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Up ahead is a neighbor’s mimosa tree; its fern-like bipinnate branches heavy with pink “hair-brush” blossoms, a few of which have dried up and litter the grass on the front lawn. I slow down, suddenly aware of a moist sweetness fanned by indolent breezes. I must have more. For long moments I inhale, keenly aware of my sense of smell, then move on down the sidewalk. During previous walks I had noticed the tree’s budding, an early summer phenomenon.

I am not alone in my wonder. Others struck by the beauty and fragrance of the mimosa tree have enshrined their experiences in myths and legends from Greece, Africa, and Indonesia. The protagonists, overwhelmed by trauma, sought the tree’s healing powers and were restored to harmony, not without bearing their scars.

This same tree has also been pivotal in my life challenges: some painful; some joyful. Its fragrance still envelops seekers within scents of the first morning of creation where all is well.

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Who were your first teachers about the dark? What impressions have you carried into adulthood: perhaps evil, danger, terror, the devil, death, bats, etc.? How do these color your perceptions and judgments today? Might there be a deeper way of considering the dark–one that enriches rather than diminishes?

Such questions find resonance in the nine essays, composed by the lunar spirit of Barbara Brown Taylor, a woman seasoned as wife, mother, grandmother, professor, theologian, and Episcopal priest. Fearlessly, she explores the underbelly of darkness from varied aspects: physical, psychological, emotional, relational, and spiritual. Each chapter is introduced by a different phase of the moon.

Strewn among these essays are anecdotes from the author’s childhood experiences with the dark, from her present communing with the drama of the night sky in rural Georgia, from caving in West Virginia, and from her visit to the crypt beneath the Gothic cathedral in Chartres, France.

What eventually emerges is a spirituality of darkness: how to find God–or let God find you–in the dark. For this, she recommends the honing of certain skills: give up running the show; expect bumps along the way that will frighten you; and ask the darkness to teach you what you need to know. A “dazzling light” does hide out in the dark.

Learning to Walk in the Dark (2014) companioned me during December’s darkness.

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Evil demoralizes, kills spirit, renders its victims helpless, seemingly abandoned by their God or gods.

A chilling instance of this scenario is found in the historical novel, The Dovekeepers (2012) written by the prolific author, Alice Hoffman. Gripped by her visit to the ruins of Masada, the 1,300-foot mesa in the Judean desert near the Dead Sea and the narration of what happened there by the historian, Josephus in The Jewish Wars, she creates a story shimmering with the Numinous. Centuries-old ritual and practice evolving from desert spirituality and mystic glimpses into nature infuse every page. The year is 71 AD.

Into this world come four refugees from Alexandria and Jerusalem: Yael, the red-haired daughter of a Sicarii; Revka, the baker’s wife; Aziza, a warrior’s daughter raised as a boy; and Shireh, versed in medicine, spells, and incantations. All are fleeing for their lives and find sanctuary with the Jewish Zealots and their families on the summit of Masada. Camped beneath them are General Silva and the Roman Tenth Legion, intent on slaughtering them.

Through the eyes of these women, intrepid, fiercely independent, and spirit-filled, the grim story unfolds; in the telling, each reflects archetypes of the Sacred Feminine, lover, mother, warrior, and healer, warring against insurmountable odds. Each resorts to violence tempered by justice and passion to survive.

A suitable template for our times, also fraught with subtle and in-your-face violence, this historical novel behooves us to arm ourselves in ultimate truth and remain vigilant.

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