Darkness has gotten a bad rap! It has been misinterpreted for many years. This essay is an attempt to explore the meaning of darkness in scripture as a place of meeting The
Father, and the place of origin and creativity. This piece then goes on to explore a part of the nature of Christ which most involves the hidden meeting space with The Father–Christ’s priesthood. I then lightly touch on two other aspects of Christ which He integrates seamlessly in Himself and would like to help us incarnate in our own lives through His Spirit. Enjoy…
From the start of Genesis–beginnings- there are the basic characteristics of God’s creative nature: hiddeness, hovering, brooding in darkness, then separating, naming, dividing. This is mirrored in human birth which is much like the process of God’s art making. There is the darkness in the womb, then the formation in the secret place, then the breaking of the waters (just like the separation of water from water in Gen. 1:6), and then the baby emerges into light and is named, and separated from the mother’s body, and begins to grow and teem with its own new life.
Creativity has this pattern. It deals with origins or birth itself. It starts in hiddeness or darkness, or the secret place of meeting. Artist mirror this process. We start by hovering or brooding over our canvas, or the page or sound, color, textures. There is mystery and unseen involved; then gradually we begin to see distinct parts which can be separated and named-“Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear” God says. That is the moment in the creative process where we start to see what it is we are creating, and help shape or edited it into full expression.
Notice too, that in the Genesis account, God starts by hovering over the formless and empty darkness which was over the surface of the deep. The deep is hidden, mysterious, and here God is hovering over it! This description of beginnings, was the start of God’s creative process in making the earth. “Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” That is where creativity begins in hovering over darkness. Then watch what happens.
And God said, “Let there be light”–immediately He shines light (understanding) over it all so things can be delineated. In this light, He separates night from day and names them, and even goes on to name the times in between day and night–dusk and twilight, or evening and morning, which still seem to contain the mystery of each! We see this same pattern in the creative process. When we are making art, there is this need to shed light on it after hovering and start separating the elements involved. And transitional stages come into light.
Art reflects origins, birth, hiddeness, but also symbolic delineation!
Let me skip ahead to David’s Psalm, which sheds light on darkness.
Meditating on darkness in terms of Psalm 139– darkness is seen as place of secrecy, place of birth, the womb, place of origins. David says that Sheol was also a possible place of meeting God (for if I make my bed in hell, there You are also!), just as he did when in the womb (“You knit me together in my mother’s womb, in the secret place”). David had to trust God while even in the womb! For there he was being “knit together in secret”. This has to do with trusting God in those darker spaces as well–places of mystery, in ourselves, in the world, in Him. You see, prefigured, Jesus’ tomb here, or Jonah, the prophet, in the belly of whale, praying to God, and meeting him there–there in the darkness God was forming the new man. It is a place of formation. So you see that as artist we are free to meet God wherever He leads us, because there is no place in ourselves or the world or history where God was and is not present.
We tend to want to avoid the darker aspects of ourselves and history itself. And while it is good to avoid our sinful nature, it is a mistake to avoid darkness! For this song is saying that God is also there working, birthing, forming, in a wondrous way-it is in fact, the place of redemption which continuously erupts into history. He is also intimating here, that hell itself is a place of formation, a place from which in those three days, Christ lead out captives. So we do not need to avoid darkness, nor can we, for it is an aspect of God. I do not mean sin, I mean darkness.
When we avoid the areas of darkness in our own lives, we miss out on a huge portion of God’s celebration of our identity, and His Own! Identity itself is formed in the womb or place of dark mystery as David wrote in Psalm 139. “You knit me together in the secret place.” In this hiddeness, God formed our unique identities. We began in this mysterious dark place, and then God brought us out into the light, made distinctions, gave us names, delineated us with unique contours and callings. He tells Jeremiah, “I knew you in the womb, and called you as a prophet to the nations.”
The enemy has associated dark with evil. But David, says, “You make the darkness light around me, for darkness is as light to You!” It is an aspect of God Himself, otherwise why make night, or hover above the waters, or knit us together in the womb etc..
DARKNESS WASN’T EVIL!!! In God’s creation, He said the night and the day were both good!!!
The true meaning of darkness has to do with origins, mystery, the hidden-the unfathomable depths. Perhaps it is better to speak of God’s mystery or hidden aspects rather than His darkness, because of the misuse of this word. In the church, darkness=sin. But sin is something else outside of color metaphors!
The hovering is the right activity-the correct orientation to true darkness–hovering over and contemplating this “dark” aspect of God’s being–this mysterious aspect–the tomb, the womb–the place of reformation and new beginnings!!!
Even in looking at “darker” aspects of human history, we often see places of rebirth–martyrdom itself has great mystery and God’s hiddeness around it–what exactly happened to Stephen and the others–that passage is shrouded and yet also echoes the mystery of the death of Jesus Himself!
I think butoh dance in post war Japan and other forms of grotesque art started out exploring this aspect, but then some got stuck in just sinfulness-or exploring man’s depravity. An exploration of sin is not worthy.
The misinformation around God’s darkness is meant to keep people from knowing the mysteries of God! There is a block here at these gates to keep man from knowing parts of God!
