A reflection by Dea Podhajsky
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”
― Martin Luther King Jr
Poetry brings me peace. It makes me think. It makes me laugh and it makes me righteously angry. Poetry sings to my soul.
Recently Taking Down the Tree by Jane Kenyon was a selection on The Slow Down, a poetry podcast. In introducing the poem, the host, Ada Limon, talked about her feelings while taking down her Christmas tree. She spoke of how taking off the tree’s lights pushed a reset button, “returning the world to good and honest darkness.”
Good and honest are curious adjectives to modify darkness. We have been taught that light is good and darkness is evil. Death and darkness are often intwined images. Darkness is also associated with nothingness and decreased sunlight can cause changes in one’s body chemistry which might lead to depression, weak bones, and heart trouble. None of which denotes either good or honest.
I am a person who loves light. I hated the seemingly endless days of driving to work in the dark and returning home in the dark. When I retired and moved from Washington to Arizona, I reveled in its 290 plus days with sun. This year when I took down my Christmas decorations, I repurposed the lights to make a mediation space in my living room. Truly, good and honest would never have been the modifiers I choose for dark I’d select words like dismal, depressing, bleak, or foreboding.
The Bible is full of images of light and darkness and in them darkness is not characterized as good and honest. Genesis states “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day. In John we read, “Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life.”
The first reading from for the Feast of the Epiphany (the week in which I am writing this) contains images of light and darkness “Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you. For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the LORD will arise upon you, and his glory will appear over you. Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.”
When I taught poetry, we would discuss the use of purposely ambiguous language. Some students thought the whole idea was stupid. “Why not say what you mean?” But the point is that ambiguity forces the reader to think and make decisions on what they believe the author to have meant..
I don’t know what Ada Limon was thinking when she labeled darkness good and honest but I know the questions that choice generated within me when I read them. How can one appreciate light without darkness? How can one understand Jesus’s words in John without a concept of darkness? How can one comprehend the words from Genesis, “And God saw that the light was good.” without having the counterpoint of darkness.?
Recognizing the darkness that surrounds us and is within us forces us to confront injustice, see other’s pains, and strive to act on the power of light and love that is in us all. Yes, our world does contain good and honest darkness.
“Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.”
― Leonard Cohen