This is from a guest blogger, my husband Kurt Ritchie. It was written for our church’s preaching series called This I Believe, and various folks from the congregation have been sharing. This week it was on Darkness and Suffering. This writing is a good and needful entre’ into Lent. May you be blessed. ~Amy
When I think of darkness I think of many things, but mostly, the joy of being in the dark, alone.
Maybe it’s that, whenever there is light, there is something which needs to be done, and I’m busy. In the dark, mostly, you just experience the dark. You don’t really get anything done.
Maybe it’s that, in the dark, there aren’t usually people around, because most people don’t like the dark. I like to be alone with my thoughts, so the dark is a good time for that.
Maybe it’s that the spirits are so close then.
Most of the encounters with spirits that you hear about happen in the dark, or in the dream state,
while our thinking self is dark.
I think most of us like to be “in charge” of what’s happening to us, most of the time,
and in the dark, we’re not so much “in charge”. The darkness is “in charge”, and it’s uncomfortable. Maybe I like discomfort, I don’t know.
Maybe too much comfort dulls the wits, and I prefer to be sharp.
One of the most vivid memories of my childhood in the mountains of Virginia are with my Uncle Bobby, when he would take me out coon hunting, on the darkest nights. I would follow him out into the dark, out into the vastness of the National Forest.
When there was a moon, we walked by that light.
When there was no moon, and it was so black that we couldn’t see our hand in front of our face,
we felt our way, with the help of his flashlight, up the hollows, and up the side of the mountain, thankful to know what it looked like in the daytime, and be able to navigate it, even in the dark.
We would walk for miles, and I stayed behind, far enough to not get hit by branches whipping around, but close enough to see the shadows cast by the light of the moon, or Bobby’s flashlight.
Even with a guide, we all have to find our own way in the woods; plant our own feet and not stumble.
On one of the blackest nights, I still remember hearing a bobcat scream, up on the mountain.
It sounds like a woman screaming. If you’ve heard the sound, you remember it. It will raise the hair on the back of your neck.
And Bobby told me what it was, and we walked on.
And the bobcat didn’t get us. Bobcats don’t eat people.
And there was always a fire burning in the stove to return to, where we warmed ourselves,
and talked about the night, and the hunt.
Years later, as an adult, there were other darknesses;
An abrupt departure from my childhood home.
I retreated to the familiar woods, staying there until I could establish myself elsewhere,
though the night scream of the bobcat, and a fear of night dwellers did still haunt my mind.
And then the vagaries of adult responsibilities, and adult love, an abandonment by my first wife,
and sleeping on the floor with my beloved dogs for nearly a year, struggling to hold a job,
because of the distractions which came from the darknesses within and around me.
Bobby wasn’t there to hold the light, but other people were.
Let us be forever grateful for the light-holders.
But I have always seemed to retreat into the night; with a fascination for the beauty of the dark.
My mistress, the dark…
It was during this time of abandonments, confusing darknesses,
and night retreats to the bosom of Flat Top and Sharp Top, the sacred Peaks of Otter,
that I wrote the theme song for the 1986 National Youth Conference.
I hiked the peaks in the dark, to sit on the ageless stone there, and watch the sun rise,
or listen to a storm climb the mountainside.
So now, even though I’m as happy as I’ve ever been, and
married to the joyfull-est person east of the Mississippi,
I still yearn for the darkness of the woods, and hold a simultaneous fear of it.
What is this all about?
What is there in the darkness to fear?
I’ve witnessed life and death in the dark;
the silent, gray passage of coyotes chasing a deer, to its death;
the groaning of ice plates on a lake, heaving up stress lines, straining to the breaking point;
Moons waxing and waning, constellations changing, climate changing,
human development shifting the balance of life, the forest disappearing…
my own fear of sleeping on the ground, and having animals sniff around my head.
What is the dark?
Is it the abode of spirit?
Is it, as I believe, our inmost self, the real “last frontier”?
I believe it strips away who we think we are,
and lays bare the fear of our own smallness and fragile-ness.
My Uncle Bobby didn’t graduate the 9th grade, but is a wise man, because he’s not trying to be anything. He’s just taking things as they come.
He’s the Monk hermit of Criders, the Desert Father of the George Washington National Forest,
The prodigy of the Bergton community Center, where he puts together jigsaw puzzles with his best friend, Jim.
And what he taught me, as a young boy,
was that fear is natural, inevitable.
Darkness is natural, inevitable.
Courage is stepping out into the darkness, letting it envelop you, become your ally.
But there does have to be a light of some kind.
The light within our hearts is capable of showing the way, when all is dark,
But having a moon, a star, a flashlight, a friend, a church,
helps us not disappear completely.
The bobcats scream in the dark, no doubt to announce themselves to other bobcats, either to keep them out of their territory, or to seek a mate. Nothing wrong with that. Bobcats don’t jump on people, why would I think they would? I don’t look like a deer.
Why would I think the intelligences of the night would mistake me for one?
What is there, still there, in the darkness, which is to serve as Teacher?
What is the lesson? Where will it take me?
What light awaits, on the other side of darkness,
what beauty, is in the darkness, waiting?