment rather they I just need to speak out their words when I didn’t have my own. 

Some particular verses in the Psalms which sum up the luminous dark experience are 

Whom have I in heaven but you?    And earth has nothing I desire besides you.26 My flesh and my heart may fail,    but God is the strength of my heart    and my portion forever.Ps 73:25-26

If I say, "Surely the darkness will overwhelm me, And the light around me will be night, even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you  Ps 139:11-12

What is the most helpful piece of advice you would give those who are going through a bereavement?

First of all, 'feel permission to grieve and find some kind of language that validates the pain, that articulates your brokenness.' I think the Psalms are a good place to start.  Many of these are listed in my book. 

Secondly I would say, 'pray that pain'. Not the prayer you think you should pray but what is inside you at the particular place - pray that! All is prayer if it is directed before the Father. What you may perceive as ‘bad’ prayers are better than no prayers. Pour it all out before the face of the Father, no matter what way the words (or groans) tumble out of your mouth and soul. 

Thirdly - (if you have already done the first two steps above you have already started this step) - Gently lean towards your pain.  Pain that is not transformed will be transmitted. Hurt people hurt people. As you learn to be true to what you are feeling, give voice to it and let it go through you, you will start to gradually find the intensity of pain lift. 

Fourthly - choose to hope. When you are satisfied that you have allowed the pain to go through the deepest parts of you, choose to hope.  As I say in the book this is a tricky stage and will take lots of courage. But I would encourage you to choose to believe it even if you don’t feel it.  This is the essence of faith I suppose. The Psalms help give voice to our deepest aches in the most sincere way, but they don’t leave us there either. They take us somewhere.  They take us to Jesus - in the midst of it all. I would love people to know that there is HOPE, not in some fairy tale kind of way.  Not even because the circumstances of life can turn around for the better, although they can and that is often a sign of God’s promise of our lives.  But more because HOPE is a person - Jesus.  My deepest prayer is that people would realise from the book that whatever our circumstances in life, we can get Him. We can get Jesus and He is more than enough. 

Final Question- There are people who never, and perhaps never will, experience the pain of losing someone inseparably close to them. What guidance can you give to those supporting people who are grieving when it seems no words are good enough?

I would simply say just be there. It sounds cliche but try and focus less on what you say particular in the early days and more on being present.  Be fully present with them and trust that in that something is being transferred, some part of His presence is being transferred through your presence with them.  In that way you are reflection of the Father to them in those moments. 

Luminous Dark by Alain Emerson is avaliable to order now

21st November

November 21st, 2017 - Posted & Written by Anna Hockley

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