On Thresholds of Light and Darkness

Al & Mia McKay
March 23 2020


We live life as a series of thresholds, different experiences that evoke a range of feelings and understandings. In the creation of our world, God established marks of separation.

And God said , “Let there be lights in the dome of the sky to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years, and let them be lights in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth,”  And it was so….  And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day” (Genesis 1:14 -15, 19).

I find it fascinating that God introduced both the light and the dark into our world. 

We think— sometimes naively—that it would be a better world without darkness. On one hand, God does not have anything to do with darkness, but, of course, light is the contrast to the dark. 

As we grow, we develop a relationship with the physical darkness around us and become aware of spiritual darkness. We often wonder if any of God’s light can touch us there.  I have talked to men and women who feel extremely frustrated with their lives because a deep sense of darkness within them is manifest as loneliness, shame, and lack of self-worth: “If you really knew me you would not like me or love me.”

In his book Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom, John O’Donohue cautions us about our desire to “invade the Divine,” which he uses to refer to the sacred space around a temple, or in this case, our soul.

He writes:

“The soul is too intense and hungry; the soul stays hidden. The soul was never meant to be seen completely. It is more at home in a light that is hospitable to shadow” (p. 81).

Our reality is that we live with our shadows and struggle with how and what to reveal from our places of darkness.

O’Donohue goes on to suggest that candlelight creates a gentle welcome:

“It gently opens up caverns in the darkness and prompts the imagination into activity. The candle allows the darkness to keep its secrets. There is shadow and color within every candle flame. Candlelight perception is the most respectful and appropriate form of light with which to approach the inner world. It does not force our tormented transparency upon the mystery. Candlelight perception has the finesse and reverence appropriate to the mystery and autonomy of soul. Such perception is at home at the threshold.”

I find this hard to believe, having received admonitions to have no secrets and to “invade the Divine” regularly.  I am now much older, so I realize that I do keep some secrets and that when I search my soul, I need not take a harsh spotlight or set up a neon display.

I can travel this journey with a candle and move gently, without a robust, or violent, enthusiasm.

Years ago, my counsellor said that fear and excitement can be the head and tail of the same coin. I found it helpful to understand that my fear before batting in a baseball game was more related to excitement than to what I experience when I anticipate climbing a ladder.

I was delighted to read the Genesis account and remember that the lights in the sky’s dome were created for dividing day from night. They were to be “for signs and for seasons and for days and years.”

Light and darkness were made, then, for thresholds of time. 

As I reflect on time thresholds in my own life, I recognize that some memories are more difficult than others. Often my grief is connected to certain dates on the calendar as I remember the death of loved ones and friends. The light does not easily disperse this kind of darkness, as Mia’s recent poem suggests:


I slept in the sadness

All night in the dark

Awakening to morning brightness

Of a sun-kissed landscape

But the sadness persisted


When we deal with our deep sadnesses and grief, they can continue to transform us over many years.

This is part of our days and seasons, and even in new beginnings, when we pass through thresholds in time, we can pay attention to both the darkness and the light.

Any thoughts on the light and the dark and your thresholds of life?  Light a candle and write me a note.


This article was written by Al McKay, a Chaplain, in collaboration with Mia McKay. To read more articles from our Corporate Chaplains, you can visit our Chaplains Blogs. You can write Al a note through email at amckay@chaplains.ca.