A deep, but dazzling darkness; As men here
Say it is late and dusky, because they
See not all clear;
O for that night! where I in him
Might live invisible and dim.
--Henry Vaughan, from “The Night”
Learning to Walk in the Dark by Barbara Brown Taylor came at a great time for me; I'm halfway into the same spiritual place that the author was when she wrote this, so her memoir-style book was of real interest to me. I'm not sure how it would come across to someone not in this space, or if, in fact, it would have spoken to me at all before I discovered the beauty of God in the darkness for myself.
Taylor is very interested in how and why we fear the dark--with whether that fear is deserved or whether it blinds and hampers us, relationally, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. I love that she starts the book by researching the night, finding out how humans have historically interacted with darkness versus how we do so now, how our constant busy cycles and our light pollution are affecting us physically and psychologically, and how they are affecting the world around us.
She experiments with sleeping outside and not using electric lights after sunset (she lives in the country; no city lights here), goes spelunking in a cave and sits in that utter darkness for a long while. And she reaches some intriguing conclusions about our need for rest, our need for silence and solitude and enough space to actually look at our own souls.
Then she reaches beyond that, into her own fascination with Mary the mother of Jesus and into St. John of the Cross and his writings about the dark night of the soul--how those nights lead us to a more profound experience of God.
“By all accounts, a stone blocked the entrance to the cave so that there were no witnesses to the resurrection. Everyone who saw the risen Jesus saw him after. What happened in the cave happened in the dark. As many years as I have been listening to Easter sermons, I have never heard anyone talk about that part.... If it happened in a cave, it happened in complete silence, in absolute darkness, with the smell of damp stone and dug earth in the air. Sitting deep in the heart of Organ Cave, I let this sink in: new life starts in the dark. Whether it is a seed in the ground, a baby in the womb, or Jesus in the tomb, it starts in the dark.”
This resonates with my own recent experience: while attending a study about the feminine in God, I had a profound shift of thought. I suddenly saw God as not merely the sparkle on top of the water, the good, visible things the light shows us, but instead God all the way down into the depths, God in the hidden places, God creating us in Her very womb as we grow. A three-dimensional view, if you will, rather than one in two dimensions. It was cool to read another woman's journey into an understanding like this.