Friday, October 3, 2014

Learning to Walk in the Dark ~ Book Review

Barbara Brown Taylor is one of my all-time favorite preachers and writers.  "Introduced" to her via mail as a Chautauqua Institution summer preacher by my stepsister, whose church in Clarkesville, Georgia she served as priest, I became a dedicated follower, often scheduling family vacations at Chautauqua for the weeks in which she was preaching, and inhaling her books during the rest of the year.  I had ordered Learning to Walk in the Dark before it came out, and it landed on my porch a day or two before the official sales date.
I didn't crack the cover for about six months, not until day before yesterday. Much as I admire BBT, and love to listen to her for the spectacular turn of phrase or for an idea I've never considered, I did not, it turned out, want to hear what she had to say about walking in the dark.  Walking in the dark is my main activity and area of expertise.  What could even BBT have to say to me about an enterprise I know so well?
Plenty, as it turns out.  I finally read the book on a day off designed entirely for reading and walking.  It's marvelous.
I am particularly taken with her idea of endarkenment  ~ a counter-concept to the familiar idea of enlightenment.  As you might have guessed if you haven't read it already, in Learning to Walk in the Dark BBT seeks to strip from darkness its usual associations with malevolence, sorrow, and bleakness, and to invite us to walk into the dark in anticipation of new possibilities, new wonders, and a sort of healing not available in the bright light toward which we all scurry.
The book contains a couple of intriguing chapters on her efforts to become better acquainted with darkness, one of them deep inside a cave, and another, falling asleep in a cabin as the natural light recedes for the night.  She also explores ~ just a bit ~ some of the great Biblical passages having to do with night and with darkness.  If I am at all disappointed with the book, it's due to the brevity of those reflections.  The Bible is, after all and as she notes, a great herald of light, but it is also filled with stories of the night.  I don't think that Nicodemus~ a seeker of endarkenment if ever there was one ~ even rates a mention.
Nevertheless, I am much taken with the book.  Last night, the burglar alarm went off at church, and consequently I spent the hour between 12:30 and 1:30 a.m. en route to a rendezvous with the police and then home again.  The moon, just-past-half full, hung low and huge and orange in the sky. As I passed through the empty streets, and the five minutes down a long hill through a metropark into which a parishioner has told me she would never consider driving at night,  I watched for the moon and hoped for an owl.  And I considered endarkenment ~ a benefit of being roused from bed way too early, and perhaps of the opaque places in life as well.