If grief can be a doorway to love, then let us all weep for the world we are breaking apart so we can love it back to wholeness again.”
Robin Wall Kimmerer
So often when I feel utterly joyless, and completely weighed down by the weight of my own pain and the weight of the suffering that exists in all places amongst all peoples, I feel I am plunging off a cliff into a formless void. I am in a terrifying freefall, unbound, unmoored from all that keeps me anchored in safe places. In this void, there is no colour. I am surrounded by dark clouds, fog and mist, that even tastes thick and claggy. I do not know where to focus. Often it is some time before I remember I can focus, that I need not be completely overcome and undone by the nothingness that surrounds me. On bad health days my ‘brain fog’ feels as if it is obscuring all of me, and it leaves huge fears in its wake that I am disappearing, that I will never be able to see things clearly again. Joy is a long way off when I am feeling trapped in these places.
I am trying to find different ways of thinking about this void, this pit, this place of overwhelm. In a fascinating article entitled ‘Beyond Light Supremacy: Let There be Light *and* Darkness’, Mark Longhurst offered me this interpretation of Genesis 1:
This first “Let there be light” is, then, the creation of a spacious domain called light that is still waiting to be populated with lights themselves. Light at this point in the text is an artist’s blank canvas named light, still waiting to be painted upon with color.
Peer a bit further into the verses, and light and darkness become more mixed. Darkness becomes more mysterious and powerful. Less fearsome. When God created the heavens and earth, the earth first was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep.
Something is there in darkness, in other words, before God first says the word to let there be light.
But formless void, whatever it is, does not sound very inviting…
The Hebrew helps us capture a lighter sensibility of dark: formless void is otherwise known as tohu vabohu. The strange phrase is sometimes translated as topsy-turvy nothingness, or by one scholar named William Brown, a hodgepodge. … Come to think of it, unformed hodgepodge sounds just about right, in spite of the Genesis writer’s long outdated cosmology. The soupy mass a trillionth of a second after the big bang does seem to be a hodgepodge, what Neil Degrasse Tyson describes as “a seething soup of quarks, leptons, and their antimatter siblings, along with bosons.” …
God speaks from within, and through, the dark mystery, and the mystery arranges itself: light and dark, together. …
God says, “Let there be light” from a pregnant, dark space. …
Even in the realm of cosmology, light is not supreme. Dark matter makes up 85% of gravitational force in the universe—and nobody yet knows what it is. How’s that for a tohu vobuhu? Light itself exists on an electromagnetic spectrum—there is light we can see, and light we cannot see…. “Let there be light,” then, becomes more than divine fiat. It becomes an emergent process of light being born out of darkness, and the two co-existing as separate, but also intimately together. As the Psalmist says, far ahead of his time, “darkness is as light to you, O God.”…
This, too, I think, is the truth of our lives. The light and the darkness are bound up with one another. Spiritual transformation does not happen only on the light level. We have to do the inner work of facing the shadow, or repressed realities, of who we are, both the beautiful and the bad. Some of our most painful experiences in life—whether death, divorce, or disease—often turn out to create a capacity in us for greater love. What we think is light shows up in what we think is darkness—and vice versa.
I trust that something is being formed in the hodgepodge of my lostness, in the tohu vabohu, even when I feel at my most isolated from others, my God and myself. God is both light and dark, and even when chromophobia temporarily dominates my seeing, I trust that God’s colour mixing is forming a unique palette within me that as yet I cannot see, but that will one day – perhaps today – will flourish into a way of being, a way of giving, a way of loving with more depth and vibrancy.
Such trust keeps me being a JoyPilgrim.
Redemption is, at root, the healing of the rift which runs through the world, the rift we experience as alienation from ourselves and others and from the ground of our being.
Brother David Steindl-Rast, Music of Silence (100)
tohu vabohu. iPhone image.