I’m noticing how I long for the dark these days. How stepping outside into the clarity of the night feels precious, like stepping into an immense cathedral of time. Suddenly there is space to breathe, to think, to feel. Tonight was mild, so the birds were still singing and a half moon crested the sky. There were clouds too, a smattering of white fluffiness illuminated against the blue black night.
It’s almost scary these days to say I long for the dark- if It’s not already breaking every rule of political correctness there is, I’m sure it soon will be. Most people associate darkness with badness, and there seems to be a lot of that around these days. Or perhaps there isn’t any more than there always has and always will be - and what’s changed is our ability to be with the dark.
Last night our running club was out in force and coming round one unlit corner was an old couple, moving carefully and steadily in the dark. Apart from their white hair they did not have a reflective strip between them- while coming the other way were twenty-odd runners lit up like Christmas trees. I’m not sure who was more surprised, but later I remembered the old couple as the runners like moths flitted from streetlight to streetlight and only four intrepid ones were game enough to take the unlit cycle path.
I notice that people worry more now, if we run on a road that is cambered -people worry, off road- people worry, on roads people worry, on chalk people worry, on mud people worry, and on unlit cycle paths people worry. It seems to me that our shared sense of adventure is gone, somehow. At the same time my friends run extreme races, ultra-marathons, obstacle courses, triathlons with river swims, cross country courses: but those all have marshals, first aiders, water stations, and helpers at every turn to protect and guide you; and even the cross country courses are three laps of a landscaped urban park… It’s all somehow much more controlled than running along the unlit cycle path at night.
I think somehow the night brings with it a bigness, a stillness, a depth so profound that perhaps the right word would be majestic. It cannot be controlled or steered or marshalled. This darkness for me is the physical expression of a pause. It is the Shabbat of the year, the holiest time, when I go out in the dark longing for a glimpse of the deer running in the moonlight or the wingtip of a barn owl flying low across my path. I long for, and I need, to be immersed in the majestic darkness, to hear only the sound of my own feet on the path, my breath, my heart beat – to shed everything extraneous, and keep only what is precious; to reconnect with the ground of my being- and then finally to be born once again into the light- of the town and also of the new year.
There will be a time when I long for that new year and new light; for the sun, for the freshness of green spiralling spring growth. A time when I know I will feel phenomenal joy at each extra minute of lengthening day – but not yet. Just now it is almost sunset and almost time for Shabbat: time to pause in the dark, and time to lace up my shoes and run into the majestic bosom of the night.
Learning to walk in the dark by Barbara Brown Taylor
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