Sitting in the dark: A meditation sequence

Sitting in the dark: A meditation sequence

Gore, Michael

This is the hour

God loosens and empties.

Rushing, consciousness comes

unbidden, gasping,

and memory, wisdom, grace.

Annie Dillard

I AM SITTING OUTSIDE IN THE DARK. The season is early spring. My back is resting against the trunk of a great old oak. The recently sprouted leaves are faintly lighted, rustling gently in a soft breeze. Cobwebbed tree limbs are black against the night sky. High above, a silver-slivered moon plays hide-and-seek with ragged rushing clouds. The earth is coming alive after the long repose of winter. All about me is newborn grass, and in the air insects sing songs to praise new life. The air before my eyes seems to vibrate with their music. Joy has erupted into the night, and all things are becoming fresh and new. I am here to wonder about darkness. I am here to begin becoming new.

Like many people, I spend much of my time not paying attention. I sleep and dream. I eat and work. I eat and then sleep again. I seldom stop in the midst of all this movement to ask what it all means. Paul Tillich has called this living life on the surface-living ordinary life devoid of mystery and awe.1 It is buying and selling, giving and taking, accepting people and events as they appear and never questioning whether they have a deeper significance. Not often enough do I stop to question, to look beyond the routine that dominates so much of my existence. So at this moment, in this place, I have decided to stop. I have chosen to sit down and take a look around. I have decided to look into the darkness of who I am.

Entering the Darkness Through the Wisdom of God

Tillich writes that entry into the inner world of darkness is usually precipitated by calamity.2 The veil of meaning provided by living on the surface is ripped apart by events beyond our control. We are cast into chaos, into darkness. The usual answers become unbearable, sense becomes nonsense. It is possible, though—even desirable-to choose the darkness. To choose darkness is to choose dislocation, the eruption of the placid shallow surface of daily living. By willingly entering into my own darkness, I move forward with eyes open and with attention focused. I am not thrown unawares into the unknown mysterious dimensions of my self.

The reasoned wisdom of humanity is limited. Nicholas of Cusa, a fifteenth-century Cardinal and canon lawyer, observed,

The scholars are deficient in that they are afraid to enter the darkness. Reason shuns it and is afraid to steal in. But in avoiding the darkness, reason does not arrive at a vision of the invisible.3

The Apostle Paul wrote,

Christ…[sent] … me to preach the Good News, and not to preach in terms of philosophy in which the crucifixion of Christ cannot be expressed. (1 Cor 1:17)

Later Paul asks, “Where are any of our thinkers today? Do you see now how God has shown up the foolishness of human wisdom?” (1:20). Paul saw this type of philosophy as consisting only of words and rational expressions. The words were empty of life and of the power to save.

The wisdom of God is beyond the grasp of human wisdom. God’s wisdom is not simply logical discourse; it dwells in the depths of the self. Paul concluded his teaching by pointing out that human wisdom is unable to view the cross in any other way except as “illogical” He argued that God used the cross to expose the limitations and foolishness of human wisdom. Human wisdom is not evil or undesirable-it is simply incomplete. Because they relied solely on human wisdom, Nicholas of Cusa scolded the scholars of his day. They were unwilling to enter into the dislocation of God’s wisdom.

The wisdom of God is foolishness, or darkness,to humanity. Paul explained further:

The hidden wisdom of God which we teach in our mysteries is the wisdom that God predestined to be for our glory before the ages began. It is a wisdom that none of the masters of this age have ever known …. (1 Cor 2:7,8)

This hidden wisdom is not arrived at by reasoned discourse but is a revelation out of mystery. This wisdom is beyond the grasp of human logic and reason. The wisdom of God is mysterious; it is unlimited. It is beyond concepts, imaginings, words, and thoughts. By accepting the foolish wisdom of God, “he [Christ Jesus] has become our wisdom, and our virtue, and our holiness, and our freedom” (I Cor. 1:30).

In the darkness, in the mysterious core of my being, I will discover my deep self-the place where God dwells. This self is the true foundation of my personhood. It is compassionate, powerful, and yet vulnerable. This deep self relates to the life-force that empowers all things– the dark mystery of God.

