I was surrounded by people who write. Immediately I was asked what I write about. It was freeing — and I was grateful to have a one sentence response that I had thought of in advance! We exchanged cards. We encouraged one another to keep going. It was a beautiful start to my day.
Like GenCon fans who are excited to meet some character I’ve never heard of or a sports fan who waits in line to meet their favorite player, I was in my own version of fandom today. Barbara Brown Taylor was the opening speaker. I’ve been reading her books for quite some time now. I remember going through An Altar in the World, wanting to make note of all her beautiful sentences in my journal. It got to the point where I just photocopied pages and glued them in because I was pretty much rewriting her book in my own handwriting. I received Learning to Walk in the Dark for Christmas and after soaking in all those lovely pages about darkness and sitting in a cave and the diminishing dark skies because of light pollution and creating moon gardens (yes!), I decided I want to take vacations to dark places. So, yeah, I really like what she writes!
After hearing her speak she had a book signing, so I stood in line. While in line I met a UMC pastor from Maryland who is good friends with Kenda Creasy Dean (again — another fandom moment from my youth ministry years!). It turns out he co-wrote a really transformative youth ministry book with her that I kept on my shelf for many years.
Once I reached the table, it dawned on me that I had no idea what I was going to say to her. So, I told her what I wrote above, the thing about vacationing in dark places. We chatted about light pollution for a moment, then as she finished signing my book and handed it over to me, she said, “have fun in the dark.”
I wanted to yell, NOOOOOO! Sure, I’ll take a vacation in the dark (which I’m sure is what she meant), but I’m not staying there. I’m coming home, back to my well-lit home and city. How can I have fun in the dark? That place of darkness in my soul, the place I’ve lived for quite some time (which is how I interpreted what she said). I don’t want to be in the dark anymore. I’m done with the darkness. But, maybe not.
The whole book is about getting comfortable with the darkness. “Seeing” in the dark what we miss in the light. Dark doesn’t equal bad and light doesn’t equal good. I know this. I know how much I’ve learned in these dark nights of the soul. I know the richness that has come out of my pain and grief. I know that sitting in the dark will make the dawn more beautiful. I know this.
But I also wanted to go back over to the table and ask her for a different passing comment. Can you tell me something I want to hear? Can you give me a different response? I didn’t go back over because I knew I needed to hear that, from her.
Over the last month or so I’ve started to notice some of that darkness diminishing. I’ve even thought to myself: I feel lighter. So, as I’m wont to do, I assumed that meant the darkness had passed. Intellectually I know that is not true, but my heart wanted to believe it. The darkness has passed, the light has emerged.
That is true, but as Creation teaches us every twenty-four hours — night follows day, dawn follows night. There isn’t light without darkness. There isn’t darkness without light.
When I finished reading Learning to Walk in the Dark, I stopped turning on lights first thing in the morning. Of course, I had to turn on the bathroom light — it’s hard to find my contacts without a light on. But, once I was done, I turned the light off and walked through the house without turning on any lights, if only for a few minutes.
I relished in the darkness. Not complete darkness of course. Almost all the houses in our neighborhood have some sort of outdoor lighting. It’s actually not too challenging walking through our house before the sun rises, once I give my eyes a chance to adjust. In those moments, my eyes take the back seat — my feet walk slowly feeling for any dog toys that might be in my path, my hands reach out tentatively for the table or maybe the chair, my ears listen intently, for what I’m not sure! I began to be more comfortable in the dark, to delay turning on the lights for a few more minutes.
For so long I’ve associated darkness with grief, sadness, loneliness, brokenness. No wonder I want to escape. It’s hard to sit with those Friends for too long. However, some of the most beautiful sights are only seen at night. Some of my deepest thoughts only come when I see a planet in the dark sky, when I wonder about my place in this vast Universe, when I compare our small Earth with the enormity of it all. Some of my most holy (and entertaining!) conversations have taken place under the dark sky late night.
I mourn in the dark, but I also delight in the dark. I grieve in the dark, but I also celebrate in the dark. I cry in the dark, but I also laugh in the dark. So, maybe she’s right — maybe it’s time for me to have some fun in the dark. Maybe it’s time to start allowing some joy in those dark places once again. To start saying yes to having fun in the dark.