The line below is from Theodore Roethke and part of a poignant poem “In a Dark Time” about night and shadow—the stillness, longing ,and thoughtfulness that darkness brings. Roethke grew up in Saginaw, Michigan in the early 1900s when the town was shifting from a lumber town to a town tethered to the emerging automobile industry in Michigan. His sense of literal darkness would likely have plummeted over his lifetime, from that pre-industrial authentic dark sky experience to the skyglow of diminished darkness resulting from light pollution. But his experience of metaphorical darkness grew as his life went on: his father died when he was 14, and that same year his uncle died by suicide. He attended Harvard Law in his twenties but had to quit because of the Great Depression. After years as a professor and poet, he fought depression and experienced mental health challenges, spending time in what they called at the time the Mercywood Sanitarium in Ann Arbor. His poetry understands darkness and therefore, understands us. And theologically speaking, while he was not influenced by formal participation in religious life, he articulated “a hunt, a drive toward God.”
I believe poetry and prayer are inextricably linked. Both pursue language to attempt to name the core of human experience. Both hold the longing and emotional breadth and depth that can be written by one person and yet held as meaningful by another. Poetry and prayer are at once private and public events, intimate views into one’s personal struggle, yet powerful when shared. The public nature of poetry and prayer pull us together and remind us we are not alone.
I think this one line, so simple, holds a truth for us today, a spiritual truth, a way to open our eyes to what we might see as we experience everything that is hard about our own dark time. May this simple line bring you toward the presence of God today.
Let us pray:
In a dark time,
The eye begins to see.
—Theodore Roethke, 1908–1963
May it be so.
A new Adult Education class began Monday evening, Anti-Racism. If you missed it, want to review, or you’re curious about the class it is now available at our YouTube channel under the Adult Education Playlist.