Reason shuns the darkness of the deep self because this self is concerned with a knowledge that is not gained through intellectual speculation. Excessive dependence on the intellect and ego hinders discovery of the deep self. Letting go of the intellect and ego will free them to work in consort with the deep self.

The inner fragmentation of my personhood has left me in many pieces–I am my ego, my intellect, my body. I am my thoughts and feelings. I am all of these and much more. The deep self rests in the stillness of my inner void. It is in that place that I move into true being and beyond to a “vision of the invisible.”

Journey into Darkness

The dislocation of the surface self as it journeys toward transformation has often been portrayed in mystical literature as taking place in darkness. The darkness is not to be feared because it is the dwelling place of God. I must, through entering the darkness, become relocated. In the darkness, in this new location, I find light. A theologian of the Eastern Church exclaimed, “So I am in the light, yet I am found in the middle of the darkness. So I am in the darkness, yet still I am in the middle of the light.”4 This is a perplexing problem. I came to understand it in the following way.

On a rainy, foggy afternoon, I was hiking in the Appalachian Mountains. The rain had stopped earlier that morning, and the fog had partially lifted. Deciding to chance getting caught in a sudden shower, I set out. The trails were empty of other hikers, and the woods were still and muffled by the fog. The branches of the trees hung low over the path and were heavy with rain. As I climbed higher up the mountain, a light shower began. By keeping under the trees, I was able to avoid getting too wet. The fog began to slowly descend once again. I hesitated and then chose to continue. The trail wound its way up through dense, silent forest. The fog became heavier as I continued to climb.

I was walking a lazy ascending bend in the trail. As I reached the crest, the trail ran parallel to a deep valley. I left the trail and walked onto a rock overhang and found myself gazing down into utter emptiness. The fog, having settled into the valley below, resembled a frozen sea-white-capped waves, frozen motionless in space. The fog was a pure, pristine white that glowed with an inner light, yet nothing could be seen of the valley floor. Across the valley, I could discern the dim outline of other mountains. A sudden gust of wind blew the stinging rain against my face. I watched, stunned as the frozen waves of valley fog slowly shifted. Some became like plateaus while others rose majestically far above my head. I yelled into the emptiness. The sound of my voice fell like an anvil at my feet.

I returned to the trail and climbed deeper into the forest, higher into the vacant sky. Then suddenly I was enveloped by the fog. One moment it has lingered wistfully above my head. Now, unexpectedly, I was surrounded and hidden from the world.

I was disoriented. I turned and looked back down the way I had come-the path had vanished. The sound of the falling rain was deadened by the fog’s denseness. The tree limbs, blowing ponderously in gusts of wind, were seen and heard as through water. I was nowhere; I had stepped out of time. I turned to look up the path, but, after a few feet, it too disappeared into the emptiness. Shapeless and forbidding forms loomed in the shadowy white darkness. For a moment I was afraid. My senses were useless. I could sep nothing. The sound coming out of the fog was so muffled that any attempt to determine from where I came was useless. I looked behind me once again and the way back down was gone. There was no choice. I could only continue forward.

I walked along the path, surrounded by a milky, luminous whiteness. I was in the heart of a white light and yet blinded by its presence. Like the valley of the frozen sea, it shifted before my eyes, revealing and then obscuring strange objects around me. If I reached out to grasp hold of it, it disappeared, leaving only an empty hand. I listened to the sound of rain, the blowing wind, unseen animals scurrying through the underbrush, birds flying low in the trees, breath and heartbeat, thoughts and silence. A tremor of joy and excitement: the Spirit of the Lord.

There was no meaning, only the moment. I was dislocated from rational knowing and sensory knowing. I was there and yet not there. I had become dead to the surface understanding of things. The familiar way of seeing and understanding the world around me had faded. I had become relocated. In the vision of this new location, I was empowered to see the usual from a new perspective.

The new perspective, or new location, was one of reverence and wonder. Every aspect of the earth was charged with mystery. I found myself honoring the earth because, at that moment, I saw it filled with the mystery of the Creator God. I saw in this moment my interdependence with the whole of creation. I also saw that my dependence and well-being resided in part upon the bounty of the earth. Abiding within the depths of creation is the light of God, but only by passing into darkness did the light become visible.

