Watch out now, take care
Beware of the thoughts that linger
Winding up inside your head
The hopelessness around you
In the dead of night
Beware of sadness
It can hit you
It can hurt you
Make you sore and what is more
That is not what you are here for
Lyrics by George Harrison, from Beware of Darkness
I’ve always loved that song. It is George’s aching cry to us (and I think to himself) not to be swallowed by the darkness. Sitting in my high school bedroom hiding beneath clunky headphones and a veil of Marlboro smoke, I would crank up the volume on the mournful/hopeful song, attempting to drown out the world. Sometimes I cried, sometimes I raged. I was a teenager.
In my young adulthood, I decided that feeling was too hard, so I anesthetized myself in myriad ways. I learned to deny the darkness and numb my sadness, not realizing that hiding from it simply makes it stronger.
Light in a World of Shadows
A large part of my spiritual journey has been coming to terms with the darkness in the world. I still don’t understand it, but — on a good day — I can accept the “both/and” nature of life: light and darkness, despair and joy, life and death. I have realized that in this world of shadows, my job is to turn determinedly towards the light and to absorb it into myself so that I radiate it back out into the darkness.
I may fall into sadness sometimes, but I know deep down that George was right — “that is not what I am here for.” The light that lives inside of me is stronger than the darkness that’s in me and around me.
This is one of the things that appeals to me about the person of Jesus. He is said to have mourned and wept and to have been “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief,” yet he is described by all his friends as full of light. His best buddy John said that he was a light for all people and that his “light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.” So that’s where I turn to absorb my light.
The Hungering Darkness
In his book The Hungering Dark, one of my favorite authors Frederick Buechner speaks eloquently about the darkness. This passage seems even more relevant today than it was thirty years ago when the book was written . . . uncertainty, fear, conflict.
Buechner begins with a quote from the Hebrew prophet Isaiah. I’ve chosen an Isaiah translation from The Message version of the Bible:
“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. For those who lived in a land of deep shadows — light! sunbursts of light!”
Then Buechner goes on to say:
“In one respect if in no other this metaphor of Isaiah’s is a very relevant one for us and our age because we are also, God knows, a people who walk in darkness. There seems little need to explain. If darkness is meant to suggest a world where nobody can see very well — either themselves, or each other, or where they are heading, or even where they are standing at the moment; if darkness is meant to convey a sense of uncertainty, of being lost, of being afraid; if darkness suggests conflict, conflict between races, between nations, between individuals each pretty much out for himself when you come right down to it; then we live in a world that knows much about darkness.
Darkness is what our newspapers are about. Darkness is what most of our best contemporary literature is about. Darkness fills the skies over our own cities no less than over the cities of our enemies. And in our single lives, we know much about darkness too. If we are people who pray, darkness is apt to be a lot of what our prayers are about. If we are people who do not pray, it is apt to be darkness in one form or another that has stopped our mouths.”