When I was young, I remember going out at night to the backyard of my family’s home and staring up at the sky. It seemed as though I could stay there for hours just gazing into the heavens. In one of my grade school science classes, we learned about stellar constellations. I learned to identify a few things like the Big Dipper and Orion’s Belt. But mostly, I just liked to look at the night sky.
Over the years, I’ve continued to watch the night sky. I have friends who are interested in astronomy and know exactly when different luminaries can be seen. At one point, I bought a few books and read about the movements of heavenly bodies in the Northern hemisphere. I even remember a few things that I read. But mostly, I just enjoy looking at the night sky and allowing myself to experience wonder.
One of the things that strikes me about the night sky is how much of the space is dark. When I lived in the Sonoran Desert, there were many more visible stars than in other parts of the country like Pennsylvania or Missouri. But most of the night sky is simply dark, with shades of black, deep purple, and a rich blue.
Some people think of the darkness as the background for the glimmering light of stars. While it’s true that darkness does enable the distant light to appear more brightly, I find that that the presence of the dark is just as important as the light. The dark and light coexist with each other. Together they create the beauty of the night sky.
While the glittering lights are stars and planets shining light toward us, the dark of the sky is formed by the great expanses of nothingness. Mile upon mile, light year upon light year, space is comprised of expansive emptiness. It’s emptiness and darkness that fill outer space. Yes, empty, cold, and foreboding.
Having spent years of gazing at the night sky, I’ve come to learn that the sky has lessons for our lives. One, in particular, is a difficult lesson for many people: the importance of the dark, empty moments in life that can sometimes seem as vast as the dark emptiness of outer space.
I suspect most of us want to avoid the empty, dark places of our lives. The truth is that each of us encounters foreboding times. Some writers like St. John of the Cross have explored the experience of void under descriptions like the dark night of the senses and the dark night of the soul. Other writers have suggested that the dark moments in life make the bright moments even brighter. They sometimes understand dark, difficult times as something we just need to get through. Still others suggest that the experience of darkness is evidence of not living the right way or believing the correct things. For them, the experience of darkness is a sign that we’ve done something wrong.
I don’t share any of these perspectives. Instead, dark times in life is simply a part of all of our lives, just as the bright moments. It doesn’t help to resist the dark times or view them with struggle. Just as we live into the positive, happy, fulfilling moments in life, we also need to live into and be comfortable with the dark times.
I remember visiting with my father some time before his death. His breathing was labored and he didn’t appear to be conscious of my presence even when I spoke with him or stroked his head. As the evening drew on, I sat in his room with a book. I read a bit, but mostly I just sat with him. It was a kind of vigil. It’s not that it was a pleasant place to be. It surely wasn’t a happy time. There was a heaviness, a darkness to the experience. Yet, being there for that time was something profoundly good.
Living into other dark times of life is much like that. We simply need to be there, to rest in the moment, to be present. Resisting it or attempting to look for a glimmer of light reduces the essential quality of that dark experience. Darkness needs to be accepted on its own terms just as it is. In such acceptance, the darkness has the potential to be something profoundly good.
Yes, that’s one of the lessons I’ve learned from years of gazing at the night sky. There’s more emptiness and darkness than there is twinkling light of the stars. That empty darkness is essential to the beauty of the sky, just as it is essential for the beauty of our lives.
© 2012, emerging by Lou Kavar, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.