“And God divided light from darkness. God called light day and darkness he called night.” — Genesis 1:5
From the beginning, we were destined to have our lives in counterpoint. It is a harmonious medley of days and nights. It’s an interplay of light and darkness first experienced as waking and sleeping; then upon reflection, light and darkness become a ready metaphor for those things that fiercely shape our internal lives – success and failure, hope and despair, love and hate, departing and returning and chance’s unfathomable arithmetic.
It is never far from my thought that there are things that belong to the day, where joy blossoms and dreams come true. There are also things that belong to the night, where unforeseen realities threaten and hope alone sustains. It is this counterbalancing of light and darkness, whether without or within, and our managing of this medley of day and night that is the testing arena of our lives.
There is a fertile mystery about this entanglement of light and darkness. We must wrestle with the facts of our being – personal history, race and gender, opportunity and challenge, where we live and our economic circumstances. Still, it is in the presence of the enigmatic facts of our lives that faith invites us to kneel for communion and be instructed in the way forward.
In Christian mysticism, darkness is the place where God dwells. When I pray, I am expressing my need across an abyss of silence into that darkness that is God’s listening place. Speaking thusly, my mind intimates a country of truth that I shall be exploring on foot over a lifetime.
The Psalmist discovered while wandering that country of truth that God had lightened his darkness (Psalm 18:28). For the Psalmist there were no explanations only satisfactions. Still, he found, as Robert Frost once said, “enough to go ahead with.”
The first lesson of the night is that, in spite of being enshrouded by darkness, you and I may still move. Something in the human spirit remains dimly tuned to the old frequencies where faith – “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” – marks out a way to where all things shall conclude in celebration.
The internal push and pull of dream and longing, hope and disappointment, what we set out to do and be as measured against where we at last arrive, might just possibly bring us through setback and surprise to an enlargement of being – to a standing place never before imagined. Perhaps the final and best lesson gained from the above reflections on day and night, light and darkness is this: Darkness is not necessarily our enemy but may function as the midwife of new beginnings, a deeper appreciation for the gift of life, its opportunities and its blessings.
Moreover, there is value in remembering that it is within that solitude associated with darkness that some of the most important things about us happen: We are born, we learn, we create, we suffer, we make love. Darkness may at the last turn out to be our natural element, as it is to the dark we return for rest and renewal of being after the torments and deprivations of the day.
“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.”
— “To Know the Dark” by Wendell Berry
The Rev. Merle G. Steva is minister of visitation emeritus for First Parish Church in Saco. His email: [email protected]