The light shines in the darkness but the darkness will never overcome it. Sometimes ‘the dark’ is all too apt a description of how we see reality. Systemic injustice, poverty, sickness, death, wars and rumors of war. In Punching Holes in the Dark, Robert Benson relays a story of being asked by friends (in a round of death by sharing) how he was doing on his journey. He was feeling particularly discouraged, both by personal setbacks and big world problems:
The list was, and still is very long—people organizing up to make sure some do not have access to health care, prospects of more war to try and clean up the mess from the last ill-advised one, patent ignoring of the fact we are ruining the planet for which the one Who Made Us appointed us as stewards, political maneuvers designed to make sure people not like us have no voice, poverty in the gap between the wealthy and the poor in the largest economy in the world, the widespread notion that more guns is the solution to the killing of one hundred of us each day by someone who can buy as many guns as he likes. The fact the charges into the dark are often led by those who call themselves followers of the Christ was almost more than I could bear. (location 133-139 of 969).
Benson was in a dark place and feeling emotionally spent. His friends listened to him, and pointed him away from the dark towards the light of God’s kingdom, already in our midst(location 159).
The title, “Punching Holes in the Dark” came from a close friend of Benson’s father—a seminary friend—who always signed his letters, “Keep punching holes in the dark, my friend.” Benson uses the phrase to show how we participate in welcoming the kingdom, sometimes in a receptive posture of prayer, and sometimes through action, punching holes in the dark so that the Light of God can break in.
Benson is a warm and accessible writer. He is a contemplative retreat leader, a graduate of the Academy of Spiritual Formation, well schooled in prayer and the spiritual life. He is a sacramental, and liturgy-minded Episcopalian with a long evangelical pedigree. But he does not put on airs, speak in a mystical bubbles, or use technical jargon. His prose is unadorned, and though his life is extraordinary—he’s the son of a major CCM producer and he has bonfire spiritual guru status—he tells stories of everyday life: being an introvert, getting into petty arguments, caring for his mother in the throws of dementia, time spent with mentors, praying for others, starting a film club. And yet ordinary life is exactly the place where Christ’s kingdom breaks in, and through quiet acts of prayer, worship, friendship, Benson demonstrates how we can punch holes in the dark (non-violently, of course).
This is the sort of book that one could read through (easily) in one sitting, or slowly and reflectively. The simplicity of Benson’s prose means that some of his stories and phrases grab you later. With first Benson book I ever read (Living Prayer), long after I set it down, Benson’s words continued to work on me, and help me to envision intercessory prayer in a new way. I expect the same sort of dynamic with this one, simple stories and metaphors that continue to work on my insides, and images that are worth cycling back to. I give this book four stars.
Note: I received a galley copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.