Danger in the Darkness

There is danger in the darkness as well as light. One can lose the way. Tillich wrote that in the depths of darkness, demonic powers also dwell.5 In the darkness, I must face my own falsehood-the deep levels of self-deception; a lifetime lived on the surface, ignoring and repressing fear and suffering. I must accept my greed, anger, lust, and a consuming desire for recognition and honor. I am many selves. In the darkness of my fragmented being, these selves battle continuously for dominance and control. There is risk and the possibility of becoming lost in the shadowy world of these various selves. But there is also hope. Tillich wrote of the “knowledge of the liberating word” by which the danger can be overcome.6 Unity with the Word comes through suffering the dislocation of my false and fragmented selves. But integration and wholeness follow, through and in the presence of the liberating Word.

The Word is the integrating factor. The Word is power and energy. It is the “God said” of the opening chapter of Genesis. It is the creative ecstasy erupting into the splendor of the cosmos.

The Word is God’s being expressed in a multitude of forms. It is that which renews-the energy that awakens the earth from the dull sleep of winter-and transforms. It is the voice within that seduces and guides into the fog of continuous conversion. In the darkness, in the heart of my self, rests the ground of my being-the Word.

Meister Eckhart wrote that

God created all things in such a way that they are not outside himself, as ignorant people falsely imagine. Rather, all creatures flow outward, but nonetheless remain within God. God created all things this way: not that they might stand outside of God, nor alongside God, nor beyond God, but that they might come into God and receive God and dwell in God.7

Eckhart also wrote, “God is at home. It is we who have gone out for a walk.”8 My being has always been in God and will always be in God. When I was in God I was “at home.” Then, in sheer exuberance, God created. It was then that I went “out for a walk.” I have been searching for the way home ever since.

There are levels of awareness within me. As long as I live on the surface, I am unaware of my place within God. The blindness is within me. It is the darkness that I must enter into if I am to relocate myself where I have always been. God is life. Anything that has life, or even more, that is created, carries a part of God and is of God. My home is in God, and God is the liberating Word.

All Is in God

“For you ask me: Who is God? What is God?” To these questions Eckhart responded, “Isness. Isness is God. Where there is isness, there is God. Creation is the giving of isness from God.”9 Stones are; there is God. Mountains are; there is God. The delicate petal of a blooming orchid is; there is God. I am; there is God. God has enfolded in love and being all that is.

“But the mark of real depth is its simplicity…. The sophisticated things do not concern us ultimately.”10 Julian of Norwich, in her direct and beautiful writing, exemplified the simplicity of the depths. She wrote,

And in this [vision] he showed me something small, no bigger than a hazelnut …. What can this be? And I was given this general answer: It is everything which is made. I was amazed that it could last …. It was so little that it could suddenly fall into nothing. And I was answered: It lasts and always will, because God loves it; and thus everything has being through the love of God,11

Next to God, creation is as a hazelnut, and I am much, much smaller than that. If I submerge myself only in the things of creation, no matter how beautiful or useful, I will remain unfulfilled. God is my home.

This does not mean, however, that I have the right to despise or ill-treat the earth. The earth, the whole of creation, has been given as a gift. I am to be a co-creator with the Creator. I am to use the gifts God has given to create. That is the purpose of my calling as well as the goal. But to create apart from the liberating Word is to create only chaos and death. Julian provides the alternative way:

I can never have love or rest or true happiness; until, that is, I am so at, tached to him that there can be no created thing between God and me.12

This does not deny the created earth. In God I find that I am truly related to all that is in fellowship, as fellow creatures of the Creator. I am to see God at work in creation, to see, as Eckhart said, that “God forever creates and forever begins to create and creatures are always being created and in the process of beginning to be created.”13

If I am able to pay attention to the “ten thousand things” around me-birthing, growing, decaying, and in turn giving rise to new life-I will see that God is present in all of them. God is the power that causes it all to happen and to continue to happen. In this seeing rests the “vision of the invisible.” The creative force within all this activity is the liberating Word: “Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made” (Jn 1: 1). The liberating Word was with God in the beginning and is God. The liberating Word is Jesus. Jesus is eternal life, and eternity is where I dwell.

