Embracing the Darkness
Rev. Jeffrey Symynkywicz, December 3, 2006
Thomas Berry is a theologian; Brian Swimme is a physicist. Together, they present this vision of the creation of our universe:
We are still ablaze, all of us, with that same power, that same luminous energy, that brought forth the universe—and, which, in another fifteen billion years or so, would bring forth our human species. Matter is trapped light—“frozen light”, as physicist David Bohm puts it. Trapped in particular forms-- frozen at particular speeds-- it creates all manners of objects and creatures, including us human beings. We are-- primordially, essentially, physically—children of light.
But we are also children of the darkness. We emerged out of the primordial darkness that preceded the great exploding fireball, too: the “close and holy darkness”—the eternal silence-- that came before the “Big Bang” that ushered forth creation of the world. There was a deep consciousness which preceded our being. We are children of the dark—of the mystery—of the deep ponderings of all that was, and is, and evermore shall be. We are composed of the spaces between the “frozen light” as well.
Why do we fear the dark? The Rev. Lisa Doege writes:
We fear the unknown, whether its the little unknowns of everyday, or the Great Unknown toward which we all are headed, sooner or later. So, we fill our lives with light (and with noise)—incessantly, 24/7 now, it seems—as though banishing the darkness controls and banishes the unknown spirits that dwell within, as well.
But perhaps, by banishing the darkness—by treating it as a sort of enemy, and by refusing to embrace it and dwell within it fully instead—we have also banished an important part of our selfhood.
“What price have we paid for all this light?” Matthew Fox writes, looking out at the always-aglow world of ours. “We have become afraid of the dark. Afraid of no-light. Of silence, therefore. Of image-lessness. We [crave] after more—more images, more light, more profits, more goodies. And, if [Meister] Eckhart [the great Christian mystic of the 14th century] is correct [when he says that the soul grows more by subtraction than by addition], our souls in the process shrivel up. For growth of the human person takes place in the dark,” Fox continues. “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.”
Be still. Go within. Listen to the holiness there. That’s the message which great mystics through the ages have been imploring us to listen to. That is the message this Earth tries to teach us at this season of winter:
Stop in all your busy-ness. Slow down (just as the flow of your blood slows down in the winter). Hibernate. Sleep. Dream. Re-create the world. Then, emerge in the spring like the burgeoning amaryllis, bursting through the ground with the resilient throb of life.
“For everything there is a season,” and for every season there is a proper response—an appropriate pace—for greeting its arrival and receiving its gifts. Winter’s pathway is meant to be walked slowly, gradually—not at full speed ahead. Winter’s darkness is meant to be welcomed into our homes (and into our hearts), not banished by the flick of a switch, or the rush of more and more activity.
The darkness of winter is not some phantom haunting our days. It is, rather, a holy and awesome mystery. So is the stillness, the quiet, surrounded by that darkness.
“The word is a hidden word that comes in the darkness of the night,” wrote Meister Eckhart. He continues:
Sometime, it is in the darkness that we see most clearly that which most needs to be seen.
Jacques Lusseyran was a young Frenchman who lost his sight in an accident when he was only eight years old. He struggled to stay in the public schools with his friends, rather than being sent off to a special school for the blind. Eventually, he became the top student in his class. At the age of 17, after the Nazis took over France, he joined the Resistance, but was discovered and arrested and sent to the Buchenwald concentration camp. But somehow, Lusseyran managed to survive—one of only thirty Frenchmen (out of 2000) who did. After the war, he became a professor of literature, and came finally to America, where, tragically, he was killed in an automobile accident in 1971.
Jacques Lusseyran lived in the dark almost all his life, and God knows, there were many times when it must have been so difficult for him. But the message he set out to proclaim through his experience was this: “The subject of all subjects,” he said, “[is] the fact that the world is not just outside us but also within.” In his autobiography, he wrote:
This is the great miracle of life: to find the deepest truths of your existence, look within. Look through the darkness of your soul, and see what lights shine there—what spirits live within you.
