By Alton Pollard, III, Ph.D.
For as long as I can remember I have understood darkness to be a blessed and sacred gift. The Book of the Record confidently declares, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me become night … the darkness and light are both alike to Thee.” (Psalm 139: 11-12) The world of my experience has left me deeply contemplative of the mysteries of the universe and awash with the profound recognition there is far more to life than meets the eye.
I welcome the cascading nightfall and embrace the cessation of the day’s activity. In the early hours of the morning I arise to pray, reflect and write accompanied by the moonlit sky and stars. In the dark of night my soul is still. At the inward turning, I can hear the Ancestral call. On the inward journey, I am met at the center of my being. I am filled with joy and wonder. I am unhurried. I am understood. I am searched by the deep things of life and tasked with the glad responsibility to consider anew the meaning of my days.
Sixty years ago, Howard Thurman described his own nocturnal encounters and the ground of hope in the struggle against segregation as “The Luminous Darkness.” For me, the luminous darkness is an authenticating experience that affirms the cosmos of the dark night and the melanin quotient of my own dark skin. It is a conduit to the extraordinary wisdom embodied in Black lives and embedded in every life. It is a creative encounter that embraces my Africanity and restores our humanity in common. It is a centering cognition that the contradictions of life are not final. It disrupts all manner of hierarchy, faction and dualism. It is a source of universal significance that makes one whole.
The luminous darkness extends far beyond the reach of the celestial cycles of night to the interior dimensions of the self, where the One who bottoms existence is also mysteriously and marvelously to be found. Darkness has its scientific, aesthetic and cultural definitions of course. But the incredible paradox for we who dare to believe is this: In our wrenching humanity resides a resplendent strength. There is a divine imperative that calls us to move beyond our will to quarantine and find the courage to love.
As we celebrate this season of Advent and Christmas, with great joy and rejoicing, I cannot help but think about the hardship and trouble, heartache and pain, so many people, families and communities are experiencing in our world. In reflecting on the birth of Jesus, and the signs and wonders of the season, I cannot help but wonder as well about our penchant as humans to dehumanize one another. Lest we forget, the current climate of horrific violence, violation and incivility in our world is not at all new. Self-aware as a species, we are also given to self-destroy.
From time immemorial, gross inhumanity has been justified in the name of religion. America’s own homegrown divisions, brutalities, ideologies and machinations — anti-Black, anti-brown, anti-women, anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, anti-poor, anti-gay, anti-gun reform, anti-environment, and anti-democracy; indeed our seeming opposition to all that is equitable, virtuous and just — are no less on the wrong side of history. Not only are our actions against humanity; they are against God. The current social animus is a terrifying companion to our yuletide cheer.
On a silent night two thousand years ago a child was born, a gift, that finally we might see beyond our petty clashes and conflicts, and places of power, prestige and privilege. So it is written. In the glaring light of day, we see death and violence as our bitter agony. Under the divine scrutiny of starlit night, we are called to embrace the better angels of our nature that lead to life. Immersed in the radiant darkness, my every prayer and dedication is to live a life that promotes justice and makes for peace.
Dean and Professor of Religion and Culture at Howard University School of Divinity. Follow Alton B. Pollard, III, Ph.D. on Twitter:www.twitter.com/@DeanABPIII