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by former Army Captain Gary Mason, ©2020

Photo:  Gary Mason while serving as chaplain of the Salisbury, NC Police Department in 2019

(Feb. 7, 2020) — [Editor’s Note:  The following essay was written for a course titled, “Leading Spiritual Renewal” as part of former U.S. Army Captain Gary Mason’s Doctor of Ministry in Military Ministry curriculum at Regent University in Virginia Beach, VA.]

My question is, “How often do I face dark nights?”  In life I have found that answer to be, “As often as it takes to learn the lesson and grow.”  Lou Holtz, American football player, coach and analyst, once said, “Show me someone who has done something worthwhile, and I’ll show you someone who has overcome adversity.”  I believe that adversity is what strengthens our resolve and helps us to become credible witnesses to others going through the same.

In 2000, I entered the US Army as an enlisted Infantryman.  My reasons were personal and at the time it made great sense.  I have family members who served as infantrymen in defense of our nation from World War II, the Korean War, to Vietnam. I served in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom.  My assignment was to serve a tour and transition as a US Army Chaplain.  I never expected to suffer from the harsh realities of racism in today’s armed forces.  I found out that my naiveté would soon lead me to experience my “Dark Nights of the Soul.”

I truly believed that we were living in a “post-racial era.”  We had just elected our first African-American president and it seemed as if things in the country were going to “change” for the better.  If change was coming, some were going to fight it. I was devastated when I witnessed and experienced harassment and abuse by members of my own unit.

I had the courage to report what many others would not. I thought soldiers of good faith would hold abusers accountable. Instead I faced an onslaught of threats and retaliation as the leadership circled the wagons to cover-up unit-wide racism and crimes that had been committed.

My desire to do the right thing and report the incidents to the chain of command turned to threats on my life and threats of being forced out of the Army for exposing the truth.  Those in positions of authority refused to assist and were afraid to adjudicate the matters.  I was treated as if I was the perpetrator and a disloyal member of my command for raising these valid concerns.

As the retribution and harassment became a daily problem, my health from stress and doubt became my “Dark Night of the Soul.”  The pressures of being deployed multiple times back-to-back in combat units both in Iraq and Afghanistan made me feel as if I was fighting two enemies.  I was fighting insurgents and the Taliban, all the while being threatened and demonized by my commanders and toxic military leaders.

In the midst of this nightmare I found that prayer became the only thing I could hold on to.  In “Groans too Deep: The Holy Spirit and Suffering” by Andrea Hollingsworth, I can confirm that the power of prayer and the Holy Spirit can change any situation.  No matter how dark, how terrible, how traumatic the situation, the Holy Spirit does become, “the Agitator, the Comforter, and the Liberator.”  This experience strengthened my life, ministry and determination to help others to overcome the cruel and dark spirit of racism. It also challenged me to forgive.

As written in Groans too Deep, “Indeed, a key aspect of the Spirit’s life-giving presence is to contest injustice and liberate those languishing under the pain of oppression.”

I am a living and credible witness.  Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” (KJV)

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  1. Thank you for having the courage to share your story.We hear that forgiveness heals; it seems that you are living proof that it’s true.