Ever met a Canadian soul who isn’t thrilled to see spring days lengthen into summer? Some of us know, however, that we’re going to miss those long, dark nights. As the northern hemisphere turns to light, we have to find other ways to immerse ourselves in blessed darkness.
Darkness gets a bum rap in our culture. Anyone with dark-coloured skin can tell you how we associate light with all that is good, and dark with all that is bad. Where does this idea — that light is more desirable — come from?
Perhaps in part it’s our fear of getting lost in the dark, unable to see our way, unsure of where to place our next step. When I’m in those unsettling places, choosing light and certainty over losing the path in shadow seems to be a no-brainer. But May Sarton’s words force me to remember that if I always choose light over darkness, nothing new will be born in my life. I will walk only familiar trails.
The truth is that my soul does its best work in the dark, where I’m haunted by failure, doubt and brokenness, and forced to rely upon the power and creativity of the Holy Spirit.
In my mid-40s, for example, some work I had enjoyed over many years suddenly came to a halt. It had meant a lot to me; I found myself in a classic mid-life “dark night of the soul.” I started interviewing others in mid-life, from varied faith traditions, to help me get my bearings and rediscover who I was. They provided perspective on this particular stretch of the human journey and how to embrace rather than run from the dark. Eventually a book about mid-life spirituality was born. I wrote it because I needed to read it.
In our culture, obsessed by activity and productivity, we even resist night’s call to rest, although science tells us that rest — especially in darkness — is essential to health. Darkness synchronizes our biological clock and activates the production of the hormone melatonin, a powerful antioxidant.
May Sarton, I imagine, knew a lot about this paradox of finding our way by embracing both darkness and light. “Without darkness nothing comes to birth, as without light nothing flowers,” she wrote. Light will coax the flower to bloom, but only after the bulb has been buried in deep, dark soil.
Sarton was a Belgium-born American novelist, poet and memoirist who lived from 1912 to 1995. She was a Unitarian Universalist, inclined to grapple with spiritual concerns such as love, loneliness, self-doubt and our relationship with the natural world. Sarton came out as a lesbian with her 1965 novel, Mrs. Stevens Hears the Mermaids Singing — a risky move at the time. It must have taken great courage to enter that darkness, not knowing how she and her work would be received. Interestingly, it was this book that sparked interest in her other writing. Her work then found its way into women’s studies classes.
Sarton has me wondering how the joy of Easter could ever be experienced fully without the pain and darkness of Good Friday. Jesus entered the darkness, giving birth to a new way of life. Crucifixion and resurrection remind us that darkness and light are both of God. Embracing times of darkness may be a necessary passage into light.
Mardi Tindal is a facilitator and mentor with the Center for Courage & Renewal and a former United Church moderator.
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