God in the Dark

Editor’s Note: This post is by Keira Shae, the author of the remarkable memoir How the Light Gets In, published by BCC Press last July. This week, How the Light Get In is on sale for 40% off–a mere $7.00, on Amazon. And the Kindle version is only $2.99, which is basically free.


I like a look of agony,
Because I know it’s true;
Men do not sham convulsion,
Nor simulate a throe.
–Emily Dickinson


Many people have told me that my memoir How the Light Gets In, published by BCC Press in July, is not a very happy book. They are correct. It is not a very happy book because it describes a not-very-happy part of my life. It deals with real issues that I faced when I was growing up in Provo–things like: drugs, prostitution, sexual abuse, and profound poverty. There was nothing happy about any of it.

I know, of course, that unhappy stories make people uncomfortable. We prefer that even our most troubling narratives end on an uplifting note, in which our beleaguered heroine overcomes all of the obstacles to her happiness, is made stronger by adversity, and marries a handsome prince. I could have written the story that way, but it would not have been the truth. Except for the handsome prince part. (As my readers know, I really did marry one of those).

But I can’t say that my journey ended with perfect happiness and unshakable faith–because it hasn’t ended yet. I’m still on the road, and it’s a better road than I started on, but it still has plenty of bumps and blind spots. Happiness, when it comes, is far from perfect. And my faith is still tenuous and confused–I make my way stumbling. I still spend a lot of my time walking in the dark.

But walking in the dark is spiritual too. God is in the darkness as much as the light, and darkness has many of the things I need to feel Divine presence–things like silence, stillness, and an environment free of distractions. In her wonderful book Learning to Walk in the Dark, Barbara Brown Taylor equates physical darkness with both emotional (depression, anxiety, guilt, and shame), and spiritual darkness (doubt, disbelief, uncertainty). All three kinds of darkness are part of the natural rhythms that human beings have become adapted to:

When, despite all my best efforts, the lights have gone off in my life (literally or figuratively, take your pick), plunging me into the kind of darkness that turns my knees to water, nonetheless I have not died. The monsters have not dragged me out of bed and taken me back to their lair. The witches have not turned me into a bat. Instead, I have learned things in the dark that I could never have learned in the light, things that have saved my life over and over again, so that there is really only one logical conclusion. I need darkness as much as I need light. (5)

We need the darkness because it is still, and because, without it, we can’t see the stars. But we also need the darkness because it is true, and it is human, and nothing is more important to our spirituality than understanding truths about humanity. The most common human experience is not happiness. It is suffering (in spite of a massive body of narrative works that say otherwise). And as Emily Dickinson says, we rarely feign convulsions or simulate a throe. When we hear someone scream in agony, we can be fairly sure that they aren’t faking it.

When we fail to give full voice to our suffering, we deny the fullness of our stories and the thing that tethers us most firmly to the human race. When we ignore pain, we trivialize our experiences and rob or stories of the most basic common denominator of our shared humanity.

When we make ourselves vulnerable by acknowledging the darkness in our lives, Taylor argues, we encourage others to be vulnerable with us–and shared vulnerability is necessary to the healing process. I wanted to write a story that could heal my family, and myself, from the things described in the book. And this meant that I had to open up and expose my still-raw vulnerabilities. This meant that I had to go first. I had to show vulnerability for the other Keiras out there trembling at the thought of acknowledging the darkness.

I drew the title of my book from Leonard Cohen’s song “Anthem”: “There is a crack in everything/ /That’s how the light gets in.” There is some light in the book. I changed, and a lot of people helped, and some good things happened. But the book is really about the crack–the pain, some of which is still there, and not everything worked out in the end. And the lie would not have given either me or the reader the opportunity to form an actual connection with a real human being.

God wounds us in our wounded place. He mangles us and puts us back together, and we have to do the stitching ourselves. This is how love works. It is messy, and painful, and covered in darkness, but it is real, as the Lebanese poet Kahlil Gibran writes,

“…Even as [love] is for your growth so is he for your pruning.
Even as he ascends to your height and caresses your tenderest branches that quiver in the sun,
So shall he descend to your roots and shake them in their clinging to the earth…”

It is through our needs that endlessly seem to recycle themselves that we have the chance to form connections with each other.

The question is: will you connect again?


  1. It is one of the most powerful books I’ve read. It actually gave me hope because as a prosecutor I deal with meth heads and prostitutes all the time. It’s nice to see that a child can overcome her mother’s lifestyle choices and lead a productive life despite the pain.

  2. Heptaparaparshinokh says:

    People who are always looking for “happy stories” and “uplift” are the ones who interpret “have faith as a child” to mean “be as much like a child as possible in as many aspects of life as possible.” One of the reasons I love BCC is that it rejects such insipidity.

  3. Thank you for sharing. Your words give me hope in a dark time, and strangely give me permission to be okay with and even appreciate the many moments that I don’t feel hope.

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