Musings on Darkness and Light

November 17, 2019 — Stephen Fox


Stephen Fox gave a sermon on Darkness and Light and included some personal stories extemporaneously that are not included in the written text posted as his sermon.


The twelfth verse of Psalm 139 tells us that Darkness is not dark for you and night shines as the day. Darkness and light are but one. And in the story of creation recorded in first chapter of Genesis, God separates the darkness from the light, the evening from the day and calls it “good”. Evening came and morning came and it was the first day.

Darkness and light, evening and morning, a complete cycle, which have meaning only in relation to one another, the wholeness of both together that God calls “good.”

Let us pray:
God creator, You gave us darkness and You gave us light, and You called both “good.” You bless the light of a summer day just as you bless the darkness of winter night. Amen

We have been taught that when we pray, we bow our heads and close our eyes. Why?

I believe it allows us to pull away from the visual distractions of this world and enter the darkness, an undefined space, the infinite, so that we can then come to a deeper knowing of God. The darkness holds a different experience than that found in the light of day. An experience that is a mystery.

When I first started musing about darkness and light, my linear, rational mind took me to thoughts and ideas of light as knowledge, darkness as ignorance. The light offering comfort , order and security, and the darkness being full of unknown things, both threatening and fearful. Our language is replete with examples, such as the saying:
“I’m in the dark on that one.” Indicating a state of ignorance, or of being somewhat less than helpful in the situation at hand.
or this saying:
“Perhaps I can shed some light on that one,” used when one speaks from a position of knowledge and authority.

The common theme in western cultures is the idea of light as good and darkness being bad. The light gives us sight. That which we can see is trusted, known, and welcomed. As the light fades, sight is gradually lost, and that which we can not see in our world becomes suspect, often frightening and to be avoided. Darkness and light. the unseen and that which we do see.

I recently had a conversation with a young woman who is in her first year of surgical residency.
Why surgery?
Contrast with internist and the prescribing of medicine I just can’t see it work, I can’t see what the medicine is actually doing.

She is not comfortable with this non-knowing.

And don’t we all have that somewhere in our consciousness, that belief that “seeing is believing.” And the unseen is not comfortable.

My musings on darkness and light gradually moved past the rational, this culturally bound thinking, and interestingly enough this musing happened most frequently at night. I found myself drifting to personal experiences of darkness. One memory is of myself when I was 13 or 14 years of age. My best friend Jim Civitello and I contrive to awaken around 3 or 4 on a Saturday morning and sneak out of our houses and meet in the back yard where we have a tree house.
We climb high into the tree
Darkness and silence surround us
more out there than I see in the light of day.
Aware of a reality not fully understood, but I often return to that tree when in
the dark

Father Richard Rohr talks about the two spiritual traditions of light and darkness, or knowing and non-knowing. The first, the knowing that is light, is affirmative, and employs words, concepts and images, the sort of knowledge with which we are most familiar and comfortable. The second, the non-knowing that is darkness he describes as moving beyond words and ideas into silence and thinking that is beyond rational, into the mystical. Father Rohr writes that he believes both ways are good and necessary and together they create a magnificent form of higher consciousness.

The non-knowing is a part of each and everyone of us. We know that living in Maine we are in for at least a few days without the modern convenience of electricity. We have had some experience with that already this Fall. After the lines come down and the power goes out, and after those moments of irritation and aggravation I experience because I can’t turn on a light, watch TV, access the internet, turn on the stove or use the water, a different experience emerges.Time to light a fire, eat a simple meal and read to one another by the light of gathered candles. Somnolence sets in after sunset, its time to head to bed and the quiet that is special to this darkness creeps in. A deeper more universal pattern, known to almost all of our forebears and many of God’s other creatures, is experienced, one that is buried in all of us, covered over by the electric blanket of our technological age. A part of us that can only re-emerge when we give ourselves to the darkness.

After finishing the first draft of this sermon earlier this week, I needed to get out for a walk.
After 6 cloudy quite dark
stumbled over a bush ended up on the ground
two rules
give eyes time to adjust and use peripheral vision Using one’s peripheral vision during at night, allows a different vision to guide one on a walk.

The time spent in darkness opens a new path to knowing God. The dark night can be an opportunity to look for and find God in different forms and in different ways than those to which we have become accustomed.

Indeed there may be more of “God the creator” in darkness than we like to think. In the past few years, astrophysicists have undertaken the daunting task of measuring and weighing all the “stuff” in the universe. From this endeavor, a startling an perplexing observation emerged: that there is not enough stuff that we can see to hold the universe together. By conclusion, we shouldn’t even be here. The hypothetical solution to this uncomfortable difficulty is the proposed existence of “dark matter”, stuff that does not respond to or interact with light or any other form of energy that we know. It is stuff that we can not see, but apparently this dark matter makes up about 90% of our universe. 90% of what is out there, 90% of what is right here, 90% of you and me. We are all a mixture of darkness and light. God created this dark matter just as assuredly as God created all that is visible.

God created all that we can see, God created all that we cannot see, there is deep knowledge and deep love in both. God created the darkness and God created the light. God separated darkness and light and knows that both are good.

In these shorter hours of light, whether you be here in the more northern latitudes or in more southerly locales, take the opportunity to spend some time venturing into the dark. Darkness begets silence and silence fosters prayer. Spend some time in the darkness with your eyes closed, your head bowed, and open your heart to the mystery of God. (rest)