Book Review: "Learning to Walk in the Dark"

If I had my way, I would eliminate everything from chronic back pain to the fear of the devil from my life and the lives of those I love.  At least I think I would.  The problem is this: when, despite all my best efforts, the lights have gone off in my life, plunging me into the kind of darkness that turns my knees to water, I have not died.  The monsters have not dragged me out of bed and taken me back their lair.  Instead, I have learned things in the dark that 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."  - Barbara Brown Taylor


I first heard about Barbara Brown Taylor's book, Learning to Walk in the Darkfrom Emily P. Freeman.  She gave it a raving review.  One raving review is almost enough for me to put a book on my reading list, but this book came with more than one.  So, three weeks ago, I happily walked out of the library with a new read.

The premise of the book is that we as Christians tend to simplify the complex concept of dark like this: light=good, dark=bad.  Taylor, who has lived through some church disappointments, began to question these labels.  She wondered if dark truly was bad.  She set out on a quest to dig deep into the dark to see what answers could be found, recording her journey in this book.I could tell from the start that she wasn't sure what she would find along the way.  What the end would look like.  In that context, it was a very interesting read.  I was taken along the journey, reading her thoughts, her questions, her discoveries, never sure of where she was taking me.  In that respect, I felt a bit uncomfortable.  Since I wasn't sure where she was taking me, I wasn't sure I'd like the end.

Chapters 1-5 explored the scientific, spiritual and emotional aspects of darkness.  Night skies.  Dark emotions.  Biblical metaphors for fear.  She came at darkness from every angle.  I almost quit reading the book by chapter 5.  I just wasn't getting her.  But, the raving review haunted me so I kept reading.  I'm glad I did.

Chapter 6-7 started grabbing me.  Taylor took a trip into a cave to experience full darkness.  She is so good at detailing her experience that my senses tingled as if I was in the cave beside her.  Senses now attuned to darkness, she began to investigate what the darkness could teach her.  

In chapter 7, Taylor goes on to explain the historical genesis of the phrase, "Dark Night of the Soul." I've written about that phrase before.  I loved it already for what it meant to me.  Learning the history behind the phrase just deepened my appreciation for it.The phrase comes by way of a sixteenth century monk, John of the Cross.  During his 11 months in prison for helping spread the practice of solitude and prayer, he wrote down what the darkness taught him.  That became his book, The Dark Night of the Soul.

"Because so many have been programmed to think of 'dark' as a synonym for 'sinister,' they open The Dark Night of the Soul expecting John to tell them how awful it was and how he got through it by hanging on to his faith in God no matter what happened to him.Such readers are bound to be disappointed... For him, the dark night is a love story, full of the painful joy of seeking the most elusive lover of all." - Barbara Brown Taylor

Ahh, now you've got me.  That, I can understand.  That, I can relate to.  It reminded me of Darlene Deibler Rose's story.  Her dark night came during solitary confinement in a Japanese Prison Camp during WWII.  There is where she learned the fullness of the love of God, without feeling his presence.  (I'll have to write another book review for that story!)

Chapters 8-9 move on to Taylor's own experiences in the dark.  She did some scientific research, staying awake all night to see how the dark changes.  Watching a full moon rise and discovering the beauty we miss each night we stay indoors.  She took me along and shared the questions that came, the answers that didn't.  I found myself revisiting my own dark nights and what they taught me.  What I learned to be true that I would have missed had my trial never come.  Had I skirted around it.

I appreciate this book for the perspective it gave me.  The questions it asked of me.  It is not a self-help book.  Taylor doesn't make suggestions on how to live life better.  But the journey she shared has caused me to treasure my difficulties, my fears, for what they can teach me.  Caused me to question my distaste for hardship.  Caused me to look for beauty in places I didn't think I'd find it.   Perhaps, you could you a perspective shift too.

If you would like to buy this book, you can find it here.  By using this link, I get a few pennies back as an Amazon Affiliate.  Thanks.