Half a life ago I wrote a thesis titled Earth, the Body and the Dark as sites of salvation. Being a woman and a feminist in the male dominated world of theology, I choked more than once on the whole concept of dualism. You know, earth versus heaven, matter versus spirit, female versus male etcetera. It’s quite understandable if one – let’s call him Plato – needs to find an explanation for the things he sees and experiences, wants to understand how it all came about, how it fits together and what it means. The real problem started when whole scales of value were attached to these pairs of concepts, resulting in a world where heaven, spirit, reason, light were good, and all things opposite, earth, matter, instinct, darkness were deemed as not so good.
The tragedy of this dualistic system is that much of life itself is left out, not seen, misunderstood and underestimated. Those who, throughout the course of human history, had the courage to explore those fields left out, often found themselves on a perilous expedition, because theirs was a road less travelled. They chose that road all the same, driven by a deep-felt and sometimes barely articulated sense of something entirely different, a world more whole than this dualistic system wants to have us believe, a life more wholesome. And right they were. Life can only be lived to the full if all aspects are valued for their worth. The processes of who we were and what we are to become can only be understood if the whole story is told, not just parts of it.
Imagine yourself meeting someone you haven’t seen for a long, long time. She has this relaxed, serene glow on her of people who are perfectly at ease with themselves and with life. You could assume that, indeed, life had been easy for her and had treated her gently. But you’re way off, because in fact her life has been anything but easy and gentle. You don’t know the pain this woman suffered, the tears she cried, the despair she dealt with night after night before she got to this blissful state of being, this sincere contentment, this peace of mind. That part of her becoming her wasn’t for the world to see because it happened in the dark. And you might be happy for her that everything turned out so fine in the end, but that would be a pretty shallow conclusion, and it wouldn’t do justice to her and everything she went through.
As long as we stick to the dualistic conviction that darkness is something negative we have to overcome as quickly as possible, we completely miss out on the essence of the dark and its vital role in almost all of life’s processes.
Grains, seeds, nuts, acorns are hidden in the ground before they are strong enough to endure wind and rain and scorching sunlight. Fish grow in shells, birds grow in eggs, mammals grow in wombs. And though it looks like not much is happening, some serious growing is going on there. This being in the dark is not just a random stage in the process of growing, it’s a vital condition, an imperative. For all these fragile not-yet-ready things need the quiet, the time, the protection to germ, develop and ripen. That is basically the same for all processes of growth, physical and spiritual alike
Just think of the famous mystics from the past. They even described their own process of inner growth as ‘the dark night of the soul’, their longing and seeking for divine enlightenment, and with it their despair, their fear, their maddening loneliness. And yet, it cannot be done otherwise. Everything that once comes to full bloom, first grows in the dark. So do not fear it. Dark precedes light as winter precedes spring, as labour precedes harvest, as wandering precedes encounter.
All too often we shut out the gloom of these short December days and escape the silence by getting very festive, buying and drinking and eating more than is good for us. But wouldn’t it be far better to spend this time of year the way it was meant to? As a time of wondering what kind of spring will come after this winter and what kind of inner work we can do ourselves to make that happen. Wouldn’t it be good and wholesome to, like Mary, give in to the quiet, to observe what is happening deep inside of us, to feel it growing, that tiny thing of beauty that one day will be a gift of Love to the world and to life itself. Do not fear that. Dare the dark, for it is the soil of light.
To be continued