Befriending the Dark

December 10, 2016 Ian White Maher No comments exist

lizardClose your eyes for a minute and listen to the sound of the heartbeat.


We are in the season of Advent, the season recognized by Christians as leading up to the birth of Jesus. But we’re not there yet. Mary is still pregnant. Her back is sore. Her body is uncomfortable. She has a baby growing inside of her. Soon her body will open and another being will come out of it, it will come out into the light. But he’s not here yet. He’s still in the dark, warm, safe, listening to the heartbeat. Thump-thump, thump-thump, thump-thump.


We are entering the darkest days of the year and so many of us have already made up our minds. The darkness we must endure. The darkness we must resist. Darkness means evil. It means death. It means grief. It is in the darkness that the boogieman lives, more in our minds than under our beds, but the darkness is his element. Our own minds can be frightening places, places we’d rather not visit, those sides of us that live in the shadow.


But the darkness is also rich, perhaps frightening in its richness. The darkness defies meaning and boundaries. It is mystery. It asks for trust and vulnerability and these are not easy for us.


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.


Our spiritual origins rest in this silent mystery. We cannot know God until we are ready to say yes to the dark. It is in the dark soil that the seed first begins to sprout. It is in the dark womb that the child is created. And it is in the dark mystery that our souls release our ideas of God, our ideas of ourselves in relationship to God so that we might just be.


There are real reasons to fear the dark. All of the lines we have have drawn in the sand fade away, all of the names we have handed out distinguishing this from that go silent, all of the ideas we crystalize into right and wrong dissolve into nothingness and we do not know who we are any more. What should we stand for? Who is this person? If I let go, what will become of me? And the darkness can be scary.


I have known darkness. The free fall is terrifying and we don’t all make it through. We can feel all alone. We can think we are the worst person in the world.


Parker Palmer writes, “We live in a culture that discourages us from paying attention to the soul and when we fail to pay attention we end up living soulless lives.”


There is something beautiful in the dark, waiting to be found, something expansive enough to hold it all.
All the joy, all the sorrow
All the promise, all the pain


Again, Parker Palmer, “The soul is like a wild animal—tough, resilient, savvy, self-sufficient and yet exceedingly shy. If we want to see a wild animal, the last thing we should do is go crashing through the woods, shouting for the creature to come out. But if we are willing to walk quietly into the woods and sit silently for an hour or two at the base of a tree, the creature we are waiting for may well emerge and out of the corner of an eye we will catch a glimpse of the precious wildness we seek.”


For me, this is what the story of the season is about. This is the story of pregnant Mary. This is the story of the darkness. There is something alive for us. And there is something for us to let go of.

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