Entering Endarkenment with Barbara Brown Taylor

This book review is by my spouse, Courtney Perry.


Ray Wylie Hubbard first awakened me to that word when I heard him sing “A. Enlightenment, B. Endarkenment (Hint: There is no C)” at a party in Texas.  I laughed aloud, surprised at the witty mouthful of words he jammed into a mere song chorus, looking at my (now-)husband as if to say, “Are you hearing this? Am I even hearing this?”

I didn’t actually reflect upon the meaning of endarkenment, however, until I read it in Barbara Brown Taylor’s book Learning to Walk in the Dark.

“ . . . I realize that in a whole lifetime spent with seekers of enlightenment, I have never once heard anyone speak in hushed tones about the value of endarkenment.  The great mystics of the Christian tradition all describe it as part of the journey into God, but it has been a long time since The Cloud of Unknowing was on anyone’s bestseller list.” (p. 86)

Then I had to ask Wikipedia what The Cloud of Unknowing is:

The Cloud of Unknowing (Middle English: The Cloude of Unknowyng) is an anonymous work of Christian mysticism written in Middle English in the latter half of the 14th century. The text is a spiritual guide on contemplative prayer in the late Middle Ages. The underlying message of this work proposes that the only way to truly “know” God is to abandon all preconceived notions and beliefs or “knowledge” about God and be courageous enough to surrender your mind and ego to the realm of “unknowingness,” at which point, you begin to glimpse the true nature of God.

I’ve always been a proponent of introspective alone time, but that’s generally when I inspire myself by reading positive, hopeful texts and meditating to feel a powerful connection to the Universe/God.  It’s my upper.  Where I struggle is sitting in the stew of a miserable situation which I cannot change and which seems to have no positive outcome.  If I can’t make a circumstance lighter (less-weighty) or see how it could improve, I’m left feeling incapacitated and confused.  (Our dear friend and Enneagram master Suzanne Stabile says that all Enneagram 7’s — as I am, indicated by the prior sentence — must read this book.)  What Learning to Walk in the Dark reminds me is it’s in that moment of immobile despair that true growth occurs. 

Following a path of lunar spirituality, BBT walks us through a visceral experience of darkness that offers positive dark imagery to be collected and carried.  Night-blooming flowers, the unfathomable expanse of a starry skyscape (which is rendered invisible/unknowable by city lights), the biological necessity of sleep during nighttime hours.  Many beautiful and beneficial things happen expressly in the dark.  As a photographer who began working in a darkroom, I love to recall the magic born in that blackness. BBT also speaks of the over-done metaphor of light/awakening, even in the Bible, and how the hyper-idealized sense of light and demonized sense of darkness has fed ideas of racism and fear through the ages.

The world is infinitely more complex than a simple understanding of light and dark.  Spending time with this text, as I did while in a place of acute discomfort, allowed me to step back and take in the fullness of the bounty of darkness.  The book won’t fix your problems.  It won’t make you instantly happy.  But in the rich text I found affirmation of my own time spent in the darkness.

25 Books Every Christian Should Read (and I Agree!)

This is a sponsored post and part of the Patheos Book Club. Check out the Book Club for more posts on this book and for responses from the editors.

When I got this book — 25 Books Every Christian Should Read: A Guide to the Essential Spiritual Classics — in the mail, I was looking to pick a fight.  There was no way I was going to agree with all 25, probably not even half.  In fact, I’d say that the content of this book is right in my wheelhouse.  I had to come up with just such a list for the first year of the D.Min. course I’m teaching at Fuller Seminary, though my list is closer to 50 books.

So I got the book, and opened the front cover, ready to argue with the choices, ready to point out the obvious and not-so-obvious theological biases that went into the compilation of the list.

But I’m happy to report that, as well as admiring the editorial board that compiled this list, I really like their list.  Here it is:

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Rob Bell and HarperOne: Marketing that Works

Remember how I said that, on the one hand, the Calvinistas  have been waiting for enough evidence to throw Rob Bell (the Jason Bourne of Christianity) into the outer darkness (even if Rob doesn’t believe in an outer darkness 😉 )?  And, on the other hand, I predicted that Rob would not take the bait?  Those both seem to be holding true, at least for now.

There’s another player in this story, too.  That’s HarperOne, the publisher of Rob’s new book.  While I don’t know Rob, I do know the people at HarperOne.  They are not underhanded marketers.  I am guessing that the marketing copy they wrote, which has been widely quoted (and which you can read on the Amazon page for the book), was meant to be provocative.  But I don’t think they were so calculating as to think that they were poking a sharp stick in John Piper’s eye.  In fact, their back cover copy on Rob’s book isn’t out-of-step with what they’ve used to promote Brian McLaren’s latest books.

What I’m saying is that I part ways with many other bloggers on this subject — I do not think that HarperOne was attempting to stir up controversy in releasing a provocative paragraph of marketing copy and a promotional video for Rob’s book.  But that copy and video, and a couple leaked chapters of the book were enough to hook Justin Taylor, who blogged about it over the weekend.  Then John Piper decided that he’d promote Rob’s book with a link to Taylor’s blog and a simple three-word tweet:

Piper’s tweet was, as you can see, retweeted scores of time.  That drove traffic to Taylor’s blog, to be sure.  But it also drove interest in the book.  Here’s how the phrase, “rob bell” has trended on Google over the past 30 days:

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