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Learning to Walk in the Dark Hardcover – April 8, 2014
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Best-selling author and former Episcopal priest Taylor returns with another thoughtful book. This time Taylor confronts head-on faith and, most significantly, the dark night of the soul. But really this is a meditation on darkness itself—more a journal, she emphasizes, than a manual. What does Taylor mean by darkness? Darkness, she writes, is “shorthand for anything that scares me.” That could include something as profound as the absence of God to the fear of dementia to the loss of family and friends, as well as that “nagging” question of “what it will feel like to die.” She recounts how she became impatient with church teachings that accentuated the light while denying the existence of darkness, and comments on the difference between faith and belief, certainty and trust. An elegant writer with the common touch, Taylor is always a wonderful guide to the spiritual world, and this book is no exception. Here she encourages us to turn out the lights and embrace the spiritual darkness, for it is in the dark, she maintains, that one can truly see. --June Sawyers
“Few souls are as synched to the world’s mysteries as Barbara Brown Taylor’s.... Taylor writes spiritual nonfiction that rivals the poetic power of C.S. Lewis and Frederick Buechner.” (TIME)
“Taylor challenges our negative associations with darkness and our attraction to light in this thought-provoking new book. She draws on her own experiences—from exploring caves and experimenting with blindness, to her questioning of her own religious training and faith—to explore what might be gained by embracing darkness.” (Spirituality & Health)
“An elegant writer with the common touch, Taylor is always a wonderful guide to the spiritual world, and this book is no exception. Here she encourages us to turn out the lights and embrace the spiritual darkness, for it is in the dark, she maintains, that one can truly see.” (Booklist)
“Taylor writes with consistent charm and an unobtrusive faith in God; her work is certain to appeal to… fans of Annie Dillard and Anne Lamott.” (Library Journal)
“Compellingly makes the case for why darkness is as necessary to our well-being as light. . . . A charming, witty and wise guide into the heart of darkness. . . . There is plenty here to ponder.” (Shelf Awareness)
“Reading Barbara Brown Taylor’s writing stuns me, challenges me, and heals me, both with the beauty of her prose and the depth of her wisdom. A gift to every person who’s felt the darkness but not had the words to articulate it… A truly beautiful book.” (Shauna Niequist, author of Bread & Wine)
“Eyes wide open, Barbara Brown Taylor has written a precise and evocative field guide to the dark. Exploring the complex and generative terrain of twilight and absence on her own terms, she generously includes us on her journeys, and encourages us to make our own.” (Sharon Salzberg, author of Real Happiness and Lovingkindness)
“Beautiful. Profound. Nourishing. I have needed to read this book for a long time.” (Lauren Winner, author of Still and Girl Meets God)
“Offers a different way of looking at darkness, not as something to be feared, but as something to be embraced.” (Interfaith Voices, NPR)
“Barbara Brown Taylor shows readers that dark times can be great times of learning. The former Episcopalian priest shares her experiences of walking through the dark in her own life. … She takes the reader on a journey to explore and understand the ‘dark’ better.” (CBA Retailers magazine)
“Taylor is one of those rare people who truly can see the holy in everything.” (Publishers Weekly (starred review))
“Taylor offers no consolation for those who demand the banishment of darkness. But to those willing to enter the darkness and wait in silence, she gives hope.” (The Covenant Companion)
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This is a beautiful exploration of darkness in all of its aspects--something I have seldom read about. Actual physical darkness--as in the night. The dark side of our emotions. Darkness in the Bible and how it is not always presented negatively. It is a fresh look at a somewhat scary topic. The author shares her personal experiences with darkness of all sorts from her past--from working at night as a student, to laying in her yard and being in darkness while looking at the night sky, to having times of depression--and explores how they have helped her to understand the positive and helpful role of darkness.
For me, this book helped me to see darkness differently, not to just immediately feel as though I need to eradicate it by turning on a light. Not to just feel as though I need to run from my difficult emotions.
As I read, I found myself being anxious at times, relaxed at others, very curious all the time, but mostly just glad I got to read another book by this author. I have read her two previous books, enjoyed them, and given them five stars as well; I do think this is my favorite of all of them. I think that this book helped me to "befriend" darkness of all sorts, a great contribution to my life.
This is not a book filled with answers; on the contrary, it raises many questions and stimulates the reader to explore darkness in their own lives. I would say that the reader needs to be open to questioning themselves and to not be looking for black and white answers from the author--although this is a book from a Christian perspective it is not really a Christian book per se and I think that people of any faith orientation except for fundamentalist will enjoy it.
Taylor lets us share her experiences with darkness: a summer night job as a cocktail waitress at Dante's Down the Hatch in Underground Atlanta before and between her school years as a seminary student, a visit to a cave in West Virginia, a trip to Atlanta where she participated in a "Dialogue in the Dark," when she experienced what it was like to be blind, a night spent with only her dog Dancer in a twelve by twelve-foot cabin in the woods with no power where she was not hampered by artificial light, a visit to higher ground to view the last full moonrise of the year. Then there is a chapter entitled "The Dark Night of the Soul," which might just be the best chapter of all. (This "cloudy evening of the soul" that Barbara wrestles with is a little like what the great poet Emily Dickinson, herself no stranger to darkness, might call her "hour of lead.") She also discusses the passages in the Bible that indicate that darkness is good, reminding us that God had Abraham to look up into the night sky and told him that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars, that Jacob's dream occurred at night, not in the day, that in Genesis there was darkness before light. Barbara also quotes theologians and psychologists and provides a bibliography of her research, if that is the right word.
All the above is well and good. But what always brings me back to Barbara is that she is so good with words. She is a poet as much as a preacher. I love her imagery: "half-baked images of God," "peepholes into God," "salt sea of grief." How about this sentence? "I cannot say for sure when my reliable ideas about God began to slip away, but the big chest I used to keep them in is smaller than a shoebox now." And her books and sermons are always sprinkled with quotations from poets, some I know and some I don't. This time she introduced me to Li-Young Lee. (As I read this compelling book , I kept thinking of the line from a Robert Frost poem: "but no, I was out for stars" as well as "the woods are lovely, dark and deep," which would indicate that Mr. Frost may have something positive to say about darkness too.)
Barbara concludes in the Epilogue that learning to walk in the dark has enabled her to take back her faith and that "Among the other treasures of darkness I have dug up along the way are a new collection of Bible stories that all happen after dark, a new set of teachers who know their way around the dark, a deeper reverence for the cloud of unknowing, a greater ability to abide in God's absence, and--by far the most valuable of all--a fresh baptism in the truth that loss is the way of life." She also writes of her own mortality and the limited time she has left. I for one hope she lives longer than Studs Terkel and has many more books in her like this one. Or should she choose just to plant a garden of night-blooming flowers, that would be fine as well.