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The Hospitality of Darkness


By Liv Larson Andrews

The sun will go dark. The moon will not give light. The stars will fall and the heavenly powers will shake. Ah yes, the readings for early Advent. We think we will hear about preparing for sweet baby Jesus. Instead, we learn the sky is falling.

However, if you happen to be sitting in the G concourse of the Minneapolis-St. Paul International airport when all this occurs, you would never know.

Our recent trip to the Midwest included some waiting time in this particular spot, and the experience was surreal bordering on spooky. Mostly due to the over abundance of screens. Yes, screens. Instead of the normal bank of padded chairs in rows and groups, the G concourse at MSP has small sleek tables each outfitted with an iPad. There is one iPad per chair, and they are all on. It’s nearly impossible to hold a conversation with your spouse across the table, since two upright screens block the view. It is beyond all hope to shield, say, a small child from an onslaught of moving images. Lit up and blinking, these flashing rectangles populate the entire waiting area.

We arrived there at the dinner hour. We found seats ordered our meal by touchscreen. (Without scrolling through the dessert menu I somehow accidentally ordered cheesecake…) After the food arrived, it felt like a small act of rebellion to reach up and turn the screen off after we didn’t need to use it. Three dark screens. Ah, a respite for the eyes. I began wondering how weird it must be for workers to come in for a shift starting at 3 a.m and see a concourse empty of people but nonetheless buzzing and flashing with light from the screens. The Advent readings urge us: Keep awake! Those little iPads have no choice.

Our time in the G concourse made me wonder about our modern experience of darkness. For ancient peoples, hearing that the ever-steady heavenly bodies might fall, or stop giving their light, would be utterly terrifying. In a world without street lamps, nightfall brings deep and dangerous darkness. Morning brings safety and visibility again.

Have we banished this experience of darkness from our human journey? Is it ever truly dark for us?
The trouble with that waiting area was that only the single, hip, tech-savvy traveller was welcome there. Is there a hidden hospitality in darkness? In quiet? In rest and turn-off screens? For the ancients the task of hospitality included ensuring safety for guests in a dark world. Maybe our task is to provide respite from eternally lit lamps and ever-blinking screens. How do you practice hospitality in a world hungering for light, as well as rest and silence?

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Tracy Simmons

Liv, I know exactly what concourse you’re talking about! I was there this summer and had similar thoughts.

Cara Strickland

I wonder if light and darkness have lost some of their metaphorical power since light (as from screens) can be unwelcome, and darkness (as from screens powered down) can be a relief.

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