New York Times Bestseller From the New York Times bestselling author of An Altar in the World, Barbara Brown Taylor's Learning to Walk in the Dark provides a way to find spirituality in those times when we don't have all the answers. Taylor has become increasingly uncomfortable with our tendency to associate all that is good with lightness and all that is evil and dangerous with darkness. Doesn't God work in the nighttime as well? In Learning to Walk in the Dark, Taylor asks us to put aside our fears and anxieties and to explore all that God has to teach us "in the dark." She argues that we need to move away from our "solar spirituality" and ease our way into appreciating "lunar spirituality" (since, like the moon, our experience of the light waxes and wanes). Through darkness we find courage, we understand the world in new ways, and we feel God's presence around us, guiding us through things seen and unseen. Often, it is while we are in the dark that we grow the most. With her characteristic charm and literary wisdom, Taylor is our guide through a spirituality of the nighttime, teaching us how to find our footing in times of uncertainty and giving us strength and hope to face all of life's challenging moments.… (more)
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Taylor points out that in the Genesis creation story, God creates light and separates it from dark. God does not create dark; it is already there. And God does not pronounce the light good and the dark bad. Rather, our incessant search for light has turned the darkness to a fearful place.
But, as Taylor discusses, the dark is where growth occurs. When Moses has a close encounter with his God, it takes place in a dark cloud. Jesus spends nights alone in prayer. When John of the Cross speaks of "the dark night of the soul," he is speaking not of depression but of the struggle to strip away all appearances and assumptions, to meet God as clearly as possible.
Taylor contends that we are undergoing a sea change in how we experience faith and spirituality, the largest since the Protestant reformation. Simple dualities and memorized creeds are outgrown and yield no credible spiritual experience. It is only by stripping away whatever we think we know of God that we can approach an authentic experience of God. We must turn from the blinding light and learn to see, and walk, in the dark.
I find Taylor's arguments compelling and heartening, given my own dissatisfaction not only with creeds but with the emphasis on light and rationality. I would love to have had more "instruction" on how to do it, but I'm not sure it would be possible to provide it. I'm smiling as I envision the ads I could place in the paper to find a teacher for this arcane but necessary subject.
This isn't a book of answers, it is a book of questions and exploration. It is affirmation for those of us who don't seem to fit into traditional Sunny Christianity anymore, but can't explain why. It is a book of promise that the dark of the soul or of the night can be a tremendous place to explore and not fear if we will stand still and listen. I will be rereading this, slowly, thoughtfully and spending more time outside at night without a flashlight.
Moving from the physical darkness of night, she explores the world of the blind and undergoes a physical experience of blindness. Losing eyesight causes one to strengthen the other senses of sound and scent. How much of the world are we missing due to too much seeing and not enough listening.
And what seemed at first to be the most unusual chapter "Entering the Stone," Taylor uses caves metaphorically and literally experiencing what to me feels light a frightening experience in a cave. I admit, I was puzzled and thought the entire experience seemed a gratuitous and somewhat weird; however, moving from the cave to the dark night of the soul is some of the best explanation of faith I have ever read.
This is a challenging book and one that will provide much to think about. This is the first book I've read by Taylor, but I immediately sought out more. Taylor's writing are those to be read and re-read.
This book reads like a shared journal. She is not trying to be “all cleaned up;” she shares her sometimes intent and sometimes ambling study of darkness.
Taylor writes, “’darkness’ is shorthand for anything that scares me – that I want no part of – either because I am sure that I do not have the resources to survive it or because I do not want to find out.”
By studying darkness from various aspects, she opens up concepts that exist there. In darkness, there are different skills, insights, and ways of being than in the light. She explores caves, blindness, moon phases, natural night darkness, dark emotions, “the dark night of the soul,” and religious icons of darkness.
She understands darkness and light as coming from the same Source, and questions the tendency to separate them, categorizing one as good and the other as bad. Though darkness is her journey in this book, it is a similar journey into silence and absence. Why are we so afraid to stay with these still and alone places until they are through with us? Why do we have so little tolerance for the discomfort of our dark emotions that we cannot stay long enough to learn what they have to offer us? Why must we cover silence with noise, absence with presence, stillness with activity, and darkness with light?
“The energy required to keep darkness at bay was fast becoming more than I could manage. Perhaps there was another way? So here at the end, I think this may be a book about living with loss…especially difficult in a culture that words so hard to look the other way.” Taylor gives Pema Chodron credit for this description: “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.”
"When God is Silent" is more elegantly written (more like a sermon than a journal). "Learning to Walk in the Dark" seeks to raise our curiosity and prompt our own journey. "An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith" is about practices. They are all three meaningful to me.