The darkening evenings and darker nights of Autumn have often led people to think dark thoughts – to connect the experience of darkness with ideas of danger, and fear, and depression.
Yet to make the association that I have just done between the colour of the sky and our eyes’ perception of light, and a mood, a threat, or a mental illness, reinforces all kinds of false stereotypes. At their most extreme, these subtly and negatively warp our attitudes to ethnicity, skin colour, and the morality of those we perceive as being thereby associated with ‘light’, whiteness and positivity, or with ‘darkness’, blackness and its absence.
It’s also the case that writings about darkness in the Christian tradition do not always line up with the impressionistic divide we might ourselves create between ‘light’ and goodness; and ‘darkness’ and evil. In some of the most evocative biblical writing about darkness, the dark is the place of creativity, communication, and the fullness of life.
In the book of Genesis, right at the beginning of the Jewish and the Christian scriptures, the story of our world is told as having begun in darkness: in the darkness of what was – before anything was – into which a mysterious light shone. It shone into the deepest elements of the universe, which were split and carved up by it; divided and ordered into all the sparkling-edged dark beauty of creation by it.
Darkness can be the realm of creative possibility and potential, and the place where God’s deep magic has the most important influence for the good of all that God made to be good.
Later on in the book of Genesis, darkness provides the opportunity for dream-like encounters between humans and the God who had first formed them within the warm blackness of their mother’s wombs.
Darkness can be the realm of growth and promise, and the formative connection we all have with other human beings, and the place where we realise the possible connection between human beings and the divine presence.
And in the book of Exodus, darkness covers the land of Egypt and with it comes freedom from slavery: for the moment when the power of slave-owners is broken and then transformed in favour of the redemption for those who had been enslaved – at a terrible and conflicted cost in human life – occurs under a sky thick with the dark.
Darkness can be the realm where those who are oppressed overturn their condition, and the place where God’s salvation and freedom are able to illuminate a new, free future for a people unshackled from their bonds.
We can remember how the possibilities of darkness are perceived through the Christian tradition; we can live a little more freely, fully and positively in that darkness; we can imagine virtue, creativity and connection a little more equally beyond the divides created by negative perceptions of the dark; all together, under the beauty of the Autumnal darkening sky.