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Signposts: Daily Devotions

Written by Susan Hanson

Friday, December 3

[W]e look for light, but behold darkness, for brightness, but we walk in gloom.
—Isaiah 59:9

Few things are as frightening as being lost in the dark. Without the necessary landmarks, we have no sense of direction, no clue as to where we are. In the darkness, both real and imagined dangers lurk around every corner. Obstacles spring up from nowhere, causing us to stumble and fall. Our bodies slam into unseen trees or walls, we step into holes, we hear sounds that aren’t really there. Disorientation begets more fear.

And yet, for the mystics, darkness suggests something else. It is a fearsome place, all right, but it is also the place where we meet God.

What can we say of God? We might describe him by his attributes—mercy, goodness, truth—but ultimately, says the anonymous author of The Cloud of Unknowing, God cannot be named. “He may well be loved, but not thought,” writes this 14th century mystic. “By love may He be gotten and holden; but by thought never.” 

We know God, then, not through intellect, but through experience; not through what we know, but by what we cannot know. We keep our hold on God by letting go.

Simply put, there is a way of knowing the Divine that offers us no answers, only questions. It is not consoling, in the normal sense of the word, but it is remarkably safe. Though it challenges everything we think we know about God, it leaves us with God alone. To us, it looks and feels like darkness, but it is a darkness we can trust.

O God, as the days grow shorter and the night expands, help us not to fear the dark, but to find in it your presence and your warm embrace.

These Signposts originally appeared on explorefaith in 2004.