I stand in defense of darkness. Darkness gets a bad rap. Across centuries and cultures, it’s the catch-all metaphor for everything evil, depressing, and otherwise-to-be-avoided. Something to be cursed, apparently, if you don’t have a candle.
And yet, our attitude toward darkness perhaps reflects more the limits of human understanding and the frequent inadequacy of language in trying to describe God. The reputation of darkness is only partially deserved and does not tell the whole story. Darkness can hold gifts, if we look for them. There is peace, quiet, and solitude to be found in darkness—qualities much desired and necessary in the frenzy of daily life.
Every morning I wake before sunrise and go out into the darkness (accompanied by Millie the dog). The pre-dawn hour, especially during the winter months, exudes a quiet in which I do my best praying of the day. There’s no need to close one’s eyes to shut out the distractions of the world. In the darkness, I can keep my eyes open and, while I pray, take in the muted beauty of God’s creation: bare branches etching the sky, a rabbit skittering away as Millie and I approach, a lone bird call. In the darkness, quiet overcomes noise. In the darkness, it is easier to envision being in Christ’s presence. In the darkness, I can perceive and appreciate these gifts in a way that would otherwise be lost amidst the competition and cacophony of daylight.
I’m not knocking light, either as a symbol or a physical phenomenon. Light deserves all the praise it gets. But let’s remember that God, in his wisdom, did not grant us perpetual light. I have a hard time believing God intended that all things good and positive should be limited to the daylight hours. Metaphorically and otherwise, lightness and darkness are a unit, a wholeness, and they must be embraced together.
God is in the light, of course, but God is also in the darkness.
Richard Wells serves on the board of directors of the Ignatian Volunteer Corps. He was born and raised in the Philadelphia area, and runs a consulting firm, The Wellynn Group, that focuses on marketing and communications. He and his wife live in Bala Cynwyd, PA, along with three children and three dogs. You may contact Richard at firstname.lastname@example.org.