In Iceland, the sun never quite sets during the summertime. It dips just below the horizon around midnight and then hovers there, still casting a dusky light across the countryside until it rises again fully around 3:00 a.m.
The benefit to almost 24-hour sunshine is that you feel awake even after you’ve been traveling for 13 hours and your body is telling you it’s 4:00 a.m. (The brisk wind helps with this too.)
The downside, for me at least, was that I didn’t get that internal reset that happens every night with the setting of the sun. I woke up wondering if I had really gone to bed. Strangely, I found that I missed the darkness.
It’s not a statement I find myself making very often. Generally, I’m all for Light over Dark, and I look forward to the day when night will be no more. But while in Iceland, I started to see the benefits of the darkness.
Because of the dark, I can rest.
In the more figurative sense of the word, darkness doesn’t provide much chance to rest. War and tragedy and temptation leave us feeling anything but rested. But in a more literal sense, darkness provides a re-set, a time of forced inactivity where even the earth goes to bed for a little while. Can you imagine what workaholism would look like in a world of 24-hour sunshine? The darkness reminds us that we are human.
Because of the dark, I can see the stars.
Those little pinpricks of brightness in the night sky would never be seen without the darkness. We would never be reminded of just how big our world is and, by turn, how small we are. The darkness, indirectly, reminds us of our place in the universe.
Because of the dark, I wait eagerly for sunrise.
That moment when the horizon begins to brighten after hours of darkness is so subtle that you hardly notice it. But if you’re waiting, if you’re watching, you can sense the hush just before the birds start singing the arrival of the sun. When the sun shines all the time, the birds sing all the time, and instead of letting the brilliance of a new day wash over you, you just get a little annoyed that they’re still singing at 4:00 a.m. while you’re trying to sleep.
Because of the dark, I notice the beauty of the light.
There is an occasional moment in the middle of a summer day where I stop to appreciate the beauty of the bright sunlight and the warm wind on my face. More often than not, I don’t even notice the light, however, because it’s just there. But there are these moments just before the sun rises and just before it sets, that the world stops and stares. It’s not the moments of brightest daylight that catch our attention; it’s in those moments between light and dark. Those moments where the light is about to disappear, where you’re aware that you need the light more than you need breath in your lungs.
It’s those moments that light is most beautiful, because you realize you’d be lost without it.
And strangely, it’s the darkness that makes you aware of that truth.
While we were in Iceland, we went on an hour-long lava caving tour. We clambered through the rough-hewn tunnels, sometimes army-crawling our way through the tight spots. We reached a larger cavern and our guide instructed us to shut off our head lamps.
I’ve never known a darkness like that, one so deep and suffocating you can barely breathe. After a few minutes, we turned our head lamps back on, but I still felt the weight of not being quite sure where we were in the tunnels or how to get back out again. It was an enormous relief when we finally came around the corner and found daylight waiting for us outside.
After the darkness comes the light.
Because of the darkness, we see the light and appreciate it more fully.
“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.” Isaiah 9:2