“Then the people stood at a distance, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was.” (Exodus 20:21)
Darkness is, to many, scary; it evokes feelings of the unknown, of uncertainty of what lies immediately before you. Darkness allows for the unconscious to run amok, pulling on our fears or even desires that we would rather shun. Darkness can indeed be scary. In Exodus 20, the Israelite people are being told the Ten Commandments by God and God is shrouded in darkness; smoke, thunder and lightning envelope God’s presence. The darkness, the thing that taps into the unknown and the unconscious, is where God resides. The people are afraid, yet Moses draws close to God, to mediate for the afeard people. Moses was not scared of the darkness, for he knew God was there.
Light and dark have been mythologised to mean good and evil, of how “…the light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it…” (John 1:5); but there is also the idea that “…even the darkness is not dark to [God]…” (Psalm 139:12a). Darkness may appear scary to us; the unknown may appear scary to us; the unconscious desires and thoughts that dwell deep inside of us may appear scary; yet these things are not unknown to God. In fact, darkness can be a good thing.
In darkness, there can be a deep understanding, a deep realisation, a deep revelation of God. Moses went up the mountain that was ensnared by darkness so that he could encounter God. The Eastern Orthodox practice of hesychasm is just this (which is also similar to the Jewish tradition of Merkabah). It is about going in on yourself, blocking out all external stimulus to encounter God. It is a form of prayer-meditation that helps us seek out God in the darkness of the soul.
Within the smoke, the thick darkness, draw near to where God is.
Try this form of prayer-meditation by using the Jesus Prayer, which goes like this: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” But it can be as short as: “Jesus, have mercy.” Use the following guide to help in this prayer:
- Either sit upright in a chair or kneel on the floor (using cushions or a prayer stool if wanted).
- Pause for a moment to settle into this time of prayer.
- Say the words of the Jesus prayer slowly; you may want to say them with your breathing (breathing in saying, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God,” and breathing out saying, “Have mercy on me, a sinner.”)
- Aim to spend 20 minutes doing this, but do not feel guilty or ashamed if you don’t manage that length of time. You may want to make a few attempts to get to this length of time.
For more information on the Jesus Prayer, look at this link: https://www.orthodoxprayer.org/Articles_files/Ware-7%20Breathing%20Exercises.html