I have only ever experienced total darkness once in my life. It is a strange sensation. Usually when one talks about being in complete darkness it really isn’t. Imperceivably, a bit of light enters the darkness allowing one’s eyes to adjust.
The occasion I experienced total darkness was on a tour of the Blue John Mines in Derbyshire, UK. It was over thirty years ago so memories of the trip are sketchy, but I do remember the guide telling the group about total darkness. As we were underground with no natural light source it would be experienced when the guide turned the electric lights off. It was a little unnerving. In total darkness eyes do not adjust, so shapes do not start to loom. It was an interesting experience.
The lectionary reading today is in the Gospel of John. The text talks about light and darkness (John 12:20-36). In the passage, Jesus is urging the disciples to become children of light. It is a theme that runs throughout the Gospel of John.
It set me thinking about the dichotomy of dark and light where dark is perceived as bad and light as good. Culturally it is a small step to move from dark and light to black and white where black is perceived as bad and white as good. Words and phrases like black sheep, blackmail, the dark side, under a dark cloud or a black mood convey this sentiment. In contrast white is used to signify goodness or purity with phrases like as pure as the driven snow. White wedding dresses signify purity.
I wondered if it was time to change the metaphor. Perhaps, in some way, this is a continuation of my thinking during the week. Andy and I are engaged in writing the manuscript for our next book on nonviolent childcare. This week one of the areas we have been focusing on is racism.
Language is important. It conveys thought and meaning. Often language changes gradually over time, but sometimes it must be worked at. Our community over the years has worked very hard to try and rid the idea that God is male. Of course, everyone knew God is spirit, neither male or female, but language with the use of masculine pronouns paints a picture of a male God. The challenge was thrown out to try referring to God with feminine pronouns for at least three months to become as comfortable with a feminine metaphor for God as a male one. Andy and I read books on feminist theology, highlighted Biblical texts which used female images for God and stop using male pronouns for God in writing and speaking. It was a slow process, but the language and image of God is changing.
Maybe it is time to work hard at changing the images of darkness and light, black and white. In the same way that contemporary language was used to reinforce the idea of a male God so too language can reinforce the idea that blackness is bad and whiteness is good.
Of course, I am not saying that we get rid of the words light and darkness, black and white but that we are careful in their use. I believe it is time to stop using black as referring to bad and white denoting good especially when this may be related to persons, even subconsciously, thus giving rise to a form of racism. Images can be redefined, darkness and black can be acknowledged as good. We will always have light and dark. I love the contrast between night and day.
Many times, children have come to live with us who have expressed fear of the dark. I tell them to make friends with the dark. The darkness is as precious as the light. It is a time when refreshment and renewal of our bodies takes place. The text for today also talks about a seed falling into the ground (24). Most seeds need to germinate in the dark. That is where life begins.
Darkness is good and welcomed. Care needs to be taken that language does not reflect otherwise.
Photo: Derwent Water, UK. August 2017.