Is your spirituality solar or lunar? That’s the question raised in a new book by Barbara Brown Taylor called Learning to Walk in the Dark. Taylor, an award winning writer, is an ordained Episcopal priest who left parish ministry about fifteen years ago and now teaches world religions at Piedmont College in northern Georgia. According to Taylor, many of us have a negative attitude toward darkness. In fact, we are taught to fear darkness even as children when our parents yelled to us from the house, “Come inside now, it’s getting dark.” The Bible too speaks negatively of darkness. There are only about 100 references to darkness in the Bible, and they all say, “Darkness is bad news.” We tend to overlook the good things in the Bible that occurred at night, in the dark. God took Abraham out at night and pointed to the stars, promising him a son. Later Abraham’s grandson Jacob has a powerful dream at night in which he sees a ladder with angels ascending and descending on it. This ladder became a commanding reminder to him that God was with him always. Later Jacob wrestles with an angel all night long, receiving a special blessing and a new name (and a limp!) The mighty Exodus occurs at night, and when God speaks to Moses in the desert, God does so in a dark, dense cloud.
In the New Testament, Joseph was tossing and turning at night when a heavenly messenger encourages him to take Mary as his wife and raise her child as his own. Tradition tells us Jesus was born in a stable (probably really a cave) at night. Later Jesus would describe what real love looks like: a grain of wheat breaking open in the darkness of the soil. And when Jesus dies in total self-surrender on the cross in the middle of the day, darkness covers the earth. The message of these incidents seems clear: God dwells and moves and blesses in the darkness as well as the light.
Taylor believes that Christianity preaches a spirituality that is sometimes too solar. It often identifies God’s presence with the “sunny part” of our lives. If we have faith, a solar spirituality says, then we will always feel God’s presence, we will have certainty of belief, and we will have reliable answers to our questions and prayers. The problem with this comes when darkness descends on our lives: we lose our job, our marriage falls apart, we have a serious health issue, we struggle with one of our children, we begin to doubt what we have always believed, God seems very far away. According to Taylor we need a more lunar spirituality. She writes, “When I go out on my porch, the moon never looks the same way twice. Some nights it is as round as a headlight; other nights it is thinner than the sickle hanging in my garage. Some nights it is high in the sky, and other nights low over the mountains. Some nights it is altogether gone, leaving a vast web of stars that are brighter in its absence. All in all, the moon is a truer mirror for my soul than the sun that looks the same way every day.” She encourages us to trust the rhythm of light and darkness in our lives, rather than oppose it.
Taylor’s book called me to reflect on my own spirituality—and the one I speak and write about. These are some questions I asked myself. You may find them helpful for your own reflection.
Is my spirituality too solar? Do I tend to equate God’s presence only with the light?
Can I find beauty in the natural darkness? Taylor describes sitting outside with her husband and watching a moonrise. I asked myself, “When was the last time I sat and watched a moonrise? How aware am I of the phases of the moon?
Can I find God in the darkness of my soul, the darkness of my personal life, and the darkness of the world?
Do I welcome the darkness as a friend who can help teach me what I need to know?
Do you have any thoughts on this topic that you’d like to share with us?