J.B. is Archibald MacLeish’s modern take on the ancient story of Job. It tells the story of a contemporary man who has lost everything, and who struggles to find the meaning of life in the midst of his despair. At the end of the play, J.B.’s wife, Sarah, returns, to give him a breath of hope:
As Lisa Doege has put it:
Certainly, it is not always an easy trip, this journey we take, without or within. Looking within and really opening our eyes to what’s there means knowing our selves, our whole selves, and nothing but our selves. And none of us (I would wager) exists as pure and blissful spirits—exhibiting only pure and noble thoughts, feelings, and actions all the time. Some of you may be much closer than the rest of us, but none of us ever reaches the goal of inner perfection. We all have our share of anger, jealousy, desire, fear, remorse. Unless we know these parts of our selves, too, and name them, we will not really know ourselves.
For most of us, most of the time, this kind of intense self knowing is just too hard—too difficult—too painful. So we run from it; put on the lights; take a pill; have a drink; grab something to eat; get busy—busy doing something, doing anything. We turn on the light so we need not see the darkness; we turn the radio up loud so we don’t have to think.
This day/ night, light/dark dualism with which so many of us are infected is but a particular manifestation of a deeper dualism that permeates our Western view of reality, it seems to me. How incessantly we revel in divvying things up: us and them—sacred and secular—heaven and earth—body and spirit. We divide things up, and then feel as though we need to conquer that which is outside of ourselves, that which is different than we are. But which, we know, is not really so different, if we look within.
The darkness need not be a malevolent specter haunting our nights. As Starhawk has said, we can learn to “dream the dark anew”—we can recapture its positive connotations, and re-empower the dark as a valuable part of our spiritual makeup. “All mystery is about the dark,” wrote Matthew Fox. “All darkness is about the mystery.”
What amazing things the darkness brings!
It took me the better part of these fifty-two years of mine, but I have come to love the darkness of the early morning, in winter especially: the stillness, the quiet of that time before the busy-ness of the daily routine begins. The darkness of the early morning is beautiful, still and peaceful, nothing to fear. It is beautiful to gaze upon, as smoke rises from chimneys near and far, as bands of pink and white light gradually gild the sky—slowly, slowly, illuminating the dark. Nature does not resist arising from her sleep. The darkness does not resist giving way to light. The darkness is not “put to flight” as an earlier poet put it. Who can tell at what particular instant the night becomes morning, dark becomes light? No one can. Nature’s night becomes day without struggle, with no real wall or boundary between one and the other.
For, after all, light and dark are but different parts of the same creation. So it is that on the bridge between dark and daylight we see most clearly within our souls.
We need no longer fear the darkness. We need to dare to embrace it instead. There is so much great power and beauty there:
The dark is the place that nurtured and protected us before our births.
Darkness brings relief from the blinding sun, from scorching heat, from exhausting labor.
Night signals permission to us to rest, to come home, to be with those we love, to conceive new life, to search our hearts, and to remember our dreams.
The dark of winter can be a time of hibernation—of going a little slower—for us, as much as for the plants and animals with whom we share this Earth. Seeds grow in the dark and fertile ground. So do our deeper thoughts and inspirations.
The darkness of death, too, is but part of the long, seamless season of life. It is a time for peace and relief as well—especially from lives where there has been too much pain and suffering.
And so, the light rises slowly,
within and without:
Not casting away the darkness,
but illuminating it
Till we discover the miracle
of our inner dark,
The wonders that lie inside of us.
So our darkness is redeemed
in the healing touch of life.
So we allow the life force in our souls
to flow within and through all life—
to allow our force to become one
with the force of all life—
to allow our nights to be
the loyal and loving helpmates of our days.
Praise be the night. Praise be the darkness. Praise be the Spirit of Life in the full spectrum of its glory.