By Shirin McArthur
Twilight is a powerful time—liminal space between light and dark. We can’t see clearly as twilight envelops us. Familiar landscapes become unrecognizable. If we step out, it is into the unknown.
Our modern world does not like twilight. Just look at those photos of the earth at night and, wherever there are people, you’ll see earth lit up brighter than a Broadway marquee. We don’t like the unknown. We don’t like what we can’t clearly see.
Yet it is only in the unknown that the new can be birthed. As I continue to reflect on the CAC’s recent Conspire 2018 conference, I’m using Barbara Brown Taylor’s reflections on twilight as my launch point. Barbara is an Episcopal preacher and writer whose works I sometimes envy—if I’m honest—but she also inspires me to keep writing my own reflections, as I do here on this blog, week after week.
You see, every time I sit down at my computer, I am faced with the unknown. The blank screen is unknown territory. What I will write is often unknown to me until I venture into that twilight land. There, in being present and paying attention, new insights and wisdom reveal themselves to, in, and through me. It’s an awesome process that I attribute to my dance with the work of the Holy Spirit—and it’s one that often feels out of my control.
Take this post, for example. When I sat down to reflect on twilight, I thought I would focus on the theme of the conference, which was the path of descent being the path of transformation. But instead of descent, I’ve wandered into “unknown territory” instead. They’re related, but not identical.
Twilight is a transition time. Barbara said that the challenge of discerning what we see makes it a dangerous time. She spoke of feeling the thinness of the thread that holds us to something. She also asked us to reflect on this question: When did I last wrestle something in the dark, without knowing if it was sister, angel, or threat? Here’s what I wrote:
This conference. Was I meant to come and benefit or was it distracting from my work? That unknown kills me, over and over! I have to die to a certain expectation about the path of my life and work, over and over.
The unknown aspect of twilight is also a time of great opportunity. We find ourselves anew in the dusk. We must release what we thought we knew and open our eyes, hearts, and souls to new possibilities.
A dozen years ago, Henry was attending seminary at Andover-Newton Theological School and we lived on campus. Also on campus was a mosaic studio, in the basement of a residential building. The family of some alumnus had bequeathed his collection of glass mosaic tiles to the school, and anyone in the seminary community could take a beginning class and then make mosaics in the studio.
The photo above is of a pair of mosaics I made with those tiles. I titled them Twilight and Midnight and today they hang in my office. While I did not consciously reflect on this at the time, they do illustrate the fact that we were living in an extended period of liminal space. We thought Henry would get ordained and take a job there in Massachusetts—but that’s not what happened. Instead, we ended up traveling to the southwest, into the unknown.
There was definitely some stumbling around in the twilight, but we also grew, and eventually he did get ordained. As Barbara also said, that path of descent is not a detour. It makes us more authentically ourselves. We need to learn to fall. As Jesus says, unless a grain of wheat falls, it remains a single grain. But if it falls—and undertakes a journey into the unknown of breaking open, sprouting, and growing anew—it can yield a hundredfold.
I have published over 250 blog posts at this point. That’s certainly more than a hundredfold. I am certain that Henry has touched the lives of over a hundred people at this point in his unfolding ministry—which continues even in (official) retirement!
What twilights have you lived through? What hundredfold yields have resulted from that time in liminal space?
Shirin McArthur is a spiritual guide and writer who ponders the sacred through prayer, poetry, dance, photography, nature, and contemplation. Her mission is to help cultivate deep spiritual roots and strengthen wings for ministry of all kinds.