The ragged-edged morning moon, 7:20am, 11/29/15, the first day of Advent
I’ve written at length about light and darkness, and about this season of darkness. Along with time’s breathless passage and the confounding nature of memory, I think you could call this one of my writing’s – and my living’s – central themes.
The winter solstice is, I think, the holiest day of the year for me. I feel more connected to the deep currents of energy that run through the universe on that day than any other. On December 21st I feel plugged into something essential, primal, and inchoate as I literally sense the planet turning under my feet.
Somehow the beginning of Advent brings all of this to life: this dark season and the light that is held within it, the holiness that seems to drift just beyond my grasp during December, my keen sense of the world’s rotation.
I’m not a particularly religious person in the traditional sense of the word, though we are formally Episcopalian. We attend services on holidays and were married in that church as well as baptized our children in it. But Advent has always felt meaningful to me, a month of waiting, waiting for an arrival, for a birth, to turn back towards the light. We have an Advent wreath on our kitchen island, with one candle for each week (ours are non-traditionally all white, rather than the pink/purple combo that is more classic).
With every year that passes, I grow more comfortable with this season’s darkness. Whether that reflects a commensurate embrace of life’s darkness, I don’t know, but I suspect it does. I have a very vivid memory of an evening at my first job, the fall of 1996, sitting on the 31st floor of an office building and noticing that it was dark at 4:15. I recall – one of those mundane moments that is fixed brightly in my memory, for some reason I still don’t totally understand – a wave of comfort, and even happiness. For the first time I was aware of welcoming the darkness, of feeling it like a warm embrace, rather than something I fear or dread. That has been a bit more true every year.
I only chose a word of the year twice, but the most recent one was light. Even then I acknowledged that you have to have darkness to appreciate light. Perhaps that’s what my increasing comfort in this darkest season is about. It’s the dark days of December that give June’s endless light its flavor. It’s the darkness of life – and there is plenty of that right now, that’s for sure – that highlights all that is light. And still, even in a season of dark and cold and endless shootings and fear and reminders of how intensely fragile it all is, there are joys and there is light. There is the garland wound up the staircase of our little house, and the ornaments that have so many special memories attached and the olive wood creche that my sister gave us from Bethlehem. Somehow, in my midlife, I am really at peace letting the dark crowd around me, maybe because the glittering lights are ever more evident. I think always of Wendell Berry’s lines,
To go in the dark with a light is to know the light. To know the dark, go dark. Go without sight, and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings, and is travelled by dark feet and dark wings. – Wendell Berry
These are the darkest days. They are also the most full of light. Every year I live on this beautiful planet, light and dark are more inextricably intertwined for me.
Maybe that’s what this life is: an eclipse.
It has only been when I have really let myself lean into that darkness, accept that my deepest wound is the profound sadness of impermanence, that I’ve started seeing the gifts that are there. As I sink into the way my life actually is, everyday I find unexpected gems buried in the mundane. Sure, I also cry a lot more. I grieve and mourn constantly, far more than I imagined possible.
But there’s also beauty here. Surprising, staggering, serendipitous beauty. Divinity buried in the drudgery. Dark feet and dark wings.
Every year I feel more at ease in these dark days, protected, somehow. I realize now that this is a manifestation of my increased comfort with my own darkness. I have begun to see.
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