Theologian Barbara Brown Taylor recognizes the power of light in the Christian narrative, knowing that the faithful cut their teeth on such scripture as this: “God is light and in him there is no darkness at all.”
But Taylor told a gathering at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral Wednesday night perhaps it is time to reflect on spiritual lessons learned in the dark, to understand that “God does some of God’s best work in the dark.”
Taylor, a best-selling author, professor and Episcopal preacher, explores the mysteries and the spirituality of darkness in her new book, “Learning to Walk in the Dark” (HarperOne, $24.99).
She told a crowd of nearly 300 that along the way she understood that “full solar Christianity” does not work when human beings come up against bleak moments in life, including sickness, divorce, depression and death.
“No one asks God for more darkness,” she said, but she recounted how the Bible is thick with images of God working through the power of night. Jacob wrestles in the dark, Joseph dreams during the night, the Exodus takes place at night, and the Red Sea is parted in darkness. Christ, she reminded her audience, is resurrected inside the tomb of a cave.
Sometimes, Taylor said, we are plunged into such a cloud of unknowing that “none of your outside navigational tools can help,” but that is the place where we truly can discover God and the truths about our own lives. And while no one wishes to enter such a difficult place, the goodness of darkness is usually revealed later “in the rear view mirror.”
Her belief that people of faith should embrace the full circle of light and dark resonated. “The best advice she gives is rest in the cloud,” said the Rev. Ruth Roberts, associate pastor at Spring Valley Presbyterian Church, who regularly quotes Taylor in her sermons. As a pastor, Roberts said she hears the stories of those who have suffered deep losses and finds that “I have to enter into the darkness too.”
Carole Rowden read one of Taylor’s earlier books, “Gospel Medicine,” when her Trinity congregation embarked upon reading the same book, and became a devoted fan. “She just validates things you think and believe,” Rowden said.
Taylor lives in Georgia and was recently named to Time’s list of the nation’s 100 most influential people in the world. She likes to quote Flannery O'Connor about living in the “Christ-haunted South” where Bible verses stare at us from billboards as well as church marques.
She plumbs the Bible for illumination, writing in a recent issue of Time, “Pay attention to what is written there and it will keep pushing you out into the world — to look for the rainbow, scoop up the manna, wrestle the angel, seek the lost sheep, give your shirt to the stranger. Open your imagination to the divine stories it tells and the world stands a better chance of becoming a sacred place, if only because you are out there acting like it is.”