So, darkness is not sin. It is an aspect of The Father, which is meant to be hovered over and known. It represents God’s mysterious aspects. David could say that to God dark is as light–not that they are the same, but that the are connected by dawn and dusk–in God there is a continuum!! He is ONE, and so are night and day, and the transitions between them–there is a continuum in Him, and all the earth is the Lord’s, and He rules of every dimension of Reality. If I make my bed in hell, or soar on the wings of the morning, behold, God is there! Where can I flee from His Presence?
Now, I want to transition or expand this subject into a consideration of the priesthood of God. Since, priesthood occurs in mystery, and involves a symbolic communication before God Himself, it is often pictured in scripture as partially veiled or curtained off. The Holy of Holies, the most charged God filled spot in the old testament temple was curtained off, and could only be entered by the few.
Just as Moses was unseen on the top of Mount Sinai, so the symbolic functions of the priesthood of Christ are often hidden from us. And yet, this aspect of the Life of Christ- including His intercession for us before His Father- is an extremely important part of His Identity. I believe His Preisthood is ranked highest in authority because it is solely unto The Father. This is the place where the law was given, this is the holy of holies, this is where humanity encounters The Mighty Creator of all! As Hebrews tells us, He is our High Priest, and we in Him must come to know His Priestly nature. And in Him, the veil has been torn, given us free access into the holy of holies! This is also related to the highest role of art and creative process.
ROLE OF ARTIST
Artist just like the levites in scripture are involved in symbolic communication. They are also, in their highest function responsible for the meeting place or tabernacle between God and humanity. In the old testament, some levites were given to basic tabernacle maintenance, others to guard the gates, others to maintain the symbolic tools for ritual. All artist were meant in this sense to maintain the space where God meets humanity! This is the highest context for art. It is not necessarily religious, but it is a spiritual function in society. It is to maintain a space for God to meet with people.
If one of the primary functions of artist is priestly, then to understand the nature of God’s symbolic creative process is basic to understanding a context for art making. It is also a part of getting to know and love more of Our Creator! We need to understand what part of His Image we are highlighting by being artists. And we need to understand the nature of the symbolic. This was the role of the priest in Jewish scripture. The Levites did not just maintain the meeting place between Divinity and Humanity, which is one of the roles of the artist; but also did unseen symbolic activities within the temple. They understood the order and nature of this symbolic exchange with God.
Some artists are called to the outer courts, like many of the levites, others to move more in the line of Aaron and go within the veils and do their symbols directly before The Most High. Either way, artists, in moving in His priestly function, are reflecting the symbolic nature of God, and this is the context for art. In short, God is symbolic, and we being made in His Image, are also symbolic. And God uses artists to remind us and foreground this aspect of His Nature.
THREE ASPECTS OF THE LIFE OF CHRIST
As members or partakers in the Life of Christ, we all have access to this Priestly Life. Artist just foreground this one aspect of the Life of God more overtly. But we also each have access to His Prophetic and Kingly Nature. These three dimensions of Christ, are meant to work in tandem in us and on earth, as they do in Him. For instance, artists (priestly) and business (kingly) should be in proper relationship to one another! Each of us tend to highlight one of these aspects more than the other, but we each as members of His Body have access to all three!
Christ’s Priestly nature could be pictured by Moses at the top of the mountain. Here is the place of exchange and Divine encounter. Once Moses has the communication in hand, he heads down the mountain as a prophet and delivers the message to the people. This is the prophetic function. Then it must be managed in the people, distributed wisely and maintained in the social lives of the people-this is the Kingly or Rulership aspect of Christ. A King manages, builds, teaches distributes, protects, brings order and peace and justice. All three of these aspects work together in Christ. You can see David as prefiguring this in his combination of all three in his years as king. He worshiped and made art (priestly), he delivered messages from on high (prophetic), and he administered justice, protection and peace (kingly). In fact, he often prayed from his priestly function, for his kingly one. This is a fascinating model of having the three aspects of Christ integrated in one man. It is possible! We also can pray from our priestly nature for our kingly one in Him! How cool is that!
You see in scripture other characters like Samuel who combine priest and prophet. When Saul finds Samuel to seek the location of his father’s donkeys, Samuel is on the way up the mount to burn offerings–ie to do priestly symbolic exchange with God; Samuel tells him he will come back down and eat with him and tell him what he wants to know–this is the prophetic function in him. These two aspects were both needed in Samuel’s time and he clearly moved in both!
The church should, of course, have all three parts of the life of Christ functioning together–especially at the leadership levels. But as we all have access to the life of Jesus Christ, we each should each be getting to know and love all three of these amazing aspects of His Life! I think in our generation, He is making all three more mature and integrated in us, and that in our time, there will be a maturation within the church of all three as well. For He is making a fuller image of Himself as Priest, Prophet, and The King of Kings as His Kingdom presses in!
As artist, we have the privelege of leading others into His hidden priestly functions, and at times also delivering His messages into society. This is the privelege of participating with and in Christ in His Priestly and Prophetic functions. We deal in hiddeness and hover over God’s mysteries. There is such a privilege to dwelling on this portion of the mountain, and a challenge to download the full expression of it; at the same time, we need the kingly portions of Christ life. To gain His passion for wise distribotion of resources, fair exhanges of these resources, and a heart to protect and serve all the people in our domains. We need to not have dualisms between creativity and business for instance, between art and justice; between beauty and serving the poor. We too, need to be kings, and one’s who also understand the darkness and mysteries of Our God!