The first time I ever heard Barbara Brown Taylor in person was about fifteen years ago when she came to the church where I served as associate pastor and preached for a Sunday morning worship service. As a young woman in ministry dreaming about the elusive possibility of claiming a place in the pulpit, it was quite a thrilling experience to see her preach and know that it could be done. I must have looked rather enraptured the whole time she was there, as a visitor in church asked me if I was her personal assistant. If only!
Fifteen years later I know a lot more than I did then, and I had another opportunity to see Barbara Brown Taylor speak. This time around I enjoyed her accessibility—I imagine that the things she talked about were largely part of the experience of most of us listening. I also appreciated the thought she’d given to her topic, thought that I could resonate with and maybe could even come up with on my own, if only I had the time and discipline.
The lecture was about BBT’s new book titled Learning to Walk in the Dark, which will be published in 2013. Her main point seemed to be that we have learned to think of darkness as synonymous with danger or doom or something bad. She maintains that perhaps we have allowed our societal associations to color the darkness in such a way that we have lost its power to heal us.
She began her talk by telling us about Dante’s Down the Hatch, a very strange underground jazz club in Atlanta where she worked during seminary. Coloring pictures for us of all the different kinds of people who were patrons at Dante’s, along with what it felt like to sleep during the day and stay awake during those dark hours of the night, Taylor began to build her argument for reclaiming the darkness.
After all, she pointed out, darkness was there before God created light…the text says that darkness covered the face of the deep. Sounds ominous, but what if it’s not, really? After all, light wouldn’t exist without darkness having been there first, right? And she points to study after study that shows we need darkness, to sleep, to become rejuvenated, to still our racing minds and to rest.
I suspect that, living out in the country as she does, Barbara Brown Taylor got the idea for this fresh and interesting topic by wandering through the woods at night, staring up through inky black darkness at the stars.
As I sat there in the artificial light of the chapel where she spoke, smack in the middle of the largest electric light pollution on the planet, the East Coast of the United States, I felt compelled by her argument. She made me want to reclaim the darkness, to try to imagine that it’s not something from which I need to be saved but instead a beautiful creation of God which we’d do well to reclaim for purposes of healing our world-weary souls.
If you look at it that way, there’s even room to reclaim some of the darkness of our own lives, dark seasons where we could barely see far enough to take the next step. What if these, too, are infused with the very breath of God and holy in the deepest sense of the word?
It’s been fifteen years since I saw her last, but as I walked out into the inky darkness of the cold autumn night to head home, I was glad to have seen BBT again, and to have been invited to think in new ways about my life and my faith…and my darkness.