I have a close relative who had a relatively brief out-of-body experience as a child when she died and was resuscitated. She generally prefers not to talk about this experience and would rather people not know of it, but she did tell me the story once. I’ve never forgotten it, but it only served to whet my curiosity to know more. Ever since, I’ve been fascinated by the reports of people’s experiences like this.
There was a recent one published in Newsweek by a neurosurgeon who had always been skeptical of the reality of life-after-death experiences. In enjoyed reading his account with his neurological understanding of what was happening to him woven into the story, but there was one particular part of the story that particularly caught my attention.
At one point during his experience, he entered an area that he describes as “an inky darkness that was also full to brimming with light.” (See page 3 of the online article.) While he doesn’t spend much time on this part of the story, he does mention that a 17th-century Christian poet made a similar reference to a place that was “the home of the Divine itself.”
I have always thought of God as being Light, so the idea of God being both “an inky darkness” AND “full to brimming with light” made me pause. I don’t know how to picture what that combination would be like, and yet there is a sense of intuitive rightness in that description.
I think of God as being the perfect balance in all things—both male and female, both just and merciful, both silent and communicating—so it makes sense that God would also be both darkness and light. After all, our lives as humans are always a blend of darkness and light in our experiences, our motivations, our emotions, our thoughts.
I am not a theologian (nor do I play one on TV), so I can’t even begin to explain this. But I do know that this thought brings me comfort. It is comforting to think of God being the light in the darkness that I experience, and how much more comforting it is to think that God is the light and the darkness in every experience.
I should be clear and say that I do not think of darkness as evil and light as good, as many people think of it. I think of darkness more as the unknown, the shadows (mine and others) that I cannot see clearly, the doubts, the fears, the hard stuff of life that we all must walk through in order to grow. I am not at all saying that I think God causes evil or is evil, nor even that God causes pain or suffering. I am simply saying that God is as much that which is unknown as that which is known, that God is just as present in the hard stuff as in the blessings, that God encompasses every bit of our experience.
I may be wrong. But isn’t that part of what living in faith is? Doing my best to live within the understanding I’ve been given while always being open to grow into greater understanding—even when that means accepting that an earlier understanding was wrong?
And in this moment, I find my faith enlarged by this idea of God as “an inky darkness that was also full to brimming with light.” I am comforted by an image of the Divine that can be present with me in every aspect of life, the light and the darkness.
“… even the darkness is not dark to you, the night is as bright as the day, for the darkness is as light to you.” (Psalms 139:12, NRSV)
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