To Know the Dark, Go Dark

“What are you reading?” he asks, diving onto the bed, pulling Nana’s afghan over his body as he curls next to me.
“Some poems,” I answer, showing him the cover of the Wendell Berry collection I picked up from the library. “I don’t usually read poetry,” I admit, “but sometimes it’s good to try something new.”

“Read me one,” he says, pulling the afghan up to his chin.
I flip through the book to find the the shortest poem. I read “To Know the Dark” aloud, because it’s only four lines:

To go in the dark with a light is to know the light.
To know the dark, go dark. Go without sight,
and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings,
and is traveled by dark feet and dark wings

“So what’s the answer?” Rowan asks.
“What do you mean, ‘the answer’?” I say.

“You know,” he says, “The answer. The answer to the poem.”
He thinks it’s a riddle. Too much Harry Potter and Percy Jackson, evidently.

“Oh honey, there’s no one answer,” I say. “That’s the hard part and the wonderful part about poetry, there’s not just one right answer.”
He pauses a moment, considering. “It’s a bat,” he says. “It’s about a bat.”

I read the lines again. “Yeah, I can see how you would say that,” I say. “Because of the part that says ‘without sight,” and the ‘dark feet and dark wings.’” Rowan nods, pleased.
He stays under the afghan to hear another poem, and then, concluding this one is about a tiger, he leaps off the bed and out the door, leaving me under the afghan alone, thinking about his question.

What’s the answer?
I think sometimes I approach faith the same way Rowan approached the poem. What’s the answer, I want to know. THE answer. And while I know that Jesus is the be-all-and-end-all answer, and that’s all, in the end, I really need to know, I often find myself grappling for other answers to questions that gnaw at me, the why questions.

Why did my cousin die before she reached age 30?
Why did my children’s grandparents die too soon, leaving them with this empty, awful grief?

Why do 26,000 kids die every single day because they don’t have access to water, something as simple and readily available as water?
Why, in short, does suffering exist? And why doesn’t God do anything about it?

I want THE answer to that question. And others.
Religion, like poetry, doesn’t provide all the answers.  We might get hints. We might get flashes of clarity, moments of illumination, but a lot of the time, we live in the dark, turning questions around in our heads, trying to figure out the why, searching the Bible for answers, praying for the peace that passes all understanding.

Maybe though, what I need to do is revisit the answer I offered Rowan about poetry. Maybe the hard part and the wonderful part about questions in faith is that there isn’t just one right answer.
Maybe God doesn't give us all the answers because we need to know the dark, to go dark,  to see for ourselves that even the dark blooms and sings.
“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”  -- Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

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Jean Wise  – (November 9, 2012 at 5:40 AM)  

I love your conversations with your kids! This post is so thought provoking. Great way to start the day

Anna White –   – (November 9, 2012 at 5:58 AM)  

I love that quote from Rilke. It's hard to love the questions some days. I guess that's where faith comes in. I love that he decided all the poems were about animals. That is precious.

S. Etole –   – (November 9, 2012 at 6:26 AM)  

As Jean said, what a great way to start the day as I await dawn. Love how kids can open our eyes to new ways of seeing.

Gaby  – (November 9, 2012 at 6:40 AM)  

Maybe we simply would not understand the answer. Have you ever tried to explain why you had to say no to one of your kids and the answer completely makes sense to you but to them it just seems unfair and incomprehensible because they are just too young or with too little life experience to get it just yet? Eventually you just have to say: "trust me on this. I'm the mommy and I love you and if I say no it's for your sake, even though you don't get it." I don't know. I think God has to do that with me a bit.

Michelle DeRusha  – (November 9, 2012 at 7:04 AM)  

It's boys always get me thinking about God, life, the world, everything, in a new way.

Michelle DeRusha  – (November 9, 2012 at 7:05 AM)  

I know, it cracked me up - we watch a lot of Animal Kingdomon Animal Planet around here - he's got animals on the brain.
And yes, what you said: it's hard to love the questions sometimes. Love might be too strong a word...maybe endure is better?

Michelle DeRusha  – (November 9, 2012 at 7:06 AM)  

I know...whe Rowan left the room I thought, wow, he's really got me thinking now!

Nancy Franson  – (November 9, 2012 at 8:04 AM)  

The fabulous Lyla Lindquist recommended a book to me awhile back--The Folly of Prayer, by Matt Woodlief? I think. Anyway, your post reminded me of something he wrote about not fearing the darkness because Jesus descended deeper into the darkness than we ever will and he conquered it. It's hard living with the questions, but I am trying to remind myself not to be so fearful of it.

Christie Purifoy  – (November 9, 2012 at 9:24 AM)  

"Even the dark blooms and sings." Those are beautiful, hard, must-remember words.

Michelle DeRusha  – (November 9, 2012 at 10:34 AM)  

I had to sit with that poem awhile before those lines really sank in. Maybe that's my problem with poetry? Maybe I don't spend enough time with it? I think perhaps a 4-line poem is the best bet for me right now!

Linda Chontos –   – (November 9, 2012 at 10:35 AM)  

We talked about this (the no answers, not the poem :) ) in bible study this past week. We decided He is sovereign and has "mysteries know to no one." I agree Michelle. There is no one right answer.
Friend, your writing grows richer and deeper every day. I'm praying for you as you write. He is going to use your gift in a mighty way.

Michelle DeRusha  – (November 9, 2012 at 10:37 AM)  

That reminds me of the Nicene Creed, you know the line where it says, "He descended into Hell." I always wonder about that. I mean, did he really go to Hell? I think variations on that prayer phrase it differently - I don't remember saying "he descended into Hell" when I was a Catholic.

Michelle DeRusha  – (November 9, 2012 at 9:00 PM)  

Linda, you are SO kind and generous. Thank YOU. xxoo

Glenda Childers –   – (November 10, 2012 at 6:17 AM)  

This is a beautiful post and illustrates what I love best about parenting ... catching those moments when they come. (Even thought this was not the point of the post.)


Sandra Heska King  – (November 10, 2012 at 7:52 AM)  

I haven't read any Wendell Berry yet. I need to.

Live the questions now because we might not be able to live the answers. And the dark blooms and sings. I'll be living with these today.

Keri Wyatt Kent  – (November 10, 2012 at 10:21 AM)  

Michelle, great post. The Rilke quote is one of my favorites. Altho, I am still waiting for that "distant day" when I'll live into the answer. But yes--we have to have the courage to walk into the dark and know it (as best we can--and maybe that means realizing we can't figure it all out). Very thought provoking.

Amy L. Sullivan  – (November 11, 2012 at 6:17 AM)  

I think you nailed it.

God doesn't give us all the answers because we never pay attention to the things people tell us. Think of all the advice from our parents that we happily ignored, only to later find out they were right. Darn it!

Anyway, he wants us to live it so we can truly experiences. Yes, I believe that to be true, very, very true.

Hazel Moon –   – (November 11, 2012 at 10:18 AM)  

Such beautiful insight for such a young lad !!

Nancy Franson  – (November 12, 2012 at 10:59 AM)  

I know some folks in Protestant churches also struggle with those words, both in the Nicene and Apostles' Creed. I think there are some different terms--Sheol, the grave, for example, which are sometimes translated as Hell. from their original biblical languages, though I'm no scholar in biblical translation. One of the darkest realities of Hell, however, is eternal separation from God's presence, and Christ experienced that separation from his Father when he descended to the grave. Could there be anything darker, anything more lacking in hope, than separation from God's healing presence?

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