A Late Autumn Walk at Dusk
(Note: this first appeared on the Internet Monk, February 5, 2016.)
Dusk is my favorite time for walking, when the sun has just set over the western hills so that the last light of the day slowly dims like embers of a fire going out. Night is ascendant, but, for a few minutes at least, it is not fully dark. The shadows grow long and deep, but there are still gaps between the shadows where the dying light of day dimly and softly glows briefly before the full and final setting of the sun.
This transition time is particularly lovely when the moon rises, casting new shadows in its yellow-orange light. The woods become a silhouette of branches darkened to blackness in its dim glow. Nearby houses darken into the growing night, their lit windows signs of warmth and shelter.
To be outdoors at dusk is to be completely alone. The light of day is gone, and so, for a time, are the responsibilities and demands that accompany daylight. The glow of windows and all that goes on behind them are isolated islands of human habitation, whose demands now are quietly alien and distant in the gentle, soft glow of the November moon, as though I am sailing by strange shores inhabited by people with strange customs.
To be out at dusk is to be an outsider to the human world, a temporary stranger to a familiar place and to familiar people. Life’s details disappear in the night’s darkness and are revealed in new guise in the moonlight. One sees things differently. One remembers things differently. The silence of dusk both stills the mind and enlivens it. Everything is the same, but everything looks different. Having abandoned human habitation for a time, one becomes aware of a grander, deeper habitation, of which the glow of moonlight is a reminder.
In the dusk darkness, unlit by lamps and human lights, the moonlight glow is deep and rich and inviting. The sky becomes both dark and bright at the same time. One sees, but one sees little among what has now become a mass of shadows. But, what one does see is the halo glow above them, the glow that transforms black branches into geometric patterns, that transforms the broken asphalt of a country road into a thing of beauty, an unlikely reflector of a light that is itself the reflection of the light of a now unseen sun.
As heavenly bodies go, the moon is little more than a cratered, barren rock. Unlike Saturn, there are no rings around it. Unlike Jupiter, there are is no riot of color, and no giant red spot. Unlike Neptune or Uranus, the emerald-green gas giants, the moon has no color. Unlike Titan, one of Saturn’s moons, there is no atmosphere. Yet, our moon is indeed a thing of beauty when the light of the sun shines upon it. Whether harvest moon, or blood moon, or just the plain, normal moon, it is not only beautiful, but a source of light as well, a source of light that makes other ugly things beautiful.
This soft, dim glow of light reflected off the heavenly rock shining in our night’s sky points to things unseen, for those who bother to think about it. The light we see doesn’t originate in the road’s pavement, nor in the air around us, nor, even, in the moon. It’s source is unseen. We see the light and see by it, we admire its beauty, but we can’t see its source. Sometimes, of course, when the moon is crescent, we can infer the direction from which the light comes, the crescent being a sign pointing to an unseen source. From the perspective of dusk, that’s all there is to see.
This is what it is like to live in the world’s semi-darkness and to love the glow by which we notice the shadows, the glow of an indirect light by which we see what we can, but the source of which is hidden from us.
If we bother to notice, much of life is bathed in a similar glow, but one which is felt more than seen, where for no reason the mind knows we see ordinary, neighborly faces with new fondness, in a new light. Where small kindnesses appear out of life’s shadows, becoming signs pointing to kindness’ Source. Where self-sacrifices dramatic and mundane, big and small, shine gently around and even in the midst of the shadowy selfishness, greed and self-promotion that passes for human life.
There is an uncanny beauty loose in the world, if we but had the stillness of heart to notice it, if we were willing to venture out of the familiar conflicts of distracted living, of being mentally pulled and pushed electronically in a technological wasteland wonderland. But, to notice it, one must venture out and leave for a time the familiarity of normal life’s demands and expectations, and mentally walk out of the doors of habitual perceptions into the dark, where the light glows.
Sometimes it takes awhile for one’s eyes to get used to the darkness and the subtlety of dusk’s light, being blinded by the synthetic light by which we keep the darkness away. Yet, it is the darkness which differentiates the light, and if you’re going to see the real light, the light that points beyond this planet to something else, it means venturing outdoors beyond the confines of the steel-hard walls of technology, artificial connectedness, and manipulation, which we know all too intimately as a mental home that isn’t a real home. It means leaving behind bent-inward desires for other desires that take us into the revealing darkness and out of ourselves.
Yes, it’s dark out there. But, it’s the dark that enables one to see what video screens can’t show and what only human eyes and the human heart can, for it is only at dusk where one can see the light that reveals the shadows and the dark that reveals the light, and where we see the darkness-revealing light and the light-revealing darkness within our hearts.
“It was grace that taught my heart to fear,” the old hymn tells us, “and grace my fears relieved,” and so to walk in the moonlit dark is to walk in grace, the indirect light of a Presence we know in our heart, that is light and darkness, blindness and vision, by which we see what can’t be seen. This is the moonlight that beatifies and beautifies, that plants in our hearts the hope to which Dame Julian of Norwich gave witness, “That all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all matter of thing shall be well.”
To walk at dusk, to live for a time as an outsider to the surrounding islands of human habitation, is at once to see less and to see more, to see incomprehensible shadows, and also the transcendent glow of holiness. Here is the humble shalom peace that passes understanding, the inner glow of heaven’s light on a barren, rocky soul.