To Know The Dark…: A Thought

20180108 ENCOUNTERING THE KNOW THE DARKAnd so, having prepared the room for this ceremony – just me, this evening, I sat down on a cushion in the middle of the room. With the door slightly ajar and with my eyes now accustomed to the darkness, I could make out just a few things.

I lit the candle.

Such a small light, and yet its flickering light illuminating all the walls and the furniture in the room. And as the small candle flame flickered, so there was that ‘dance’ between light and dark. Sometimes darkness would move across part of the room, sometimes light, and seemingly in equal measure. No real competition. No angst. Just a natural interplay of light and dark, a paradox.

With the lighting of the candle I entered sacred space (and sacred time) and paused to Encounter.

‘Hello darkness, my old friend
I’ve come to talk with you again.’

(‘The Sound of Silence’, Simon & Garfunkel)

Oh, how some like the light. Oh, how some fear the dark. In many cultures and belief systems there seems to be a dichotomy between light and dark – one is liked, the other feared. And yet, ‘scratch’ a bit deeper and that dualism (so loved by the Greeks, and so (unwittingly) inherited by the West, dissolves.

Ofcourse, we can talk about being the dark, meaning ignorance; we can talk about seeing the light, meaning we now know something we didn’t formerly know. And, so in that instance it all seems easy to understand – but only because we have used light and dark in one way and as one metaphor to suit our purposes for that event. Life is much more complex. The universe is much more complex. Spirituality is…you get the picture.

The acceptance and meaning of light and dark depends on the circumstances, our use of them as metaphors, and the context. Be comfortable with ‘opposites’, with paradox.

For instance, it is in the darkness that wonderful things happen; planted seeds in the soil grow into might plants or trees, the baby in the womb is ‘fearfully and wonderfully made’ and develops, and the Source of All moves.

‘[God]… made darkness his secret place; his pavilion… were dark waters and thick clouds of the skies’.

(Psalm 18:11 part, The Book)

It is no secret that I love the great outdoors, and being from north Wales I am well-used to expect rain and storms. Did you know in the part of Wales I hail from it rains some 330 days per year. And I love it. Cold, and damp and raining and windy….are all wonderful weather patterns to me. For some reason, I feel an Encounter more in the storm and/or the night than on a bright summer’s day when the sky is blue and there is not a cloud in sight. Indeed some of you will have read some of my previous articles where Encounters or significant events took place in forests on sleepless nights – see here for an example.

Could it be that when it is dark, wet, cloudy, stormy we aren’t distracted by the sun and the things that it encourages: sunbathing, picnicing, wonderful scenic walks – all good in themselves and to be enjoyed, but which may make deep Encountering difficult sometimes?

And so, having lit the candle, I waited to Encounter. In the darkness as well as the light, and maybe even more so in the darkness, I Encountered. With no visible distractions in that darkened room, I was alone with the Alone. And it was wonderful.

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 travelled by dark feet and dark wings.

(Wendell Berry, ‘To Know the Dark’ from The Selected Poems of Wendell

And then, wanting to go deeper, I blew out the candle flame. And paused for what seemed just five minutes – but when I checked afterward a full half hour has passed. In the darkness, I met the Friend. In the darkness, with no distractions, with no pre-conceived ideas or expectations, we can Encounter.

‘And the vision that was planted in my brain
still remains,
within the sound of silence’.

(‘The Sound of Silence’, Simon & Garfunkel)

 

Celtic Thought: Seeing In The Dark

20170419 CELTIC THOUGHT SEEING IN THE DARKFor many, light equals safety. And for them, darkness infers insecurity and may lead to feelings of fear. It is the case that, sometimes, we talk about light in a positive way, darkness in a negative way, but it need not always be the case.

True, when we ‘shine a light’ on something, metaphorically, we can come to see it, picture it, and understand it, and perhaps even quantify it. This may be an advantage when speaking of physical things. What then of spiritual things, and when we need to use a different form of perception? If we’re talking about the deep things of the Source, then ‘seeing’ can be a handicap. Think of the Source, and whatever ‘picture’ or metaphor we use by way of a description  will be limiting and therefore inaccurate. The Source is beyond our imagining, and cannot be quantified.

So, a different form of perception is needed. We need: seeing in the dark. And that means, befriending the dark.

‘I said to my soul, be still, and let darkness come upon you
which shall be the darkness of God.’ T S Eliot

I admit, when I’m in north Wales, I love night walks in the forest. These can be deeply spiritual and rewarding. My eyes are rendered virtually useless as I navigate my way in near total darkness, and yet other ways of perceiving arise. I become more attuned to the sounds of animals, the ‘sighing’ of the trees as the wind blows through them, the sound of a nearby rivulet, the smells of trees and flowers, the feeling of the earth underfoot, and deep feelings of ‘presences’. I love it. I’m safe but lost (in wonder). Alone (but surrounded by nature). Wrong-footed visually (but something deep inside comes to the fore to guide me). Isn’t that encounter? Connectedness? We need a different way of seeing and that starts with befriending the dark.

Why?

Because the Source ‘inhabits’ the dark, too. And, in that darkness we are not distracted to see the Source as this thing or that. The Source, in the dark, is invisible, close, true and (almost) palpable. More so, in the dark.

[The Source]…’parted the heavens and came down, [and]
dark clouds were under his feet’ Psalm 18:9, The Book

With no visual distractions, with darkness all around, we rely on that which is deep within. In the dark there is no false illusion, no eyesight-vision at all, no distractions, no opportunity to quantify. Deep calls to deep. An encounter with the Source, as a result of deep meditation, cannot be described in terms of length and breadth, cannot be quantified, but merely spoken of in near-miss metaphors at best,  with the use of clumsy words. But, with our eyes closed in meditation or prayer, we enter the dark[ness]. And encounter in a deep, dynamic, earth-transcending, indescribable, real way.

‘You will…be led upwards to the Ray of the divine Darkness which exceeds all existence.’ Dionysius, Mystical Theology.

It sounds paradoxical: the way to the Source is not to use your eyes; if you want to ‘see’, then look into the dark; the Source is such a great Light that the Source uses darkness to make us comfortable; darkness releases us from the handicap of visual-quantification; in the dark we ‘see’ more.

‘There is in God (some say) a deep, but dazzling darkness.’ Henry Vaughn, The Night.

Do not fear. Make friends with the dark.