The September night is long but no sleep comes. I get up and sit at the mouth of the tent. There is an awareness of a sea of time stretching ahead with no articulations in it but day and night. What a long night! Till now I hardly knew that night existed. I settle down to wondering if I have ever in my life experienced day and night as natural phases. They (and their different parts) are usually experienced as if they were all about us and our doings: parts of our programme. Evening, for example, is a collective dream of later-on, a fantasy about rest and freedom, harking back perhaps to school-days; someone called it "the shock-absorber everything rests on." Night is not really night, since it no longer puts an end to day. But on this pilgrimage, day and night will show themselves, I hope, in a new way. There is no doubt that night has fallen now on Lough Leane. The lake's face reflects starlight, and this scant light conveys the deepest sense of darkness. It has not the closeness of pitch darkness; it leaves a sense of distance, making darkness visible. I have to live with this darkness and not seek to impose distractions on it. It is something essential; darkness is always said to be deep. It has a velvety quality that seems beautiful as I become used to it.
Darkness is enchanting; it is like a desert where all parts are the same. Or it is like being under water: you sink into it and it swallows you. (Nature wisely protects us from too much of it, giving only one night at a time.) It is the perfect condition for deep meditation. The superficial differences between things are faded out and darkness shows you the heart of the matter. Night is for silence and rest: it is for when all is said and done. And when all is said and done, you see how little you know about anything. Yet this could be a blessing: to know about the world is not much.
The word about is like a wedge driven between you and the object of your knowledge. That wedge does not drive the world out; it drives you out of the world. You are on the outside, cold and nervous, hoarding information like gold. But in darkness you are one with the world; you are on the inside; it includes you like a vast room…. Yes, night is the time for meditation.
There is a tradition that sees God not simply as light but as darkness too: "translucent darkness", said Dionysius; "a silent hovering darkness", said Henry Suso; "an ineffable darkness", said Tauler, as he quoted Proclus with approval: "a divine darkness, tranquil, silent, at rest, and out of reach of the senses." You could scarcely endure the thought of God if God had nothing to do with darkness. There would be no bridge between God and some of the deepest things in your own nature. Seeds consent to sprout only in the darkness of the earth; in broad daylight they wither. The heart is fruitful like the earth, and needs darkness to enfold new life. Meister Eckhart paraphrased a verse from the Book of Wisdom: "In the middle of the night when all things were in a quiet silence, there was spoken to me a hidden word."
From Take Nothing for the Journey: Meditations on Time and Place,
by Donagh O'Shea, Dominican Publications, Dublin, 1990 (2nd edition, 2013)