The darkest of rooms

To know the dark, go dark. Go without sight, and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings.

-Wendell Berry

In college I spent a lot of time in Bethel’s photography dark room. During a particularly hard stretch of time, I wanted nothing more than to shut myself in the dark room all alone with film, water, developer, safelights, trays, film tanks and reels, tongs, thermometers, and photo paper. The dark room became for me a place of refuge and escape during a difficult time in my life.

I wouldn’t trade my darkroom time for anything.  I learned to be alone with and not defeated by my insecurities and fears. I learned that even in the darkest of places, new images and new life could still be developed. And I learned that in the world of darkroom photography, light spoiled everything. Sometimes, as Poet William Stafford once said, we must dim the world to see our true path. Sometimes light hides and darkness reveals.

Our Advent theme this year is “Joyful is the Dark,” a phrase that is often met with a puzzled look followed by “huh?” We don’t usually treat darkness and joy as friends. And yet, as Barbara Brown Taylor writes in her book “Learning to Walk in the Dark,” there are things we can learn in the dark that we can’t learn in the light.

During the education hour this Sunday at Rainbow, we will reflect some more on finding joy in darkness, whether that darkness be physical or emotional.  I’ve asked four people who have read Barbara Brown Taylor’s book (Ally Mabry, Bob Carlson, Diane Richardson Spaite, and Je T’aime Taylor) to offer some reflections.  If you haven’t read Barbara Brown Taylor’s book, that’s ok. You can read a summary of her book here:

In preparation for Sunday, I invite everyone to reflect on the following questions:

  • What do we lose out on when we automatically equate darkness with sin and danger and light with right/good/truth?
  • What are your positive and negative associations with darkness? What were you taught about darkness growing up?
  • Many of us are surrounded by a lot of artificial light. What impact does so much artificial light have on our bodies, minds, and spirits?
  • And I love this question that comes from Rainbow congregant Kimberly Hunter: How do we (especially Christians whose narrative so often demonizes darkness) help our culture re-imagine darkness without belittling people’s interpretation/experience of oppression as “dark”?”  Or as Ally Mabry puts it, how do we decipher what is transformative darkness and what is crippling darkness?
  • Finally, Barbara Brown Taylor  encourages us to wrestle with the following questions regarding the darkness that is fear: Where do we feel fear in our bodies? What stories do we tell ourselves to keep fear in place?  What helps us stay conscious even when we are afraid?

I’ll end with one of my favorite photos I developed during my darkroom days. I didn’t get an A on this project (I was still learning how to develop photos), but these are the faces and friendships that continue to help me through some of my own fears and insecurities, or what we might call “dark nights of the soul.”


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