Ever since I picked up Leaving Church by Barbara Brown Taylor I have been a fan.
As I sit at home exhausted and spent from late nights of marking midterm essays, the stress of parent/teacher interviews, and the pressure of writing meaningful yet inspiring report card comments, I am thankful for the quiet hours I carved out to read, uninterrupted, Barbara Brown Taylor’s latest book, Learning to Walk in the Dark.
I am a night owl. If left to an unscheduled chunk of calendar space, I will slowly revert back to what I think is my natural state of being: late to bed, late to wake up. Do you know that feeling you get when a fresh snowfall mutes the city? That is how I see and experience the night. Everything is still present, but the world seems less demanding and bright. Instead, it is muted and luxurious.
In her new book, Brown Taylor challenges the binary we have created between light and dark. Light means good. Dark means bad. Light means hope and happiness. Dark means evil and despair. Yet, there is magic in the night and I appreciate the research, reflections, experiments, and thoughts Barbara Brown Taylor shares in her book. She challenges us to learn to walk in the darkness instead of assuming that we already know the darkness.
Most people think of darkness as the time when our minds torture us. When life is at it’s bleakest. When fears reach at their zenith. Yet it is the night that allows us to sit into those valid human experiences and not push them away. The fear, the pain, and the depression are in us even in the light. One of my favourite sections of the book is when Brown Taylor is writing about John of the Cross and his writings on The Dark Night of the Soul: “God puts out our lights to keep up safe, John says, because we are never more in danger of stumbling than when we think we know where we are going. When we can no longer see the path we are on, when we can no longer read the maps we have brought with us or sense anything in the dark that might tell us where we are, then and only then are we vulnerable to God’s protection. This remains true even when we cannot discern God’s presence. The only thing the dark night requires of us is to remain conscious. If we can stay with the moment in which God seems most absent, the night will do the rest” (146-147).
It is not the dark that is bad, but it is only that we think it is bad because in the dark we have time and space to think of all of the things that we were able to ignore and suppress during our busy, bright, light-filled day.
The whole purpose of Barbara Brown Taylor’s Learning to Walk in the Dark is just that: as humans who live in constant light, we need to take the time to learn, again, how to walk in the dark.
As a kid, I was lucky. I have great memories of night time. Where I lived in Central Alberta on a farm, we often saw the Northern Lights, even in August. I saw stars light up the sky. I saw the Harvest Moon in it’s fully glory. I love to camp, especially in the second weekend in August so that I can see the shooting stars and meteorite showers. I love the cool air. I love the crisp, refreshing cooling of the earth. I love that I don’t have to wear sunglasses or worry about sunscreen. I don’t have a lot of fears that lurk in the dark.
So, when I experience what feels like the absence of God and it feels like I am lost in the dark, I need to remember what Brown Taylor also realized in her journey to learn how to walk in the dark: “In the absence of any sense of God, I wish I had known that it was still possible to trust God” (162). As she notes, creation starts in the dark: in the womb, in the ground, and in the tomb.
As Barbara Brown Taylor discovered while she watched the moon rise, the change from light to dark is not as quick or as distinct as we might like to think. It is time to let go of the binary of light and dark and to start living in both. We need the darkness as much as we need the light.
“The real problem has far less to do with what is really out there than it does with our resistance to finding out what is really out there.” (Barbara Brown Taylor)
“God called the light day, and the darkness He called night. And there was evening and there was morning, one day.” (Genesis 1:5)