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Dave Brisbin

Salt and Light

There’s a great story, apparently from Mexico, in which an old mule falls into the farmer’s dry well. Poor animal is braying down there miserably, but the farmer can’t think of a way to get it out. And the mule is old and he’d been meaning to fill in that dry well, so he decides to put the mule out of its misery, bury it, and fill in the well all at once. First shovels full hit the mule, and it’s panic-braying, but after a few more, it goes silent. Farmer looks down to see that with every shovel full of dirt that hits its back, the mule shakes it off and steps up. Shakes it off and steps up, until he simply steps up over the edge of the well itself and trots off.

This story is usually used to illustrate how we can face adversity by shaking if off and stepping up. Nail hit on head.

But when Jesus says the effect of our taking on God’s attributes as we grow spiritually is to become light in the world, we’re left thinking of straight rays of visible light as opposed to darkness, the absence of light. Or we may be thinking of light and dark as symbols for good versus evil—ever opposed. But ancient Hebrews understood light, nuhra, as straight lines of order, harmony, clarity function—and darkness, heshuka, as curved energies of mystery, obscurity, chaos, unfunction…not dysfunction, because darkness is not bad, just not directly usable, as we’d like.

At the bottom of our wells, in the chaotic uncertainty that life always delivers, we want straight, clear lines beamed down to pull us up into the light. But that’s not how enlightenment works. Straight rays can’t bend and reach around the curved space of heshuka. Rational thinking, can’t reach around the paradox that spirit represents.

Enlightenment is really endarkenment.

It’s not a direct beaming down of straight rays of understanding that lights our darkness, but an indirect layering up of experience that lifts us into the light. The intense experiences of love and suffering that life shovels onto our backs, if we shake them off and step up, keep vulnerably showing up to life, enlighten by slowly removing what obscures.

It’s the only way.


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  • Mick Silva

    You challenge and reorient me, Dave. I’m ever more grateful.

    September 6, 2023

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