By Andrew Worthley
‘O dark of night more darling than the dawn’
In a neon world saturated with light, what fool writes about the darkness? There is a challenge here. To write about darkness invariably means to write also about the light. The one illuminates the other. Without its necessary bright counterpoint, the gloaming of the night becomes a suffocating totality of inky terror. And yet, to forever revert to the light is to neglect the deep beauty and permanent truth that is found in the dark. If we only reflect on the darkness as a brief sojourn away from the light that inexorably follows, it becomes nothing more than a means to an end. An act of denial. We cannot always try to escape the shadows.
Because darkness is a natural state of affairs. The dark is real. Living in an electrified age as we do, it is very easy to forget that. For those of us living in the Northern Hemisphere, these long wintry months invite regal darkness to reign with barely a whimper of protest from the sun. And frankly, we are ill equipped to deal with this gloomy blanket. I am ill equipped to deal with it. After all, I am afraid of the dark. A childhood spent in the deep rural countryside meant that my overactive imagination coupled with the midnight gloom to populate my environs with all manner of goblins, zombies and other evil faeries of the night. Real darkness for the adult-me means remembering and re-experiencing that rare intoxicating adrenaline jolt of fear. Now though, I live in the forever brightness of Londontown- a city that Chesterton remarked does not know the darkness of absent stars- and I am almost deluded into forgetting it entirely.
But the dark is fearful and it is here to stay. Yes, it is punctuated by brief luminous glimmerings but it remains the primordial and essential state of affairs. In the Beginning was Darkness and the brooding potential of creativity. It is in this darkness, away from the interference of light, that there is freedom to conspire and imagine. Without the mystery of the dark, I am constantly distracted by the shrieking sound of light, by the fulgent glare of my computer screen, by the flickering sideshow of my television. It is in the wee small hours of the darkest morning when all is still and the world slumbers under its ebony shroud that the unknowableness of being is so potent. In the deepness of night when the act of creation is explosive. Here we can conjure demons yes, but also creative acts of unbearable brilliance. The womb is dark but beautifully so.
For Saint John of the Cross, this darkness showed the way to God. The Saint wrote of a darkness more darling than the dawn, guiding the soul more brightly than the noonday sun. Towards a God who too resided in darkness, spooling creation around Her fingertips. This is the bravest of realities. To know the darkness. To embrace it. Follow it. In all its fearful and dreadful and beautiful splendour. And to know that it is in this ‘deep, insurmountable darkness of Love’ that all of creation finds its home.