THE “BRIGHTENING DARKNESS”
READ: Psalm 18
“Lord, You are loyal to those who are loyal, and You are good to those who are good. You are pure to those who are pure, but You are against those who are evil. You save the humble, but You bring down those who are proud. Lord, You give light to my lamp. My God brightens the darkness around me.” – Psalm 18:25-28
The other night we kept an Starlight Vigil at the Abbey, spending the night in the fields, first by campfire and then by starlight. It was a moonless night with the new moon off in its being made, and the sky was clear as clear could be, with nary a cloud. From time to time, we keep watch in ths fields through the night, a tradition born in the days when the monks would await the coming home of a long lost pilgrim. In our times, this vigil in the fields serves more as a contemplative retreat of a most wondrous kind in both its utter simplicity and its natural glory.
One aspect of the contemplative life that is most difficult to define for others is the idea of the “brightening darkness.” Often I hear people refer to their time of struggle as their “Dark Night of the Soul”, drawn from the classic book on the contemplative life by St. John of the Cross. Though this serves as an apt metaphor for our human struggles, the Dark of the Soul refers not to hard times that come upon us, but instead the journey we make into the luminous night that brings us into the numinous experience. The luminous night is the emergence of the Light of God into our experience of darkness. The numinous experience is our entrance into the realm of the holy, our experience of the holy emerging in the midst of life. I know! It all sounds rather esoteric, but in practice, it is not.
The luminous night is a gift of God, the capacity to behold the Holy Luminous that was placed in us and in our Creation at the Genesis of our life, an aspect of the image of God imprinted deep within our souls. It is a gift of God, a first measure of grace, that enables us to behold the Light of God, the Light that shines in the darkness.
The numinous experience is also a gift bestowed in our Creation, a capacity to come to know God in a most human way, a way of the heart, a way of the soul.
As we sat around the blaze of the campfire that night, the campfire filled our vision with its dancing light, yet nearly blinding us to the starlight falling all about us. As the campfire began to die away, the starlight began to “appear”. And when the fire was but ash and memories, the stars became more and more. And as we sat there longer through the night, the stars kept getting brighter and brighter, and their number became more and more. The stars became so wondrous that the stars seem to become a part of us. So it is in the contemplative life. When we first enter the dark Quiet, we can barely see, we are if we were blind. But then as we allow ourselves time in the Quiet Darkness, slowly the darkness begins to shine with the first glimmers of the Light of God, the Light of the luminous image of God within us, begins to illuminate our souls. And when the darkness begins to shine, the realm of the numinous becomes known.
We live in a world of 24 hour lighting, street lights, headlights, flood lights, even night lights. For most folks, the larger share of the starlight has become lost to them, lost in the glare of our city lights. But, my Loved Ones, the starlight is still waiting to be found, as is the shining darkness.
When I first saw fireflies I was amazed by their wonder. I thought them to be tiny angels bearing lanterns of grace. In recent years, when ocean explorers have journeyed far down in to the dark depths, we are captivated by the phosphorescence of the fish and other creatures who live their whole lives within this world of darkness. Yes, it is amazing that fireflies and other creatures do have the capacity to shine in the darkness … and I wonder … if we, in a certain, spiritual way, have a similar capacity … to shine with the Light of God, when we are enLightened by God’s Spirit.
In Christian spiritual practice of the Benedictine Way, we nurture the Holy Quiet so that we might hear more clearly the Voice of God that often comes in whispered echoes. In the Benedictine Way of Christian discipleship, we venture into the Dark Night, not so to dwell in the darkness and become darkened within, but to have a chance to behold the Light of God that shines everywhere, even in the darkest night.
We today have created for ourselves a very loud and glaring world, noisy and almost blinding. Eden was not that way. In Eden you could hear the crickets, each with their song, and you could be kissed by the starlight, each with their wonder. Maybe we would all find much blessing … if we would make the effort to journey into the Eden places, where there resides much more of God’s Creation than our human creation.
Brother Anthony of the Cross
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