Jesus: Question and Answer

In my early Christian journey, I believed Jesus was the answer. I thought he was the solution to all of life’s perplexing problems. I am no longer able to look at my faith in quite so simple a way-Jesus is more question than answer. If asked honestly over and over, I will be invited deeper and deeper, not into answers, but into a more profound question. Asking Jesus as a question, as opposed to seeking Jesus as an answer, is to invite dislocation. To view Jesus only as an answer to life’s problems is to desire to be relocated back on the surface of life. It is to run from the darkness.

As the question is asked again, the older forms of the question will simply fall away. They will not be answered. They will instead be transformed. If I am willing to wait patiently in the presence of Jesus, I will be wooed through the enticing wonder of love into deeper and deeper darkness: “So I am in the darkness, yet still I am in the middle of the light. “14 The question, instead of being answered, will be transformed into a more mysterious and solemn understanding of the question. This is the mystery of the deep self.

Jesus is the final reality that gives substance to all other realities. These other realities become real only when lived from within God. So, I must let go of all that is less than God. I must even let go of my image of God. All images, doctrines, and ideas of Jesus are less than Jesus. God is pure being. As I experience God as being, all created things are refound and re-experienced as creations of pure being.

What I find in the darkness are not answers but the liberating Word. I find an incomprehensible encounter with the God of absolute, unjudging love. I find that, in the deepest depths of the darkness of myself, Jesus weeps for my pain, my fragmentation. God longs for me to be made whole. I find that my pain is also God’s pain. God is compassion. God did not become incarnate in Jesus to protect me from pain.

The death of Jesus on the cross was the great dislocation of God. Hanging on the cross, Jesus was abandoned even by love (Mt 27:46). The resurrection of Jesus was the relocation of God, the announcement of an unending commitment, not only to humanity, but to the creation God created. Jesus remained faithful in suffering. By asking the right question, he becomes present and shares in my pain as I live through the asking.

Asking the question is a living action. Jesus is the source of the question. Living the question is a life lived in loving compassion for all things. I am a part of all things through their flowing out of God. Change is the essence of the spiritual pilgrimage. God is that which never changes because all change is of God.

I, though, am both being and becoming simultaneously. In each separate moment I am, but, as moment flows into moment, I change and become. Answers are not fluid, giving, or yielding to life. Whatever becomes hard becomes unyielding and brittle, unable to accept change. The sixth-century Chinese sage Lao Tsu observed,

A man is born gentle and weak.

At his death he is hard and stiff.

Green plants are tender and filled with sap.

At their deaths they are withered and dry.

Therefore the stiff and unbending is the disciple of death.

The gentle and yielding is the disciple of life.

Thus an army without flexibility never wins a battle.

A tree that is unbending is easily broken.

The hard and strong will fall.

The soft and weak will overcome.15

And Jesus said that the last shall be first and the meek shall inherit the earth.

Final Thoughts

The wind has increased and grown chill. The clouds have thickened, obscuring the faint light of the moon. I stand and pull my jacket tight around me. The path is not so uncertain. Joy comes softly. I must make a bold surrender. Eckhart proclaimed, “The path of which I have spoken is beautiful and pleasant and joyful and familiar.”16 I walk off into the night. I am, after all, on my way home.

NOTES

1. Paul Tillich, The Shaking ofthe Foundations (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1948), pp. 53-55.

2. Ibid., pp. 59-60.

3. James Francis Yockey, Meditations With Nicholas of Cusa (Santa Fe, NM: Bear and Company, 1987), p. 64.

4. Simeon the New Theologian, cited in George A. Malony, SJ., Prayer ofthe Heart (Notre Dame, IN: Ave Maria Press, 1981), p. 185.

5. Tillich, pp. 60-61.

6. Ibid., p. 61.

7. Matthew Fox, Meditations With Meister

Eckhart (Santa Fe, NM: Bear and Company, 1983), p. 22.

8. Ibid., p. 14.

9. Ibid., p. 12.

10. Tillich, p. 60.

11. Edmund Colledge, O.S.A., and James Walsh, S.J., Julian of Norwich: Showings (New York, Paulist Press, 1978), p. 130.

12. Ibid., p. 131.

13. Fox, p. 17.

14. Malony, p. 185.

15. Gia-Fu Feng and Jane English, Lao Tsu, Tao Te Ching (New York: Vintage Books, 1972).

Michael Gore lives in Greensboro, NC, where he works as a nurse in a long-term care facility.

Copyright Spiritual Life Spring 1999

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