In Praise of Darkness

As we set our clocks back this week and fall has truly taken hold, I hear a few people lamenting the way it will soon be dark when they leave work. I understand how they feel, but I enjoy the shock of walking outside at 6pm to find the world unexpectedly dark. I like seeing the change in the seasons, feeling it as more than a setting on my thermostat. I like trees ablaze in color, and I will enjoy the bare trees in a month or so and the blanket of snow we will wake up to one morning soon. I love the endless summer days, and I also like the long winter nights.

 I like the dark. I like the feeling of the evening coming on, the colors of sunset, the shadows lengthening. In the dark, lying outside on a summer evening, the edges of night seem a comfort, a break from all the intensity of the day. Without night, my garden would burn up, the rivers would run dry.  Darkness gives all of us a chance to rest, to cool off, to reset. Dark has a purpose.

 We often assign theological categories to light and darkness. If knowing is seeing, then we need the light of God to show us the way, to reveal truth where it is hidden. And I joyfully read each Advent from John that the light has come into the world and the darkness has not overcome it.

 Some of us fear the dark and it becomes a metaphor of what is fearful: the monsters, real and imagined, that lurk in wait to harm us. Light becomes its antidote, goodness and the power to dispel evil.

 But darkness is not evil; the Bible also affirms that the darkness is the same as light to God, who exists both in the light, in what has been revealed to us, and in darkness, in the mystery of all that God is which we cannot comprehend in our human limitation. In fact, in several important biblical scenes, God dwells in darkness.

 God reveals the divine nature to humans in both darkness and light, in shadow and substance, in experience and reason, tradition and scripture. God is always more than we can know or say, and in some cases, the darkness might be helpful to represent the vastness of that more, the depth of richness and mercy we can only partially recognize with our senses.

 Christian spirituality often prescribes silence as a way of taking a break from our own self-interested inner monologue and allowing the voice of God to break through the chatter. I think light and dark need to work in the same way, where we give ourselves the gift of darkness as a needed counterpoint to the idea that seeing is believing. There are ways of knowing God that don’t come from our logical, rational, linear ways of knowing, but come from something deep beyond our knowing, the way of mysticism, the wild freedom of God beyond our neat categories and our desire for control.

 So I invite you to welcome the winter dark. Ask what it wants to show you. Notice the lengthening of the dark hours of the day as our circling of the sun nears the tipping point of the winter solstice. Be blessed by the richness of the night and its comfort.