In a previous era of my life I was a midwife. I helped women give birth at home.
It was during those years that I began to appreciate the dark. So much of the work of birth and/or the births themselves happened at night. Driving around the back woods of Wisconsin, the fecundity of those night hours opened my consciousness to the fecundity of other places of darkness – the womb in which human and much other animal life begins, the soil in which most plant life begins, the darkness before the Big Bang out of which the cosmos began.
How curious it is to me that in our culture, with this experience of darkness we share with all other humans, we tend to view darkness as bad. For a lot of us, the dark is a frightening place. It is where we imagine malevolence and danger lurk. It is where it is more difficult for us to maintain the illusion that we are in control of our lives. And that unsettles, if not terrifies many of us. As a result we have lit up our nights. We have filled them with diversions. We have become light junkies.
Perhaps this is nothing new. Perhaps our fear of the dark is a holdover from our days when real danger did lurk just outside the light from the fire around which we sat. Maybe anxiety about “things that go bump in the night” has become hard-wired in us, even though we no longer live our progenitors’ caveman/ woman existence. And maybe that helps explain why so many of us worship a God of whom we are afraid. It is as though God might as well be in the dark for all we can see him/her/it. And being beyond our seeing, and therefore our Knowing, much less our controlling, it is understandable that we could have come to believe in a God of whom it makes sense to be afraid.
But a God who dwells in the darkness and is to be feared does not have to be the whole story, much less the only story. We could, if we chose, reconnect with the darkness that is fertile and life-giving. If we did, might that not change our concept of God who dwells there? Why in an age when fear is all around wouldn’t all of us (or at least all of us who believe there is God) want to do that? After all, who wants to be afraid all the time?
In the Christian scriptures darkness is associated both with sin and death as well as with fecundity and new life. There must be some reason as a religion that we have come down as heavily on the sin and death side as we have. I wonder if we resist trading in a God who resides in a frightening darkness for a God who comes out of a life-giving and fertile darkness because it smacks too much of the feminine? Might our fear of darkness be as much about a cloaked patriarchy desperate to suppress a rising feminine consciousness as it is about lions and tigers and bears in the night woods? And if it is, might the fear of a feminine divine be at the heart of it all?
I wonder, too, if patriarchy’s sense of losing control is at the heart of not only misogyny but also racism. We humans are pattern seeking creatures. I can’t help but wonder how this all ties to Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Freddie Gray, and so many more.
Leigh Waggoner is priest at St. Barnabas Episcopal Church. She can be reached at 565-7865, or firstname.lastname@example.org.