Today’s post comes from Jennie LaFortune, who is a prose editor for Segullah journal.
“Only when we’re brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.” – Brené Brown
Repeat after me – “once upon a time …. on a dark and stormy night…. and then, the knock at the door”. C.S. Lewis said that eventually you’ll be old enough to read fairy tales again. I guess this is why it wasn’t until I was an adult that I saw the darkness in tales such as Sleeping Beauty, Little Red Riding Hood, Rumpelstiltskin, and Hansel and Gretel. They are dark and magical. Fast forward a few hundred years or so and we have dementors, Voldemort, and the Capitol in Panem. I remember trudging into class my last year in college for a seminar in Gothic literature. See, I wanted the coveted courses on the Renaissance, Early American Art, or something equally as pretentious. But they were full with the other idealistic seniors who also had convinced their families that a degree in liberal arts and humanities would in fact be very practical. I joked with my roommate that I should borrow some Gothic clothes and black combat boots with a blood red lip to go to class the first day.
I’ll save you the suspense, disappointment, or embarrassment, and say, no, I didn’t dress up, but I was put under a spell of wonder and enlightenment instead. I walked into the secret woods of BYU in a hidden classroom where we talked (or more like they talked; I was too spell bound to speak) about monsters, haunted houses, chainsaw murders, the supernatural, and wait for it – how these are not only of merit but also have deep meaning. And, might I add, the professor is exactly what you are picturing right now- a breath of fresh dark heavy metal air; a regular Ichabod Crane. I had remembered hearing someone nervously joke once that bad things always happen to girls in the woods. As I sat in this class I remembered that saying, but now it was not only girls, but Young Goodman Brown, Brom, Freddy K., and a host of others who were beckoned to the woods. If your instinct was like mine, you run away from the dark woods and into the light.
I wanted to stay in the dark – at least for the duration of this course- and it made me curious why. I began reading “Young Goodman Brown” by Hawthorne for the course, and with the foundation set in class I began to see how, from the beginning of the story, a fog surrounds the mission of Young Goodman Brown. He does not want to leave his love, yet something inside him beckons to go into the dark woods. Hawthorne creates a feeling that it is time for Brown’s test, a test of “faith.” Ironically Faith, his love’s name in his reality, or physical realm at the time, represents a certain idea of the spiritual soon to be tested in the darkness. I was beginning to be enlightened by the darkness. All these people had to be tested. Often in the woods, or down the dark basement, or wherever darkness lies, there is also some sort of monster. Bad, run, scary, right? Not so fast. I learned that “monster” is a derivative from the Latin verb monere, which means to warn, remind, or instruct. Those things, whatever or whomever they may be, that we are straining so hard to run away from, whether in our own supernatural dreams or our reality, are there to warn us and instruct us. Why then are they so hideous to look at?
Fear. It is not faith. Our own faith as Latter-day Saints has taught us there has to be opposition in all things, so why are we so afraid of the darkness, or the unknown, or of being imperfect? Brown, although consumed and nervous, still takes his journey into the woods,the dark abyss, to find out what he needs to know about himself. The woods in many horror stories, fairy tales, and our own life represents what we need to face to find the light. Look inside yourself, as scary as it may seem. Some critics, especially from the Protestant perspective, saw Brown as walking in the dark woods and simultaneously cutting himself off from God and the light. Others, however, said it was the ultimate challenge to find God again, to walk through the hardship and learn who he is to find true light. The truth. “The light and the truth” is a familiar phrase to us. What may not be as familiar is that we sometimes find our God in the dark as we journey toward the light.
The darkness may always be scary, but we have to look up. Many of the people in these stories are survivors. They look at the monster or fix their focus somewhere else and go through the darkness to the light. For Brown, he looks up at the sky, remembering the heaven or God he once knew, representing his “faith” he possesses. In this same moment he feels damned and judged by his townspeople. Sound familiar? Unlike some who triumph over the darkness, Brown ultimately chooses no supernatural grace or wonder, but accepts only the terror of his experience. I don’t want to feel like that. I think Hawthorne warns us to find a hope in the possibility to accept the sinner, of a dark soul, and triumph in a sense in the face of darkness, holding onto faith. So, if the woods are beckoning you, choose faith over fear and find your light.