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Darkness can give light to our spiritual life

The winsome, insightful prose of Barbara Brown Taylor has somehow remained one of the best-kept secrets from modern lay Christians.

However, from her landmark book on preaching used in seminaries throughout the world, “The Preaching Life,” to a recent bestseller about her journey from church to the academy, “Leaving Church,” Taylor’s writing can speak to the hearts of both women and men seeking to make sense of their faith in a modern world of intense loneliness, religious rage and instability. 

Taylor has given us a great gift in her latest book.

“Learning to Walk in the Dark” revolves around a metaphor of darkness. Taylor makes the case that, metaphorically speaking, night has more to teach us than day. 

Barbara Brown Taylor. Learning to Walk in the Dark. San Francisco: HarperOne, 2014. 208 pages. $24.99

The dominant metaphor in Western Christianity of understanding the life of faith is that of light. However, in this book, Taylor argues that Scripture, creation and experience teach us that formation happens not in the day, but in the uncertainty of the night. Day and night depend upon each other, and Taylor offers a corrective to the popular belief that we cannot learn from, grow in, or trust the dark. 

She writes: “Darkness is shorthand for anything that scares me — either because I am sure that I do not have the resources to survive it or because I do not want to find out. The problem is this … I could never have learned in the light, things that have saved my life over and over again, so that there is really only one logical conclusion. I need darkness as much as I need light.” 

The payoff for reading Taylor over the past two decades is tangible in my own life. Her metaphors, stories and confessions will continue to speak to you long after the last sentence of this book. 

Her words have a way of stoking a fiery conversation for months to come — words that will prompt you to walk into the darkness, knees trembling, hands shaking, asking God, “Come to me like you did to Jacob … as with Mary, the mother of Jesus. Speak to me in the dark. I will wait all night to hear from you.” That’s something I wrote in the margin of a page as I read the book. 

This book is full of tiny but brilliant nuggets of gold. Some examples are her treatment of darkness in Jesus’ life (early morning prayers and the night vigil in the Garden of Gethsemane). 

Taylor makes the monumental theological observation from the gospels: “By all accounts, a stone blocked the entrance to the cave so that there were no witnesses to the resurrection … new life starts in the dark.  Whether it is a seed in the ground, a baby in the womb, or Jesus in the tomb, it starts in the dark.” 

Overall, Taylor’s book is both a personal and spiritual guide through the seasons of darkness that come to all of us. 

A pastoral caution for those who love to read and decide to read this book: If paradox is not your friend, Taylor’s work could prove difficult, troubling and disconcerting. 

If paradox has become a constant companion in your spiritual journey —as is the case in my life— Taylor will prove to be just the oasis you’ve been searching for in the journey of hunting for God in the desert. 

Churches of Christ are known for our passion for the Bible. In this book, Taylor shows us the shadow sides of Scripture — places, themes, plots and characters we easily omit or run past, too frightened at the darkness to take a second look. 

Taylor gives us a thousand reasons to stop fearing the dark. God does not sleep. God is not sleeping. God is holding the world together in the day and in the night. 

We need not be afraid. 

JOSH GRAVES is preaching and teaching minister for the Otter Creek Church of Christ in Nashville, Tenn. He is author of “The Feast,” “Heaven on Earth” and “How Not to Kill a Muslim.” Follow him on Twitter @joshgraves and read his religion pieces at foxnews.com.

Filed under: Features Reviews

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