Afraid of the Dark


The story behind merilee’s most recent album, Treasures of Darkness


From our earliest memories, most of us have known the fear of darkness. We’ve sensed the menacing sorrow that stirs when the sun slips over the western horizon and the blackness of night stills on. We’ve known the whitened knuckles and weakened knees that result from the overwhelming grief that shatters our well-ordered and comfortably predictable lives. We’ve tasted tears in their bitterest state. We’ve buried broken things that could never be made beautiful. And we’ve shuddered under the darkening shadows that shrouded a hopeful sun.

Physical darkness can be frightening, but spiritual and emotional darkness is often oppressive and immobilizing. Not because of things that we fear are going to jump out at us unawares, but because when we cannot see, we do not know where we are at. And far more distressing is the gnawing inclination that we don’t know where God is — or even worse, that He doesn’t know where we are. That’s the worst part of darkness: the confusion and the torment. The darkness deadens our senses and messes with our perception. So we’ve looked to a God we couldn’t see to lead us down a path we couldn’t find. We’ve felt sure we were utterly alone and hopelessly lost. We often forget King Solomon’s words: “The Lord said that he would dwell in the thick darkness” (I Kings 8:12). 

A few weeks ago, I visited Marengo Caves in Southern Indiana with the students from the academy where I teach. Our tour guide explained how the cave was discovered in 1883 by two kids, Blanche, age 15 and her younger brother, Orris, age 11. The two children crawled along on their stomachs for forty yards with only the candles in their hands to serve as their light. After 120 feet, the small tunnel they were exploring widened up and they came into what is now known as Marengo Caves. 

I can only imagine the surprise and wonder that filled their minds as their eyes adjusted to the dimness of the light cast by their candles and they beheld the wonders of the cavern that no human had ever seen. Their journey into the darkness had yielded its reward. They were only able to keep their wonderful treasure a secret for three days, and ever since then, tourists have climbed and/or crawled down the slippery slopes of the cave to enjoy its exquisite elegance. The beauties of such places can only be enjoyed by those who are willing to risk great darkness — sometimes absolute, inky blackness. But for me, the beauties far outweigh the risk of losing your way or the fear of stumbling in the dimness. 

If you have read J.R.R. Tolkien’s timeless classic, The Hobbit, and its sequel Lord of the Rings, maybe you can imagine the picture that is set in my mind when I think of Treasures of Darkness. 

I see Bilbo Baggins, the lovable hobbit, hopelessly lost in the mines of the Misty Mountains. I watch him crawling along, knowing that certain death awaits him. It is too dark to escape the maze of the tunnels in the mines. So he crawls on his hands and knees, knowing his doom is soon to come. Suddenly, his hand falls on something hard amid the soft earth of the mine. He clasps his fingers around it and continues his dauntless journey through the never-ending cave. It is not until hours later, as he hears the miserable Gollum lamenting the loss of his “precioussssss” does Bilbo realize that he has stumbled upon a Treasure in the Darkness. The Ring to Rule Them All had been left lying by another in terrible blackness, amid the dry earth and crumbling dust of a group of miners. And Bilbo Baggins was just lucky enough to be in the dark, on his hands and knees — a position he was forced to retreat to because of his circumstances. Had he merely been walking in the dark, he may well have missed the Treasure. But Tolkien purposefully put Bilbo in this position in his tale to begin a beautiful trilogy that speaks of the oppression of darkness and the power of the light. 

It was with this image in mind that the concept for the thematic approach I took to this album was developed. There have been moments when I have found myself driven to a position I would have not chosen of my own volition. And in that position, on my knees in the night, I have unexpectedly felt my fingers close around a treasure in the dark… hidden riches of secret places. William Cowper penned this thought so beautifully in his poem, “Deep in unfathomable mines/ Of never-failing skill/ He treasures up his bright designs/ And works his sovereign will.” These treasures are only found on our knees in the darkness. And Solomon’s words ring out again, “The Lord said that he would dwell in thick darkness.”

In releasing this album, I feel like Gollum, letting go of my “precioussss” for another to grasp in the gloom (a crude analogy, I know). My prayer is that you may take one of these treasures as your own — a memoir to remind you of where you’ve been and reminder that God knows where you now are. 

He hath led me, and brought me into darkness, but not into light… He hath set me in dark places, as they that be dead of old… He hath hedged me about, that I cannot get out… He hath inclosed my ways with hewn stone, he hath made my paths crooked… He hath turned aside my ways, and pulled me in pieces: he hath made me desolate… He hath filled me with bitterness… Behold, I go forward, but he is not there; and backward, but I cannot perceive him: On the left hand, where he doth work, but I cannot behold him: he hideth himself on the right hand, that I cannot see him: But he knoweth the way that I take: when he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold… This I recall to my mind, therefore have I hope… It is of the Lord ‘s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not… They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness.
— Lamentations 3 & Job 23
I will go before thee, and make the crooked places straight: I will break in pieces the gates of brass, and cut in sunder the bars of iron: And I will give thee the treasures of darkness, and hidden riches of secret places, that thou mayest know that I, the Lord, which call thee by thy name, am the God of Israel.
— Isaiah 45:2-3

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