Welcoming the dark


Sunset at Arnold Arboretum

Sunset in Boston these days is at 4:12 pm. Today it finds me sitting on my couch finishing up an editing job, glancing now and then out my eastward facing window at the darkening sky. More than the cold and the snow, winter in New England is defined by me by these early sunsets. It’s still day by the clock, I still have two hours of work on work days and two hours till dinner on non-work days, and four hours after that till bedtime, but night has set in and the next six hours will be passed under artificial lights.

There is something called Seasonal Affective Disorder which means that the person becomes depressed in fall and winter, but I don’t know many people who aren’t affected by the encroaching darkness. It’s just harder to move about in the dark; even with all the lights on you can’t trick your body and spirit into thinking it’s light out. So I’ve found that it helps me to acknowledge the difference. I try to notice when the sun is setting, to take a moment to look out the window, say goodbye to the light, and welcome the darkness. Sometimes it’s just a brief glance and a deep breath, others I take the time to light a candle, say a prayer, or put my hands over my heart in anjali mudra, the gesture of greeting that is also how you set an intention in yoga. I would rather stay in sunlight, but since the night is here I welcome it, acknowledge the sadness and fear that accompany it, and set my intention to move through it as well as I can.

Anjali Mudra by Claudia Tremblay

Anjali Mudra by Claudia Tremblay

Scraps of poems and passages help me, too. I’ll share a few of them here in case they are useful to you, too.

Steadily and continuously that process went on, till now, as he faced his enemies, he felt the interior loss which had attacked him at other stages of his pilgrimage grown into a final overwhelming desolation.Β  He said to himself again, as he so often said, “This also is Thou,” for desolation as well as abundance was but a means of knowing That which was All.
~Charles Williams, War in Heaven

(Sometimes I say to myself simply, “This also is Thou.”)

And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs–
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.
~Gerard Manley Hopkins

I love to think of those lines while watching a winter sunset.

Goodness is stronger than evil;
Love is stronger than hate;
Light is stronger than darkness;
Life is stronger than death;
Victory is ours through Him who loves us.
~Desmond Tutu

Light is stronger than darkness, even when it seems like the darkness is winning.

O holy night!
The stars are brightly shining
It is the night of the dear Savior’s birth!
Long lay the world in sin and error pining
Till he appeared and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary soul rejoices
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!
~Adolphe Adam

Gregory Boyle writes movingly about what it means for the soul to find its worth in his book Tattoos of the Heart.

The Welcoming Prayer
Welcome, welcome, welcome.
I welcome everything that comes to me today
because I know it’s for my healing.
I welcome all thoughts, feelings, emotions, persons,
situations, and conditions.
I let go of my desire for power and control.
I let go of my desire for affection, esteem,
approval and pleasure.
I let go of my desire for survival and security.
I let go of my desire to change any situation,
condition, person or myself.
I open to the love and presence of God and
God’s action within. Amen.
~Father Thomas Keating

That’s a lot to let go of all at once; it helps me to just focus on one or two of those things at a time.

Do you have a ritual for welcoming the dark?





6 comments on “Welcoming the dark

  1. judithkunst says:

    I like the book Seven Sacred Pauses by Macrina Weiderker. It is a contemporary take on the traditional hours of prayer, and it comes with a CD of songs composed just for the book. I have memorized some of them and sing them often. “Put everything in order / as day begins to fade. / All things are passing / moment by moment, breath by breath. / All things are passing / moment by moment, birth to death. / Take off that cloak of fear / the divine strength you seek is here / And you know you are dying to live, / you know you are dying to live.”

    Liked by 1 person

  2. brianbalke says:

    Thanks for sharing this, Jessica. I tend to obsess over the problems faith faces in the world today, and your simple celebration of the ‘yes’ that emanates from the source helped to fill a hole. There are some comforts so personal and simple that no amount of political confusion can bury them. I don’t have any rituals, much less one for welcoming the dark, but I should probably cultivate some.

    There was a time when on camping trips I would wake early to wait on the edge of the mountain’s shadow until the sun kissed the ground. That was nice.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I have a strange relationship with this time of year. I am not so sure that it is the presence of more darkness that affects me but more so the lack of light during the day. I am an astronomy oriented being and winter provides the clearest night skies for viewing in that when they are cloudless, they are not blurred by summer haze. I can often be found wandering outside at all hours on clear nights, clad in snow gear with pockets full of star maps and other tools, binoculars around my neck, and a large mug of hot cocoa. I greet Orion, who has now risen high in the southern skies, and then poke around for nebulae, other starry friends, and lately, comets.

    Admittedly though, usually by about February, I have noticed the lack of sunlight during the day due to dreary weather begin to affect my already existing struggles with depression. I kind of get in a “well, sky, if you’re gonna be cloudy and cold, you might as well snow and make pretty” kind of funk. (Last winter would have been wonderful if I lived in an area where the towns and cities know how to manage that kind of snowfall and more folks knew how to drive in it. πŸ˜‰ πŸ™‚ Further north, I would have loved last winter… )

    Either way, when I feel the funk setting in, I hold onto this line from Sarah Williams’ “The Old Astronomer”:

    “I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.”


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s