A few months ago I was driving home after dark from an event in town. It was a clear night, the moon was full. I rounded the curve going up the hill into the deep dark straight stretch of road toward my driveway. There in front of me was the huge moon, hung low at the top of the road shining straight toward me between the trees that line the pavement. I was alone on the road and on an impulse I turned off my headlights. In the moonglow I became one with the night.
As I contemplated, for a fragment of a second, turning off my lights, I felt fearful yet daring. There could be a deer (or porcupine or opossum). Another car could come flying toward me over the rise. And, of course, it’s illegal to drive without headlights. In the same moment, I knew I had to risk it. From somewhere deep a knowing that hadn’t reached my logical mind told me it would be beautiful—an experience that may or may not come my way again. Those few moments of magic are still with me months later.
Last night I drove to Tacoma in the rain to hear Barbara Brown Taylor read from her new book, Learning to Walk in the Dark. I almost didn’t go; I’ve been on I-5 so much lately and it’s not my favorite stretch of road. And did I mention it was raining? But it meant I didn’t have to deal with dinner, and that was a strong push out the door from the cozy house. And I really like BBT’s books and I miss book talks at Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh, where I saw and enjoyed her five years ago when An Altar in the World came out. And so I went. I’m glad I did.
I haven’t read the book yet, I’m number two in the library queue; but here is what Goodreads has to say about it:
Taylor has become 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? In Learning to Walk in the Dark, Taylor asks us to put aside our fears and anxieties and to 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” (since, like the moon, our experience of the light waxes and wanes). Through darkness we find courage, we understand the world in new ways, and we feel God’s presence around us, guiding us through things seen and unseen. Often, it is while we are in the dark that we grow the most.
In her remarks last night, Barbara suggested a timeline exercise. I have done several timelines in retreats over the years, but not this one. Below the line representing your life, or some portion of it, note the points at which you grew in wisdom that resulted in some kind of forward movement in your living. Above the line note what was physically happening in your life at that time. She suggests the likelihood that those were the dark times. Times of “endarkenment.”
Endarkenment. No, spellcheck does not like that word; but I just clicked on the command that says, “add to dictionary.” In the scheme of things, my life has not had a lot of true darkness. Not when I consider friends living with chronic illness—their own or a family member’s. Not when I consider those who lost a partner or a child too soon. Not when I consider girls rounded up and kidnapped in Nigeria. Just the garden variety dark: divorce, friendship lost, big decisions made that sometimes feel like mistakes. Some of my darkest moments though, are the early mornings when I wake in the dark and every buried sadness from years past comes up and replays in my head. This week I read in the February issue of Yoga Journal (yes, I’m behind) that perhaps those are times of detox, release, clearing from the inside—the work of shakti, in Sanskrit—and I just need to ride it out and let the tears come. I need to be one with the night.
As I sit at my desk overlooking the valley, I hear water gushing through the downspout from the shower that just passed through. Now the sun is shining on the wet spring green leaves of the maples and the lilac bush; raindrops glisten on the grass. The sky is a mixture of patchy blue, white, gray, and in the distance, black. It will rain again today, probably several times, with sun between. We live in that combination of light and dark. What if we learned to wait patiently in the dark times? What if we learned to listen in it? What if we learned to see in it?
What if we learned to walk in it?