Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Find God in the Dark

"Let There Be Night: Darkness is often treated as evil, a vast unknown and the ultimate spiritual enemy. But as Barbara Brown Taylor believes, it may save us all." By Elizabeth Dias, TIME Magazine.

As impossible as it is to imagine faith without light, it is equally hard to imagine a world without darkness. We are taught to fear the darkness as children, [Barbara Brown Taylor] says, when parents line the halls to the bathroom with nightlights to scare away closet monsters. As we grow older, the monsters take a different shape: darkness descends with the call that a loved one has cancer, a child with an addiction or an unanswered prayer. . .

On a very practical level, she says, we pay a high price to shut out the darkness. We glue our eyes to screens by day, while electric light hampers our ability to sleep at night. Then, when we lie awake with all our fears, we turn to solitaire or to sleep aids to cope. Our spiritual avoidance of the dark may be even more dangerous. Our culture's ability to tolerate sadness is weak. As individuals, we often run away from it. "We are supposed to get over it, fix it, purchase something, exercise, do whatever it takes to become less sad," she says. "Turning in to darkness, instead of away from it, is the cure for a lot of what ails me. Because I have a deep need to be in control of things, to know where I am going, to be sure of my destination, to get there efficiently, to have all the provisions I need, to do it all without help - and you can't do any of that in the dark."

Taylor is reviving an ancient idea in Christian theology . . . darkness holds divine mystery. As she writes in her book, "I have learned things in the dark that I could never have learned in the light, things that have saved my life over and over again, so that there is really only one logical conclusion. I need darkness as much as I need light."

The preacher in Taylor points out that darkness was often the setting for humanity's closest encounters with the divine. God appeared to Abraham in the night and promised him descendants more numerous than the stars. The exodus from Egypt happened at night. God met Moses in the thick darkness atop Mount Sinai to hand down the Ten Commandments . . . "If we turn away from darkness on principle," she asks, "doing everything we can to avoid it because there is simply no telling what it contains, isn't there a chance we are running away from God?". . . 

"If you are in the dark, it does not mean that you have failed and that you have taken some terrible misstep," she says. "For many years I thought my questions and my doubt and my sense of God's absence were all signs of my lack of faith, but now I know this is the way the life of the spirit goes."

Barbara Brown Taylor is a preacher who has turned the religious perspective from literal enlightenment to discovering God in darkness. 

As Jews, why do we cover our eyes to say Sh'ma, the core statement of our faith? The simple, practical reason is focus. In the darkness, there is nothing that can snatch away our attention. 
That is why it is absolute torture to be sleepless at night, since the world is black and still, leaving one in the grip of one's own thoughts. It's not a pretty place to be. Worries become magnified—gleaming sunshine tends to soothe harried souls with optimism and noisy discourse—but in the quiet of midnight there is no escape. 

Maybe that's why children (and adults, in my case) imagine monsters. We can't stand the void darkness provides, so we fabricate tentacled creatures lurking in nooks and crannies. I still tuck my blanket around my feet every night, ensuring no exposure to the boogeymen.
We fear the dark because we fear our fragility. Shouldn't it be, therefore, that when one cannot evade the internal, she should be able to whole-heartedly open oneself to emunah and bitachon?

I am supposed to recite and affirm Sh'ma in the darkness. Think what other possibilities are available there.


Daniel Saunders said...

The worst time of my life was the winter of 2003-04, when I was in Oxford, virtually friendless, incredibly depressed and withdrawn and stricken with terrible insomnia. I would go to bed at midnight and fall asleep at 4am; a couple of nights I did not sleep at all. Depressive ruminations going the whole time. This in the cold, dark and wet of a British winter.

I'm not sure why this should lead automatically to emunah or bitachon, though. Just because something would be reassuring to believe does not mean one automatically believes it. Sometimes the internal voices, whether of fear or depression, are too strong for the voice of faith to be heard. Or did I miss your point?

Mr. Cohen said...

Are You Ready to Get Married?

Princess Lea said...

DS: I didn't say it automatically leads to it. Far from it.

The dark is where our deepest darkest fears come to the forefront. We lie paralyzed with terror, and focus on waiting for the sun and the accompanying hope.

Instead of waiting for the dark to go away, we should consider it as an opportunity to grow in our faith. Acknowledge our deepest, darkest fears, and seek out comfort from Above.

That is when we are the most honest with God, when there are no distractions, when we feel most alone and vulnerable.

Instead of fearing the dark because it may lead to despair, find a way to turn it to a means of hope.

Mr. C: Thanks for the link. I knew there was a reason that I adore Rabbi Samson, and this proves it.

1) Values, character, and personality.

2) If you don't know what your values are, you aren't ready to get married.

And values, character, and personality is not easy to find!

Princess Lea said...

Rabbi Salomon, my bad.

Daniel Saunders said...

Ah, I understand you now. Of course, lots of religions, including our own, have mid-winter festivals, perhaps for this very reason.

Princess Lea said...

I think the generations prior to to the dawn of electricity were aware of this. Us blue light people are a bunch of chickens.

Grace said...

I have always been a night person. While I am not shy, I am deeply introverted. I find daytime to be very stressful and demanding, and I can't wait for night to come.

As a jewelry designer, I do all my best work after everyone else goes to bed, and I can get more accomplished between midnight and 3 am than most people do in an eight hour day.

There's nothing like the gentle lightening of the sky and the first chirping of birds to remind me that I need to get some sleep!

Princess Lea said...

Ah, I'm an introverted early bird, and I don't like to go out at night.

For me, embracing the night is a new concept!