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.
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 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.