Powers of Darkness
Rev. Jeffrey Symynkywicz, January 26, 2003
The originating power that brought forth the universe—and, in another fifteen billion years or so, which brought forth our human species—was ablaze with the same luminous energy that still flows through us. 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 even so, we are also children of the darkness—the primordial darkness that preceded the great exploding fireball—the darkness and quiet that came before the “Big Bang” that ushered forth creation of the world. 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—the little unknowns of everyday; the Great Unknown toward which we all are headed, sooner or later.
So, we fill our lives with light (and with noise)—incessantly, twenty-four hours a day—as though banishing the darkness controls and banishes, too, the unknown spirits that dwell within.
But perhaps, by banishing the darkness—by refusing to embrace it and dwell within it fully instead—we have banished an important part of our selfhood as well.
“What price have we paid for all this light?” Matthew Fox writes. “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 Eckhart is correct [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 is 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:
“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. And so is the stillness, the quiet, surrounded by that darkness.
“The word is a hidden word,” wrote the great Christian mystic Meister Eckhart, “and comes in the darkness of the night.” He continues:
Sometime, in the darkness we truly 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, we joined the Resistance, but was discovered and arrested and sent to the Buchenwald concentration camp. But somehow, Lusseyran managed to survive—one of only 30 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 darkness almost all his life, and God knows, there were many times it must have been so very difficult for him. But the message he set out to proclaim through his experience was this: “The subject of all subjects,” he said, “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.
As Lisa Doege has put it:
Certainly, it is not always an easy trip, this journey we take within. Looking within and knowing ourselves means knowing ourselves, our whole selves, and nothing but ourselves. 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 I am to it, but none of us reach the goal of inner perfection. We all have our share of anger, jealousy, desire, fear, remorse—and unless we know these, too, and name them, we will not know ourselves. But for most of us, most of the time, this kind of intense self knowing is just 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.
But 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.”
And what amazing things the darkness brings!
It has taken me a long time, but I have come to love the darkness of the early morning in winter, 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 light and dark, after all, are but different parts of the same creation. And 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.
Praise be the night. Praise be the darkness. Praise be the Spirit of Life in all of its glory.