I attend, with fair regularity, mid-week evening prayer at St Mark’s, the local Episcopal church. It’s a welcoming, intimate group of 10 or so, whose members take turns leading the ritual and reading the passages. It is simple, focused, and intentional. It feels just right for me, right now.
I hope to allow the readings to reach me at an intuitive level. “Allowing” has been the simplest, most effective, and yet historically, for me, one of the most challenging postures. I can execute a wide array of oppositional stances – reluctance, stubbornness, refusal, and denial, to name a few. I remind myself that openness can be as subtle as a door left slightly ajar. A thin beam of light, cast across a dull, shoe-scarred floor, is light nonetheless.
What strikes me, one particular evening, is this line from Psalm 139: “Darkness is not dark to you”.
I imagine the psalmist had an external reference for this phrase – perhaps the cycles of day and night. Yet, the writer had an inkling that his perception was limited. Carl Jung posits an internal reference point for humankind’s bifurcation of the world:
“How else could it have occurred to man to divide the cosmos, on the analogy of day and night, summer and winter, into a bright day-world and a dark night-world peopled with fabulous monsters, unless he had the prototype of such a division in himself, in the polarity between the conscious and the invisible and unknowable unconscious? “
(from “Psychological; Aspects of the Mother Archetype, 1939)
We now know many things the ancients did not, and this knowledge has broadened our view. Day and night are the yin and yang of our planet’s 24-hour revolutionary cycle. They, together, comprise the full picture. On a cosmic scale, they are not “either/or”. It is always daylight, or nighttime, somewhere.
Yet, scientific understandings may not influence our interior worlds. Head and heart may not be in sync. Despite my modern understanding of the universe, I can still hold a divided view of myself – my light and my darkness. “Darkness is not dark to you”. What is the difference between my perspective and that of the Eternal or Divine? Have I made false distinctions between light and dark? Is my construct too limiting, oppositional, simple?
One of my favorite authors, Cynthia Bourgeault, recounts an exchange in her book, The Wisdom Jesus (2008). When a student bemoans the dark forces in our lives, Cynthia responds:
“Don’t you see that by judging it you only make it worse? By trying to stop the black – to make it all white, all good; by saying that this we can accept and this we must reject, you keep empowering that cycle of polarization that creates the problem in the first place.”
Bourgeault goes on to assert that the “God is light” construct is a fatal trap, in as much as it denies or rejects the dark side.
I have, over time, labeled my own darkness, on a continuum from shameful, perhaps even unforgiveable, to mildly embarrassing. I can see distinctions among my various manifestations of darkness –
- the darkness I know and have welcomed into my circle;
- that darkness of which I am aware and yet want to disown;
- and (most intriguing and potentially dangerous), that of which I am unaware, but which propels me to action, and is visible only in retrospect, once the deed is done.
To see myself as one; to resist compartmentalization; to increase my awareness; to embrace my less-favored aspects with tenderness – these are my desires. And, how do those desires become actualized? Often, for me, this happens in relationship.
There is an inestimable redemptive power in sharing with another. The contexts may vary – confession; the 12 steps; soul friendship or spiritual direction; an intimate partnership or marriage.
The key is compassion. Parker Palmer speaks openly about his clinical depression and the power of compassionate relationship:
“What he mainly did for me, of course, was to be willing to be present to me in my suffering. He just hung in with me in this very quiet, very simple, very tactile way. And I’ve never really been able to find the words to fully express my gratitude for that, but I know it made a huge difference. And it became for me a metaphor of the kind of community we need to extend to people who are suffering in this way, which is a community that is neither invasive of the mystery nor evasive of the suffering but is willing to hold people in a space, a sacred space of relationship, where somehow this person who is on the dark side of the moon can get a little confidence that they can come around to the other side.”
From an interview on NPR’s “On Being”
A posture of loving openness, perhaps the very same “allowing” I alluded to earlier, has a great, transformative power, and thus can be the better choice among fixing, fighting, giving advice, or judging.
“With arms wide open under the sunlight
Welcome to this place I’ll show you everything
With arms wide open
With arms wide open…”