‘Like most people I have lived my life scared of the dark, fear gripping hold of my senses on many occasions.’
Extract from Luminous Dark
By Alain Emerson
Published by Muddy Pearl
These days I love running in the dark. On winter nights when the air is cold, I set off for a gentle gallop through the streets of my hometown village. Chasing the long shadows of the street lamps as the fog from my own breath dissolves on my perspiring face, I run over the motorway bridge, stealing away from the noise of the late-night commuting traffic, through the spookily serene railway crossing and eventually into the darkness of the countryside. The only thing lighting my path is the low glow of my phone, helping me navigate ankle-damaging potholes and providing a precautionary warning light for the occasional car venturing down these winding country roads. It is dark and still, dangerous and eerie, yet I am not scared.
I no longer fear the darkness.
Even though the night appears vacant, the darkness is filled with, dare I say it, ‘presence’. This is the place where I do my best thinking these days. The night is flooded with mysterious luminosity. It is here my mind and soul are laid bare, the imposter is exposed and my true self revealed. And I rediscover how deeply known and loved I am.
It hasn’t always been that way though.
Like most people I have lived my life scared of the dark, fear gripping hold of my senses on many occasions. From night-time walks as a child, up the creaking long corridor while the whole house was asleep, to wandering the ghostly back streets of townships in Soweto, searching for runaway street-kids as a gap-year volunteer. Darkness for me has been synonymous with fear, confusion and disorientation. It has both frightened and disconcerted me, sending shivers through my spine and causing my knees to buckle.
Yet something changed when I learned, or rather was forced, to stare darkness in the eye, when I was summoned to front it up square in the face. I discovered something liberating happens when we acknowledge the genuine fear we are experiencing from the darkness that surrounds us and yet refuse to let that fear have the last say. Further, the fear is disarmed when we discover there is a light concealed within that very darkness. When we apprehend a certain quality to darkness which draws us further in, beyond what normal feeling or thoughts can comprehend. This is a discovery that cannot simply be learned in abstraction, only encountered as we choose to enter in.
What do I mean? Let me try to explain.
In 2007, when I experienced the great loss of my life, I found myself for long days walking down dark trails of grief ending only in cul-de-sacs. This was due in equal measure to my inability to process my pain, and the incapacity and ignorance of the culture around me to accept the reality of loss and grief.
I hope this book can connect with all who read it, for, truthfully, the valley of the shadow of death, and the way of suffering, grief and loss, is a terrain we all must travel at some point in this life. Loss is woven into the fabric of life and the choice we all have to make is how we will travel through this valley when it is our turn to walk it: we will lose the one we loved most in life; we will do something we never thought we would do; the ideal we carried for years will get smashed up right in front of our face; we will enter the cloud of unknowing for a season where the heavens seem like brass. Love and loss, presence and absence, suffering and resurrection; these are not sets of opposites, rather they ebb and flow together in this current of life on earth. Darkness in this world is as real for most people as light, pain more common than wholeness, loneliness more felt than belonging.
I’ve tried to be as true to myself as I can be; I am a Christian and have been nurtured in that faith tradition all my life. If you are not a Christian, or from a different tradition of faith, I hope you will not find this disengaging. Rather I would encourage you to stay curious with me as I try to genuinely wrestle myself into a reoriented faith space.
Luminous Dark by Alain Emerson is published on 31 October by Muddy Pearl priced £12.99.