The sun disappeared at noon. Three hours later, an earth covered in darkness was physically shaken by Jesus’ death. They say it was terrifying. Darkness can be terrifying. Maybe it’s because we fear things that come from the shadows. Maybe it’s because we fear the unknown. Matthew’s mysterious account doesn’t help much: “Tombs opened in the darkness and dead people emerged” (27:52).
My son Ross and I got to the trail late, but we had a good plan. Spend the night in a shelter that was just fifty yards from the parking lot, and then get up with the sun for the eight-mile hike that would get us to Siler Bald. But the shelter was overrun with people—seekers like us—excited about the looming solar eclipse. Plan B—we turned around and launched into the dark, trusting that the perfect spot to string a hammock would eventually present itself. It didn’t. The dark is not easy. The terrain is more treacherous at night, and a skittish mind is prone to make it worse—a rattlesnake in the trail, a momma bear around the bend, a serial killer behind the next tree. We’ll never get out of here alive. But we did. And we experienced life along the way. Maybe you’ve been in the darkness long enough to know. The owl has a beautiful voice. The moon filters through the gap just enough to see the wildflowers quietly dancing. And the night stream gives endless therapy to souls blinded by life in the day. I’m not quite sure how we found the place, but morning broke on our little camp, and the view from the ridge was stunning. The temptation to linger was fleeting, because we knew the cosmos was about to perform, and the once-in-a-lifetime show would not wait for laggards.
Siler Bald was a perfect theater. As the moon engulfed the sun, the afternoon sky became dark. The air became cold. The night creatures began to stir. It should have been creepy, but it wasn’t. The mysterious darkness was framed in a 360-degree sunset. And as the sun and moon waltzed in the sky, a massive crowd of earthlings was stunned into complete silence.
Barbara Brown Taylor writes about learning to walk in the dark: “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. Resurrection is always announced with Easter lilies, the sound of trumpets, bright streaming light. But it did not happen that way. If it happened in a cave, it happened in complete silence, in absolute darkness, with the smell of damp stone and dug earth in the air. New life starts in the dark. Whether it is a seed in the ground, a baby in the womb, or Jesus in the tomb, it starts in the dark.”
I have always questioned why we call such a dark day “Good Friday,” but not so much anymore. I know that beautiful things happen when the sun disappears.
To Know the Dark
by Wendell Berry
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.