“Learning to Walk in the Dark,” by Barbara Brown Taylor



This is a book about darkness–the physical and psychological kind as well as the spiritual and theological kind….and as the author says at the end, “this may be a book about living with loss, which is tough enough in any place or time but is especially difficult in a culture that works so hard to look the other way….this is not a how-to book, but if it were, the only instructions would be to become more curious about your own darkness.”

Here’s what I learned or found interesting:

According to the rabbis, the Sabbath begins when three stars are visible in the sky.

Re: darkness in the story of when God is talking to Moses in his dense cloud: The darkness that dominates the story has nothing to do with what time of day it is. …It has nothing to do with the position of the planets in the sky or the rods and cones in people’s eyes.  It is an entirely unnatural darkness–both dangerous and divine–that contains the presence of the God before whom there are no others.  It is so different from what other Hebrew words mean when they say “dark” that it has its own word in the Bible: araphel, reserved for God’s exclusive use.  This thick darkness reveals the divine presence even while obscuring it, the same way the brightness of God’s glory does.  Both are signs of God’s mercy, since ordinary human beings are not equipped to survive direct contact with the divine, in the dark or in the light.

The terrible and fascinating mystery of God, which exceeds human ability to manage, is called mysterium tremendum et fascinans….for those of us who wish to draw near to God, do not be surprised when our vision goes cloudy.  What? God exists in the darkness?

If we turn away from darkness on principle…isn’t there a chance that what we are running from is God?

“All light is late,” wrote the poet Li-Young Lee.  When I look at the stars, I may be seeing late light from some whose funerals took place a long, long time ago.  Stars are light-years away; galaxies are millions of times that far away.  Astronomer Chet Raymo tells me that if I could find Quasar 3C 273 in my backyard telescope, I would be looking at a point of light that started heading my way more than one and a half billion years ago.

All these years later, every atom of earth comes from the sky I’m looking at…I and everything I love have come from from the furnace of the stars.

A bed is where you face your nearness to or farness from God.

It is our inability to bear dark emotions that causes many of our most significant problems, not the emotions themselves.

After years of being taught that the way to deal with painful emotions is to get rid of them, it can take a lot of reschooling to learn to sit with them instead, finding out from those who feel them what they have learned by sleeping in the wilderness that those who sleep in comfortable houses may never know.

Today’s seekers seem more interested in getting God to turn the lights on than in allowing God to turn them off.

Ken Wilber’s One Taste, he says one function of Christianity, translation, is to offer believers a new way to translate their hardships.  The other, transformation, exists not to comfort the self but to dismantle it.

There is no filling a hole that was never designed to be filled, but only to be entered into.  Where real transformation is concerned, Wilber says, “the self is not made content; the self is made toast.”

By most estimates, 70 percent of our sense receptors are located in our eyes.

New life starts in the dark.  Whether it is a seed in the ground, a baby in the womb, or Jesus in the tomb, it starts in the dark.

John of the Cross, a 16th c monk, in The Dark Night of the Soul, says one of the central functions of the dark night is to convince those who grasp after things that God cannot be grasped. In Spanish, the word for God is nada.  God is no-thing.  God is not a thing.  And since God is not a thing, God cannot be held on to.  God can only be encountered as that which eclipses the reality of all other things.

“If you have understood, then what you have understood is not God,” Saint Augustine. Sixteen hundred years later, the Northern Irish theologian Peter Rollins says God is an event “not a fact to be grasped but an incoming to be undergone.”

Nothing reminds me that I am an earthling like seeing the full moon.

3 thoughts on ““Learning to Walk in the Dark,” by Barbara Brown Taylor

  1. I love this. I am pressing hard into the darkness that surrounds me now. Many don’t understand why. Many say, it’s time to move on and be happy. But there is so much I don’t understand yet, and so much I want to learn, that the only way I see is to press in and go through the darkness. There is light on the other side, and so mucho learn in between.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. My OB told me just 3 days after Tinsley died that my job now was grieve— and to enter the grief as deeply as I possibly could. That it was the absolute most important work I could do now. So I’ve invited the darkness in. I’m 100% with you to press in. Otherwise it will just follow us like a ghost the rest of our lives.


      1. Ive had so many well meaning family members tell me to be happy, to move on. My mother died one month before Ezekiel died. Dealing with the death of two seems like all I see is darkness at times. No one told me how dark this tunnel would be, but I am hopeful that at the end I, we, will emerge different, changed, and yes stronger, as cliche as that sounds. But I have to hold onto that hope.


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