My husband used to say, “Life is suffering.” (Yes, I know that the Buddha said it early on, but humor me, please). Which is not to say that Fred was a pessimist or the least bit fatalistic. But when sorrow or struggle washed over us, as it did (usually when we were congratulating ourselves that “everything is good right now”), he would find a way to remind us both that suffering was inevitable. And somehow that was almost as comforting as him saying, “Things are going to work out.”
I thought of him as I finished Barbara Bradford Taylor’s Learning to Walk in the Dark, the book I have been reading for Lent. Near the end, she lists what she learned -- or relearned -- as she researched and rested in darkness. Here’s my summary (with my own emphasis):
First, in the creation story of Genesis, darkness existed before light. “God’s first act on the first day of creation,” Taylor writes, “was not to make light and darkness but to make light and separate it from the darkness.” Later on, we human beings imposed our knee-jerk declaration that darkness was bad and light was good. But both are far older even than evil. For my part, there is something comforting in knowing the primacy of the absence of light.
Second, darkness and light take turns. Neither lasts forever. Which reminds me of something else Fred used to say, “Never say never.” It is another human error that assumes -- when things are going well or unraveling too fast for us to keep up -- that our lives will always be like “this,” the pain or suffering or loneliness that we feel at any given point.
Finally, it is fear that keeps our eyes closed to what we may find in the darkness. We have learned some unwritten rule that our lives should be safe. (Although I don’t remember any divine promise of safety. Nor was it one of Jesus’ expectations.) We tell ourselves that we bring light into the world. That we control the amount of light, even in darkness. That enough light will keep what frightens us at a distance. We think light keeps us safe.
“But, of course, we are wrong about that, as experience proves again and again,” Taylor writes. “The real problem has far less to do with what is really out there than it does with our resistance to finding out what is really out there. The suffering comes from our reluctance to learn to walk in the dark.”
So, what have I learned about walking in the dark? Or, more accurately, what do I hope I’m learning about walking in darkness? First, try not to be afraid of it. After all, I don’t walk alone -- even when it seems that way. In the darkness at the beginning, God was, is and will be present. And with practice, maybe I can learn to walk in the dark with love, compassion and courage. For myself and for others who are overwhelmed by darkness. Even if I stumble or fall, I can get up and limp along, maybe find a way to pull someone through. And finally, although darkness is inevitable, it is not eternal.