The gift of darkness
One of my cats, the one that used to roam the wilderness of Shawnee and hunt to keep the population of mice, voles, and sometimes even snakes at a minimum, has grown older and stays inside all the time now. As of the last few weeks, he’s decided that in the basement on the 2nd shelf of floor to ceiling storage, a room that is continuously dark and made of concrete, on that 2nd shelf filled with boxes of Christmas ornaments, plastic containers of at least 7 years of financial records just in case, and various other sundry items of which I know not and probably will never unpack, is the exact and perfect place to be a cat for comfort and tranquility.
While he and my old dog Bud were fast friends, Max is not so much happy about having other animals in the same space. This cat, Ringo, has shared with me on more than one occasion that he could “take him”, I’d rather not see the dust-up and its aftermath. So mostly they stay in their own sections of the house and life is calm. But now Ringo wants to be underground in the dark and cold and hard storage room. To get him out, I have a stool I climb up on, move the boxes out or to the side, and grab him by the scruff of the neck. In other words no, he does not come when he’s called.
Is it his age? A psychological break? Do I have mice or snakes of which I’m unaware? Or maybe is he simply being a cat? A bit stand-offish and aloof, prone to independence and no small amount of stubbornness, and clear that his person needs him way more than he needs his person. It’s probably the latter. My answer of which is no, in fact, I can’t leave him well enough alone, so most of the time yes, I do crawl on the stool and go through all the machinations of pulling him out. Maybe that’s not the best or most generous response. He usually doesn’t complain, but I think I have seen him give me the side eye, and it may have a touch of the stink eye to it as well.
It’s true of all of us, what’s true for Ringo, we sometimes need those hiding places where we would just as soon be left alone. Where, when someone is calling our name, we’d like to just hunker down behind the boxes a little further and hope no one sees the tips of our ears. It’s part of the sacred rhythm of life, the need for time away, time alone, and maybe even less than “full solar spirituality” which is what Barbara Brown Taylor calls it. In her book “Learning to Walk in the Dark”, she talks about visiting the Chartres Cathedral and finding a “church beneath the church” a vast crypt undamaged by the fire of 1194. In one of the small chapels underground translated in English as “Our Lady of the Underground” there is a statue of Mary and baby Jesus on the altar – Mary’s eyes closed, Jesus’ eyes open. No amount of light will open her eyes, “No amount of light can make her give up her mystery.” Author BBT goes on to say how she comes to the realization that humans need darkness as much as they need light and for her, “Our Lady of the Underground” reminds her to give her heart to them both.
“When I complain I cannot see as well at night as I can during the day, she tells me this is a good thing. ‘Maybe it will slow you down.’ When I tell her that I cannot get as much done at night because darkness makes me sleepy, she says ‘yes, that is the plan, maybe you will get some rest.’ When I point out that slowing down just makes me think about things I would rather not think about, she laughs. ‘Do you think that not thinking about them will make them go away?’”
Our gospel stories tell us Jesus kept that rhythm of life as much as he could. After receiving word that John the Baptist has been killed, we see him send the disciples into a boat to cross the lake as the sun sets while he goes by himself up in the mountains to pray. He enters the Garden of Gethsemane after dark and before the soldiers come to arrest him to spend time in prayer finally offering himself in the choice that not his will, but God’s will be done.
How do we do with quiet, with alone, with darkness? Are we willing to receive it as a gift equal to our cacophony of sound, our need for hundreds of social media “friends”, our desire to turn on every light in the house to overcome all darkness? What if that darkness had a purpose way before the ability to shove it away with artificial light? For slowing down, for rest, for moments of peace?
I am encouraging myself to know that I need not crawl on a stool and drag Ringo out of the dark caverns of a basement storage room – he will come out when he’s hungry enough. And maybe I might learn a bit from his need for solitude, for simply being and not doing, and his comfort with dark as well as light. I’ve probably pushed this metaphor about as far as it can go.
God’s promise is that God’s light will overcome all darkness. There is no need to worry or fear the natural rhythm of light and darkness, God means it for our good health and peace. In the rush of back to school, of gearing up for fall sports and music programs and getting our students from there to here and here to there in a million different directions – find some time to hunker down in your safe place of peace and quiet, even for a few precious moments. May the God of all times and places, of all darkness and all light, of all mountains and all valleys, (as musician Tauren Wells reminds us in the song below) remind us of our belovedness.