Entering the Evening

As you have already noticed the theme for my blog has changed. I like to mix things up every now and then because seeing the same old thing can get dull. Also, I felt like my old theme was just too much large white space. This looks better in the darker tone. I was a little apprehensive about moving to a darker tone because I’ve visited plenty of sites where the dark background clashes with other bright colors and leaves after-images in my eyes, but this theme does not seem to have this problem.

The darker theme is also fitting for this post that I have wanted to make since I started re-reading George MacDonald’s Phantastes. (Have I recommended this novel enough? I promise, I don’t get any kind of commission.) I’d like to start with a quote from one of George MacDonald’s primary inspirations for Phantastes, the German romantic poet Novalis.

“Aside I turn to the holy, unspeakable, mysterious Night. Afar lies the world, sunk in a deep grave; waste and lonely is its place. In the chords of the bosom blows a deep sadness. I am ready to sink away in drops of dew, and mingle with the ashes.– The distances of memory, the wishes of youth, the dreams of childhood, the brief joys and vain hopes of a whole long life, arise in gray garments, like an evening vapor after the sunset. In other regions the light has pitched its joyous tents. What if it should never return to its children, who wait for it with the faith of innocence?”

Later in the work:

“Down to the sweet bride, and away
To the beloved Jesus!
Courage! the evening shades grow gray,
Of all our griefs to ease us!
A dream will dash our chains apart,
And lay us on the Father’s heart.”

The full work (translated by George MacDonald no less) can be found here.

It is a fascinating change of perspective. The sun and the day traditionally have positive metaphorical associations within Christianity and the night (when thought about at all) tends to have negative associations. The Dark Night of the Soul associates the nighttime and darkness with spiritual dryness and being lost. Dante makes the same connection at the beginning of the Inferno.

But I think Novalis is absolutely correct here. The nighttime can be just as holy as the daytime. At least, I’ve always felt this to be true. I’ve always preferred to sit outside at night and look up at the stars. I find such a night sky far more beautiful than the sky during the daytime. It offers more mystery to me and a greater sense of wonder. Perhaps this is why, as a child, I wanted to be an astronaut.

John of the Cross and Dante Alighieri identify the night with trials and difficulties. And I don’t mean to downplay that aspect of our lives by praising the night. But it is interesting to me that in the church year, there are two major services associated with the night. The most obvious one is Black Friday which also leads into the Easter Vigil and they are both sombre. But there’s also December 24th. The night of adoration of the newborn Christ. A night that represents both the mystery of the Incarnation and life itself (both of Jesus, and through him of the entire world).

What Novalis is attempting to do, is to “redeem” the night from largely negative metaphorical images because it is an integral part of our lives, and in the life of the Church it is an integral part of life. Just as nighttime is daytime for the faerie in Phantastes so nighttime can be associated with more than dryness and despondency for us. It can become a metaphor for mystery, life, and adventure. In the night we can travel out into the unknown with only faith to guide us.

Perhaps the nighttime may never lose its association with the sombre, but then again there’s nothing wrong with the sombre. Pianos need the lower keys just as much as they need the higher keys. This was a truth that my charismatic college group perhaps did not understand. Typical of many charismatics the emphasis was on positivity and extroversion. But that’s only half the picture, just as the daytime is only half of the day. You can’t play a concerto with only half of a piano.

So while I appreciate what Dante and John of the Cross are trying to communicate through their metaphor, I cannot identify with the metaphor. Like Novalis I turn to the holy, unspeakable, mysterious night as part of my path to the Father’s heart. Maybe it’s a path less traveled, but it’s a path that I feel is bound up with everything else on my journey.

The Black Sea at Night by Ivan Aivazovsky

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~ by crossingthebosporus on August 23, 2012.

4 Responses to “Entering the Evening”

  1. Love the new format – and the painting – as well, of course, as your lovely attempt to redeem the night. I find it a perfect time for the Rosary and for meditation.

  2. Nicely done. In defense of the somber John of the Cross, he does say that we can see much further in the night: seeing those lights that are lost in the daylight. That we are each guided by faith during the times without God’s Divine Light streaming through to our souls requires the soul to continue to act and live as though those lights were still being given. And then the soul sees the smallest of lights that we never noticed before. The night indeed can be a great time of Grace. I think John would agree with you in that.

    • I certainly did appreciate many of John’s insights. It was more an attempt to add a balance regarding “night.” And the balance is there in the Liturgy and many practices, but it seems that popularly the night retains negative connotations and far too many Christians take it as a sign to exit the faith rather than grow deeper. I’ve had numerous conversations online with people who seem to be on the “way out the door” because they see the nighttime negatively as a rejection rather than as a time that is perhaps even more important to our lives than the “daytime.”

      John’s mention of the “small lights” is certainly also fitting to Christmas Eve where a small light entered the world in what was basically a neglected backwater. I wish I had thought of that while first composing the post, but at least it’s something extra to take away.

  3. Yes, I certainly agree that people can see the night as a time of anxiety and anticipation, which it is, and also equate it to our suffering. Though they are all true, our anticipation is for Easter Morning and Christmas Morning and the hardest of our chanllenges: the use of suffering as a redemptive time in our lives – redemptive suffering. I am always sad that the Protestants don’t have the teachings we have on redemptive suffering because it is a way to wring joy out of our deepest suffering. So, as you say, the night can be beautiful to the skilled eye. It is not something to fear and try to avoid and it certainly isn’t a reason to exit the faith.

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