A Glorious Dark: Review

April 2, 2015 at 4:18 pm

Swoboda_AGloriousDark_wSPine.indd “Maybe it’s not stories that we love; maybe it’s the storytellers themselves we love.” A.J. Swoboda

 With Holy Week upon us it is fitting to offer a review of a book that is sure to become an annual offering for those searching for a companion to journey with them through the season of Lent. In A Glorious Dark, A.J. Swoboda offers the thesis that many Christians are living their lives through the myopic lens of a single day in Holy Week. For some it is Good Friday, with it’s resultant darkness and pessimism. While for others their world is lit with the constant sunrise of Resurrection Sunday, where all illness is defeated and every tear is wiped away. While both hold important elements of truth for the Christian life, Swoboda argues that both are deficient without the experience of Saturday- the long day of waiting that separates death from re-birth.    

With this in view Swoboda walks us through the three days by way of a combination of sound biblical exegesis, challenging theology, and whimsical personal reflections. There is comedy and transparency in his words and throughout the work I began to feel, quite honestly, as if I was having a conversation with A.J. This was, for me, the greatest asset of the book. While we have never met, I felt as I finished the final chapter that I had, somehow, made a new friend.

Certainly this was due in part to the level of honesty and humility with which he writes, but perhaps more importantly, it had to do with the fact that Swoboda does not talk to you (or even worse, at you), but with you. Through discussions on addiction, separation, rejection, shame and insecurity there is an ongoing freedom to let yourself reflect on the glory and darkness of your own story precisely because you sense that A.J. has already taken this journey himself- there is integrity in what he has shared. He doesn’t call the reader to travel to places that he himself is unwilling to go.    

A clue to the driving theme of the book lies in the apparent dichotomy of the work’s title which doesn’t end as you wind your way through the rest of the pages. It is found in every corner of Swoboda’s confessions, memories, tragedies, and triumphs; glory and darkness, laughter and tears, fear and security, faith and doubt. It is there because it is there in all of our stories, and as you sit for a spell with A.J. you get the sense that he has invited you into a conversation that is not nearly as one-way as you originally thought it may be.

A Glorious Dark is unlike almost any other book I have read. Part sermon, part journal, part biblical commentary, Swobodo’s takes the stuff of everyday life and finds ways to connect it to the metaphysical and the mysterious. It is this fine balance of transcendence and immanence that allows the book to beckon you to reflection. If one chooses to anyone could work their way from cover to cover in quick fashion. But this was not a work I found myself anxious to complete. I intentionally took my time and used it as a portion of my spiritual fodder during my journey through the season of Lent. In doing so I became increasingly mindful of the need to “sit in the tomb” of Saturday with my crucified Savior. I learned that, somehow, hopelessness is the pathway to true hope and that it is only when we are willing to finally reflect on our sin, disappointment and despair that we can begin to grasp the weight and glory of the Resurrection. In this way, even the darkness becomes a gift in the hands of the Redeemer whose light is breaking forth from the darkest tombs to reveal his glory.

Thanks to A.J. Swobodo for sitting with me in the darkness, so that I could finally see the light with greater clarity.

A.J. Swoboda, A Glorious Dark: Finding Hope in the Tension between Belief and Experience. Baker Publishing Group, 2014.