By Otis Moss III, with Gregory Lichtenberg. Simon & Schuster, 2023. 144 pages. $25/hardcover; $16.99/paperback; $12.99/eBook.
In my search for books on the theology of darkness (which is my attempt to find balance in our spiritual tradition with such a focus on Light), I was delighted when I learned about Dancing in the Darkness: Spiritual Lessons for Thriving in Turbulent Times by pastor Otis Moss III. I was especially excited to learn that Moss “practice[s] and preach[es] a Black theology that unapologetically calls attention to” the injustices of our world. In the introduction, Moss writes:
In this book, I address the challenges of these dark times to help us restore to our house a spiritual foundation of courage, strength, self-reflection, creativity, compassion, and faith. . . . Through these values, we can learn to face and make spiritual use of our fear, anger, confusion, chaos, and all of the other challenges of our political and spiritual midnight.
The chapters have creative and powerful titles, such as “Link Love and Justice: Learn to Slay Your Spiritual Dragons,” “Consecrate Your Chaos: Pause to Discover Possibility,” “Rework Your Origin Story: Become a Spiritual Hero,” and “Practice Prophetic Grief: Forgive to Build Spiritual Resistance.”
I found this book to be a greatly rewarding read. The spirituality that the book builds upon is aligned with Quaker principles, which makes the book’s lessons feel especially applicable to my own life and to communities of Friends.
Dancing in the Darkness is full of spiritual guidance that is relevant to this moment. Moss calls readers to “spiritual audacity,” and shares that we can achieve it by grounding ourselves in “courage, faith, self-love, prayer, meditation, or compassion in the belief that we are designed with purpose and agency to shift small elements in our control that may result in larger changes.” He discusses the importance of keeping our eye on the metaphorical stars at our spiritual horizon, even when we get frustrated, as “tolerating that frustration is our one chance to redirect our power to achieve our greatest goals.” He gives us tools for our spiritual toolboxes: vulnerability, prophetic grieving, forgiveness, and “liberation listening,” which is “faith that if we will truly listen, then your liberation will be my liberation, and mine will contribute to yours.” He helps readers understand that if we implement those practices, we will continue to be able to see the Divine Light in each other, no matter how dark our world can feel.
Throughout each chapter, there is a focus on the power of justice and love. He begins every chapter with quotations, and his quotations about love and justice are some of my favorites: from Moby-Dick came Herman Melville’s “See how elastic our stiff prejudices become when love comes to bend them”; Alexander Hamilton’s “The first duty of society is justice”; and Steve Biko’s “The revolutionary sees his task as liberation not only of the oppressed but also of the oppressor.” Moss makes clear that justice and love must be ever linked in our spiritual efforts. He shares: “when you commit to any idea, you must ask: Who does that idea exclude? Is there room in this vision of justice for ubuntu, for agape love, for all of us created equal?” He believes that we must not only act in the love and justice that this moment calls for but also allow our commitment to love and justice to empower us to be prophetic in our words and actions that we may build the world we seek.
Although Moss is a pastor to a United Church of Christ community, I believe that many Quakers will feel as I do, that he is speaking to our condition. At one point, Moss turns to the spiritual wisdom of Howard Thurman about how “the way to hear God is to be exceptionally quiet.” And in alignment with the Quaker affinity for integrity and plain speaking, Moss writes, “Truth-telling is directly connected to love and the practice of justice. Love—agape love, ubuntu love—demands truth.”
Moss also uses the kind of queries that will be familiar to Friends: “How could I live my spiritual values? How could I be part of a change in this home, this community, this nation, or this world that makes it truer to the divine spark within us all?” Perhaps most moving to me was his story that ended with the line “By dancing in the dark . . . she was making her own light” and the lesson “‘We must learn to dance in the darkness until morning.’ Even when we must fight, we must keep our connection to love.” This book prepared me to stay connected to my own Inner Light, no matter the darkness I encounter.
Lauren Brownlee is a member of Bethesda (Md.) Meeting, where she serves on the Ministry and Worship and Peace and Social Justice Committees.