Courtesy TIME/Photograph by Joachim Ladefoged–VII
This article is available for free for TIME magazine subscribers. Subscribe now.Darkness is often treated as evil, a vast unknown and the Ultimate spiritual enemy. But as one of America's leading theologians believes, it may save us all
From the moment God declared, "Let there be light," Scripture christened light as holy and condemned darkness to hell. The Christian liturgy soaked in the theme in the centuries that followed. The Book of Common Prayer addresses God as "O Light" and begs, "Be our light in the darkness, O Lord." Hymns followed suit, from “Amazing Grace” to the hit "In the Light" from Christian hip-hop band dc Talk.
But theologian Barbara Brown Taylor sees it differently. As impossible as it is to imagine faith without light, it is equally hard to imagine a world without darkness. We are taught to fear darkness as children, she says, when parents line the halls to the bathroom with nightlights to scare away the closet monsters. As we grow older, the monsters take a different shape: darkness descends with the call that a loved one has cancer, months of unemployment, a child with an addiction or an unanswered prayer.
The preacher in Taylor points out that darkness was often the setting for humanity’s closest encounters with the divine. God appeared to Abraham in the night and promised him descendants more numerous than the stars. The exodus from Egypt happened at night. God met Moses in the thick darkness atop Mount Sinai to hand down the Ten Commandments. Jesus was born beneath a star and resurrected in the darkness of a cave.
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