I enjoy browsing through National Geographic when it arrives in the mail each month. The cover story of the November 2008 issue captured my attention, “The End of Night: Why We Need Darkness.” Before the dawn of the twentieth century, the world had an abundance of three commodities: solitude, silence, and darkness. “In a very real sense,” Verlyn Klinkenborg wrote, “light pollution causes us to lose sight of our true place in the universe, to forget the scale of our being, which is best measured against the dimensions of a deep night with the Milky Way—the edge of our galaxy—arching overhead” (“Our Vanishing Night,” 109).
My own experiences in the Sinai and Negev deserts allow me to imagine the ancient world—a place of vast empty spaces and remarkable and splendid wonder. The night skies are illuminated with intensely bright stars. The canyons, cliffs, craggy mountains, dunes, and mud flats are filled with a deafening silence. It ends up being a place where a person is able to consider the matchless power of the Lord—the Creator of heaven and earth. At the same time, it is a place where humans can contemplate their own dependency on God for life itself.
The ancient world offered abundant opportunities to experience nature and the Lord of Creation. Such experiences provided them perspective of the vast reach of Creation. Moses, who had been raised in the household of Pharaoh, lived in one of the most advanced civilizations of the ancient world. Interestingly, after fleeing into the wilderness of Sinai—where he experienced silence, solitude, and darkness more intensely than he had before—Moses came face to face with the God of Nature. “And it came to pass that it was for the space of many hours before Moses did again receive his natural strength like unto man; and he said unto himself: Now, for this cause I know that man is nothing, which thing I never had supposed” (Moses 1:10).
Given the reality of modern urban life, where solitude is difficult to find, where silence is almost impossible to experience, and where natural darkness has virtually disappeared, is there anything we can do—something that will provide us the kind of experiences that Abraham and Sarah, Zacharias and Elisabeth, and Joseph and Emma Smith had that allowed them to find God and thereby find their place in the grand cosmos.
We certainly cannot turn back time, but we can turn off the TV, turn off the iPod, turn off the radio, turn off the lights, and take the opportunity to see the natural world that God created. In the rush and hectic pace of life, we need to slow down and spend some time alone. Prophets have given counsel regarding too much organized recreation and sports, too much TV, and too many scheduled activities, both at church and at home.
We can take a vacation to a place like Utah’s Natural Bridges National Monument, named the first Dark Sky Park, or some other remote wilderness area if possible. Or we can take time to appreciate the magnitude of God’s creations by visiting the temple and experiencing the silence of “the mountain of the Lord’s house” (Isaiah 2:2). I believe these sacred places help us to “be still and know that [he is] God” (Doctrine and Covenants 101:16), renewing ourselves through solitude, silence, and darkness.