“When the dark is at rest,
the light begins to move.”
~ The Secret of the Golden Flower
When I was a little girl I loved visiting my grandparents in Nashville during the hot summers. Dad would take us on day trips, and one of them was to Mammoth Caves in Kentucky.
I was in awe of this mysterious, sacred space. The cave’s enormous mouth yawned open with brisk, cold air as we descended into the bowels of the earth. It was both exciting and frightening.
And we were plunged into the blackest-black I can still recall. No matter how I strained my eyes, I could see nothing. I wanted the lights to come back on. Fast.
Sometimes in life we are thrust into this kind of darkness. We experience it globally. Aleppo. Wars. Refugees. Hunger. Terrorism.
And we experience it personally. Loss of a loved one or beloved pet. A diagnosis we weren’t expecting. Financial burdens. Or sometimes, trying to find our purpose and direction in the muck of day-to-day tedium and boredom.
For those of us with sensitive hearts it can often seem too much.
For me, the last four years have been a cave of darkness, of sorts. I love my father dearly, but after his stroke I had to learn to maneuver the shadowy passageways of not only his health care, but the sadness and grief of losing a parent who was once vibrant and vital in the world.
And the last four months have plunged me even deeper into the abyss. I’ve had some personal health challenges that have made it seem too much like that dark moment in the cave. Yes, I pray. I meditate. Still, there it was. No escaping it. I found myself struggling to find light and inner footing and much like the lament of the Psalmists kept pleading, “How long, O, Lord? How long?”
To live life — to traverse the hero’s or heroine’s journey — takes inner courage. But how do we find it when we feel there is nothing left to muster?
When we are thrust into loss and grief, we have a chance to descend into the ravine (or “the cave”) of that awful loss or grief, says Mark Nepo, poet, author and philosopher.
“I know for me,” he shares, “in those moments when I have been able to face the travails that life has presented me, sometimes there is a glimpse of an angel that I can hold onto. And in that moment of hold, I have been able to love the part of me that is hurt, the part of the world that is ugly, and the dark side of God’s face that is so difficult to understand.”
“To sit on a bench, on any street, to meet with your heart whatever life comes by,” he says. “Not to judge it, not to name it, not to rescue it, not to push it away. Let the homeless person you see touch the possibility of you being them. Let the bird looking for food touch the part of you that’s hungry … this is a quiet courage.”
And sometimes that means allowing and listening to whatever burdens or emptiness or pain we are feeling. Simply “being” with whatever we are experiencing, as difficult as that may be. As frightening as the darkness may be.
In our seasonal world, we find ourselves in days of growing darkness. The light diminishes bit by bit as we approach the winter solstice. And in the Christian tradition, it is Advent, a time of expectation and waiting for birth and light.
Thomas Merton, the well-known Trappist monk, referred to God’s presence in the soul as the pointe vierge. This French phrase refers to the “virgin point” that comes just before dawn, those ripening moments before the first ray of light flares into the darkness.
When we are in the midst of transformation, the process hurts. It is painful. The tug and tension of stretching into some “other” self can be terrifying. While the soul incubates in darkness, we wonder if birth and light will ever come.
This is the “holy dark” that author Sue Monk-Kidd speaks of. The idea, she writes, is not to panic, but to surrender to it so we can journey through it to the real light.
Do I have inner courage? Sometimes. But many times I don’t. Do I fall into the darkness? Yes. But I’m learning. To listen. To wait, even in the darkest of darks. Even though I’d rather not have it. Even though I’d like it to go away.
And while in that space, I know that more times of darkness will arrive during my journey. But I also have a deep “inner knowing” that the light will dawn again.
In fact, I am learning that the light never left.