I woke this morning to a completely dark house. It seemed as though the light and life of summer passed away in the night, and the encroaching darkness of autumn and winter quickly engulfed me. My first thought was to pull out all my candles, turn on the lights and act as though nothing changed. I don’t like the winter darkness. It seems to sap my energy and sometimes my emotions too spiral down into darkness.
Fortunately, my recent reading prepared my for the coming of darkness. Joan Chittister in her book Between the Dark and the Daylight quotes author Og Mandino: “I will love the light for it shows me the way, yet I will endure the darkness because it shows me the stars.” Chittister comments: “The stars that come with the darkness are the new insights, new directions, new awareness of the rest of life that darkness brings.” She is right. The darkness of winter is a time for soul searching, introspection and self-examination. It is meant to be a slow-down time that we do not run from, but that we invite into our lives as a welcome guest and embrace with as much enthusiasm as we embraced the summer. It’s a time to intentionally sit in the dark and savor the astonishing depths of God.
Matthew Fox in Original Blessing provided more guidance for me along this pathway. He suggests that light inundated spirituality shrivels our souls. “For growth of the human person takes place in the dark. Under ground. In subterranean passages. There, where “no image has ever reached into the soul’s foundation,” God alone works. A light-oriented spirituality is superficial, surface-like, lacking as it does the deep, dark roots that nourish and surprise and ground the large tree. (135) He suggests that we need to spend time regularly meditating on our very real and important relationship to the dark and “its ever-present companion, mystery” which often lies beyond the probings of our rational minds. “We need to retrieve our rights to mystery and to the darkness in which it is so often immersed and enmeshed.” Mystery and darkness enmeshed together exposing spiritual depths never noticed in the bright light of summer sun.
It was Barbara Brown Taylor in her inspirational book Learning to Walk in the Dark who first encouraged me to rethink my view of the dark. Taylor became increasingly uncomfortable with our tendency to associate all that is good with lightness and all that is evil and dangerous with darkness. Doesn’t God work in the nighttime as well, she asks? We must put aside our fears and anxieties and explore all that God has to teach us “in the dark.” She argues that we need to move away from our “solar spirituality” and ease our way into appreciating “lunar spirituality.” Mystery, courage, new perspectives, a profound closeness to God are all fruit of the darkness. They teach us how to find our footing in times of uncertainty and give us strength and hope to face all of life’s challenging moments.
It seems to me that nighttime spirituality is exactly what we need at the moment. We crave the light places where COVID no longer exists, economic hardships no longer drain us and racial discrimination no longer separates us. Yet it is in the darkness of these very challenges that we grow, putting down deep roots into our souls, strengthening our relationships with others and with God. So this year I plan to experiment with a new practice in my morning routine. Before I turn on the lights I will sit for a few minutes in the darkness, savoring the mystery of its encroaching presence and of the God who dwells in its depths. I will begin the day by letting go of myself and of all my ambitions for the day. and invite the darkness and the presence of God to guide me. In the dark and the silence, I will attempt to sink into the depths of my soul, and into the dark and hidden place of mystery where God dwells. I hope that you will join me.
The seasons are changing.
The dark of winter is approaching.
I love the lights and its summer brightness,
It illumines my path in a chaotic world.
But I willingly embrace the darkness,
As a welcome guest,
For it shows me the stars and the moon.
It grows my roots deep into the soil,
And anchors my life in the deep mystery of God.
New insights, new awareness, new perspectives,
In the midst of struggle
Resistance and turmoil give way
To the spirit of life.
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