This is the season in which we celebrate the Winter Solstice, the longest night. That time of the year when we can observe the power and necessity of darkness in our lives. Though I am not comfortable with this matter of darkness, I recognize that it comprises a significant portion of my life and to attempt to ignore it, to make it go away, to keep it in the background is to deny its existence and by extension, deny a part of my own existence. Our culture seems to try to ignore this darkness, calling it the shortest day, by focusing attention on light and the birth of the Sun or the Son (Christians) during this time of the year.
I am not at ease in the dark, on the shadowy paths which twist and wind in my life. Darkness is an unknown where things are unlit and ill defined. It is where security is at a minimum and risk and uncertainty rule. I prefer the sense of knowing who I am, of seeing with clarity, of being in control by manipulating a well-lit environment. Who likes to be left in the dark about matters? I am a creature who faces the light but in so doing I see nothing behind or beyond the spotlight of my narrowed awareness. I miss so much in my unwillingness to trust the dark. If I truly believe that creation is blessing, then darkness as an integral part of creation contains blessing within itself.
I am reminded that I am the fruit of an encounter that quite likely occurred in the soft darkness of a winter’s eve, reminded that I am sprung from the darkness of a loving womb. I am reminded that in the darkness I can sleep and be renewed from the labors of the day. I am reminded that when I am bleeding, I bandage my wound, cloaking it in darkness in order that the healing process may begin, and that injured creatures retire to dark out of the way places to allow nature to work. I am reminded that the seed begins it germinative activity in the darkness of the fecund earth.
The dark contains as the womb contains, holding mystery, numinous in its depth. It is a matrix, maternal, holding billions of stars in its vastness. It is imbued with the power for transformation, filled with potential, shape shifting the contents of life, bringing forth anew that which has hardened and dried under the glare and heat of a bright consciousness.
Darkness is half of creation ebbing and flowing in an eternal dance with light. T.S. Eliot wrote,
I said to my soul be still, and let
the dark come upon you
which shall be the darkness of god.
As, in a theatre,
the lights are extinguished for the scene to be changed.
With a hollow rumble of wings
with a movement of darkness on darkness...
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
So the darkness shall be the light and the stillness the dancing.
When I am in rhythm with this cosmic dancing then I flow with reality, rather than distorting or denying it. Without this Holy Dark, there can be no creativity because there is no gestation leading to birth.
Additionally, if everything in my life must be exposed to the light of thorough scrutiny, then I am less able to express tolerance for things which cannot be understood in the clear light of consciousness. Uncertainty, anomaly, mystery, vagaries, even slow growth brings anxiety. When I try to force the bloom of my life with excessive light, I lose the ability to savor life itself. Forced blossoms are never quite as fragrant as the ones slow grown on the vine.
Being attached to light, I am only half a person. To reclaim wholeness, darkness needs a new honoring. We must allow ourselves to be in the dark about things. The Kentucky poet, Wendell Berry writes,
To go in the dark with a light is to
know the light.
To know the dark, go dark.
Go without sight, and find that the
dark, too, blooms and sings, and is
traveled by dark feet and dark wings.
I hope we can all find time to celebrate this Holy Darkness.
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