Learning to walk in the dark

Somehow, we have started receiving a weekly edition of Time magazine. I’m sure it was one of those “check which magazine you want for free!” things, and K, forgetting that we barely have time to read even the one magazine we get monthly (Real Simple), checked the box for Time. As I anticipated, it usually gets recycled, unread. But the week of April 28th, the cover story, “Finding God in the Dark” (“Beyond enlightenment: Acclaimed preacher Barbara Brown Taylor argues that strength, purpose and true faith are found in the shadows”) intrigued me. In my studies of theology, and recently, my struggles with my faith, I have come to enjoy Barbara Brown Taylor, so I saved this issue in order to read this one article. I’ve been mulling it over since; it has been on my desk at work for over three months as I kept intending to write about it on this blog. The day has arrived :).

I have always been afraid of the dark. I get uneasy walking anywhere not well-lit, be it a city street (thieves! murderers! rapists!) or the woods (lions! tigers! bears!). I like a dark room in which to sleep, but only if I’m not sleeping alone. This article reminded me that I am not alone, and eloquently connects a fear of the dark to a fear of dark subjects, such as the loss of a baby or child. I’m afraid of that dark, too. Afraid to look at pictures, to return in my mind to my pregnancy, to reread the story of his NICU stay on my blog. The idea of sitting and being with my grief feels morbid, wallowing. Too dark.

It’s too much for just one blog post, so for the next few days (or weeks; K and I are going on our anniversary trip to Wisconsin, and we’ll be doing a 40 mile canoe trip / backpacking, so no internet for four days), I’m going to challenge myself to become more comfortable with the darkness in all of her guises. I will “follow the darkness where she leads.” Here’s today’s offering.

Many people, in seeking a deeper spirituality, seek enlightenment. We search for experiences to make us happier, more fulfilled, more engaged, more connected. Yet in doing so, we forget that the moments of greatest spiritual fulfillment often occur in the quiet and darkness – of an ashram, of a church, of a mountaintop. But what about when the darkness is not a safe darkness? How do we move from our “feel-good” darkness into the frightening darkness? How do we help ourselves learn “that darkness holds more lessons than light” and that “it is sometimes in the bleakest void that God is nearest?” Taylor calls this practice of learning to sit in the dark “endarkenment.”

Darkness doesn’t have to be “evil, scary and just plain bad.” But we are conditioned by the “far-too-sunny” persuasion of many mainstream churches (and many well-meaning people around us) that we must be people of lightness and joy. That darkness is not okay. Well, says Taylor, it’s time to be endarkened.

Step One, today’s challenge: Walk slowly at night. “How do we develop the courage to walk in the dark if we are never asked to practice?” asks Taylor. So, “tread carefully, and do not be over-confident. It is about the journey, not the finish. Pause: What do you smell? Hear? Taste?”

After practicing your literal walking in the dark, practice your metaphorical walking in the dark. Sit and think about your child. Tread carefully. Do not be over-confident. It is about the journey, not the finish. Pause: What smells do you remember? What sounds? What tastes?

Walk in the dark of your grief, and start learning how not be afraid.


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