When I explore my own nature, or experience the sacred, most often I feel a deepening into darkness. Although dominating theologies create binaries, in which light is good and darkness is evil, when we recognize the multivalent nature of all that is, we see wave upon wave of dark and light.
by Rabbi Fern Feldman
Some say they want to “embrace the dark” when they mean, embrace the grief, anger and suffering in the world, and be present with it, rather than denying, ignoring or hating it. But that is not the aspect of sacred dark that interests me most.
What interests me is how in darkness all separation dissolves into oneness. Darkness is depths, womb, soil where seeds sprout, soothing shade, night in which we grow and make long-term memory. Darkness is source, essence, innermost being, transcendence, nothingness, emptiness, mystery.
When we discount the power of darkness, we devalue all one might associate with it—dark skin, women, and the earth. Audre Lord wrote: “The woman’s place of power within each of us is neither white nor surface; it is dark, it is ancient, and it is deep.” (from “Poetry is not Luxury”, in Sister Outsider, 1984)
We need the holiness, and the liberating power, of deepening into the dark.
Jewish tradition evokes many forms of sacred darkness. Nighttime study brings a thread of loving-kindness into the world. Divine presence can be a sheltering shade. Revelations occur at caves. Torah was received in darkness, formed of black fire on white fire, and still the ink is black. The infinite source of all is imagined as a burning black coal or a deep spring. Before God said “Let there be light” there was already darkness, the darkness of wisdom and beyond. These images, and the texts that hold them, are openings that take us deeper into the sacred.
In Genesis, before God said “let there be light” there was “darkness over the face of the deep, the spirit/wind [ruach] of God brooding/hovering over the face of the water” (Gen.1:2). Biblical poetry is often structured with two parallel stitches in a verse. In this case “over the face of the deep” parallels “over the face of the water”, and “darkness” parallels “the spirit/wind of God”. There is something profoundly holy about this darkness, which Genesis tells us pre-existed what we think of as creation.
The creation story starts by saying “B’reishit bara Elohim et hashamayim v’et ha’aretz”, a strange grammatical structure saying something like “With a beginning of, God created the heavens and the earth.” The 4th-5th century CE midrashic collection, Genesis Rabbah (and subsequent Jewish tradition) interprets this “beginning” to be wisdom—Ḥokhmah. That is, with wisdom God created the heavens and the earth. In the proof text for this interpretation, Proverbs Chapter 8, Ḥokhmah is envisioned as a crone, standing at the crossroads. She says
It is Wisdom calling, Understanding raising her voice. She takes her stand at the topmost heights, by the wayside, at the crossroads…God created me at the beginning of His path (reishit darko).
Here we are given a vision of ancient dark female wisdom, assisting in the birthing of the world. The darkness in which all boundaries dissolve is a pathway that can take us beyond our individual selves into something bigger.
Featured Image: Nick Foster (UK), via Flickr