‘Tis the season of festivals of lights. In this dark time of winter—the very shortest day was Friday — we celebrate light in all kinds of ways.
There are the decorated homes (I love going around neighborhoods and seeing them), the Christmas tree festivals, the fun of colored lights all around us.
There are so many religious celebrations that focus on light: solstice, affirming our faith that the sun will return, that we will not be left in darkness; Hanukkah, whose miracle of the oil lamps inspires us to hope and love and standing up bravely against injustice; Christmas, with its shining star and luminous angels, singing that love and good will and peace shine forth in tiny babies in humble surroundings.
We are human. We long for light. We long for it in the world and in our hearts, that we may see what is true and right.
At the same time, I wish for us not to demonize or ignore the dark. I hope we do not just figuratively hold our breaths, looking and waiting for the light. I hope we can open ourselves to these short days and long nights, understanding that slowing down and paying true attention to darkness is also part of being people, holy and human. I wish for those of us living in a heart’s or soul’s darkness at this time, that we can humbly live in it, deepening even as we may be suffering.
Seeds will not grow if they do not have a season of “nothing,” of just being in a place of no light, mysteriously gathering whatever it takes for them to rise up, to green and to bloom. Stars cannot be seen in the daytime.
The week before last was a hard one for my husband and me, with a feeling of darkness around us. Several family members are each having a very difficult time, their own darkness causing us pain and worry, plus the knowledge that we cannot fix them. Most darkly, my husband and I went to check on a friend who had not been answering his phone for days, and we found that he had died. He had apparently passed on in his sleep, alone, into the mystery of what comes after. (Is it dark or is it light?)
And so, we faced the sadness and helplessness of our little darkness. We did our daily morning meditation and prayer, with only our Christmas tree lights to guide us. I talked about it with other friends, accepting that I was sad and distressed and upset — that I was in a darkness I did not like, but which I needed to acknowledge and live in, at least for awhile. I spent time with the man’s son, grieving his own loss, but honoring his father with love and dignity.
Compared to the terrible darknesses that people experience, this one was not so big. But it was dark, and we lived in its unknowing discomfort for days. We are coming out of it, still sad but also with a vivid appreciation of light and life. We feel, from our collision with crisis and death, the joy and love of family and home and friends and God.
The eyes of our eyes are opened, to the neighbor’s lights, to the candles of Hanukkah, to a shining star, and to the faithful return of the sun. We have lived in a little darkness, making us so deeply grateful to Divine Mystery, for the light in which we can have faith.