Welcoming the dark

IMG_0478

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.  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?

Love,
Jessica

 

 

Advertisements

The Darkest Night of the Year

My crayon sketch of Bethlehem at night, Christmas Eve 1994

My crayon sketch of Bethlehem at night, Christmas Eve 1994

Originally published in 2006 as part of the Greenhaus Community’s Advent Calendar

The Winter Solstice and Advent

On December 22nd, in Boston, the sun will rise at 7:11 a.m. and set at 4:15 p.m. It is said that the ancient people watched the nights lengthening, and feared that the sun was dying. Even in our modern times, when we think we understand the movement of the earth and sun, we cannot help but feel oppressed by the encroaching darkness. We have even given this oppression a name: Seasonal Affective Disorder. The ancients offered sacrifices to the sun, we take anti-depressants and buy full spectrum light bulbs. But every year, the sun returns. It rises earlier and sets later each day, even as the winter weather worsens. Somehow, we are saved from the darkness.

The early Christians understood the deep truth behind this salvation. Jesus was probably not born in December – most scholars suggest April as a more likely month. But the Christians understood that there was more to the ancient myths than superstition. The darkening earth reminds us of the darkness of our souls without God. And that is why the shortest days of the year are the perfect time for the season of Advent. Advent means “coming,” – the coming of Christ – and the twenty four days before Christmas are a time of preparation for this coming. As the days shorten, our spirits tell us that without some intervention, we will be lost in the darkness. But that intervention has been given. Christ has come! “Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting light/ The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.” ~from O Little Town of Bethlehem

That is why, in the midst of the darkness of Apartheid, Archbishop Desmond Tutu was able to proclaim,

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 loved us.