This post is adapted from a message originally shared at Durham Friends Meeting (Quaker) on November 24, 2019. I hope that it may it be of use to you as well during this dark and stormy season.
When I first began to think about the opportunity to bring a message to you all, I was drawn to the idea of playing with the imagery of light. After all, we speak often of the light as in “I am holding you in the Light” and “the Light of God is in each one of us”… This imagery of Divine light is evocative. With this word, Light, we are able to name the unnameable, to capture the essence of God in a word that we can hold in our hearts, tend with our sacred imagination, honor with our prayers and actions, and name when it washes over and through us…The Light pulls me into the open and seems to invite clear seeing. The Light calls me outward to witness the Divine in the world around me, including in each of you.
Here, in Maine, we are in the season of darkness. The days have been getting shorter since the fall equinox. By Samhain at the end of October, we had entered the darkest stretch of the year, with darkness growing each day. Until the winter solstice on December 21, the amount of light that shines on our hemisphere will continue to decrease. My body responds to the darkness in a few ways. I sleep longer. I crave warm, heavy, sweet foods. I get cranky and weepy more often. The double whammy of dark and cold saps my motivation for exercise and social engagement. Maintaining either requires discipline and intention – both of which seem to require a ridiculous amount of energy to summon…But there’s another aspect to the darkness too, where a certain spaciousness and timelessness creep in and a different capacity is opened. I chop piles of vegetables to make big pots of healthy, hearty soups and stews. I sit by the fire for long periods and read or write or knit or sit in contemplation. Those long nights of sleep invite interesting, thought provoking dreams that merge past, present, and future for a few hours. I wake up a few hours before sunrise. As night fades and day dawns, I know that God is here, in the Darkness, too. The Dark calls me inward to witness the Divine mysteries that lie beyond seeing and understanding.
It feels important to name that our culture has distorted the concepts of light and dark in myriad ways. The value judgements that have been assigned to light and dark have had profound negative impacts on our relationships with ourselves, with one another, and with the earth. As an amateur naturalist and a writer, however, I am compelled to reclaim the words and the powerful imagery that they carry. My desire to name and embrace the Light and the Dark nudges me more deeply into the indescribable fullness of the Divine existence that I witness and live within every day.
For the next few minutes, I’d like to invite you to join me with a Beginner’s Mind to consider the balance of the dark and the light in your own life. Allow yourself to consider each of these questions as a meditation.
What does that mean that the Light of God is within you?
Do you see the Light as a candle that flickers and dims according to the amount of air that it is offered? How do you carry it? If you shield it from the wind, are you obscuring the light?
Is the Light within you more like a campfire? Do you feed it slowly and steadily with branches of courage, hope, resolve, and rest? Does the fire ever dwindle to a pile of embers?
Is the Light within you like the sun, consuming itself as it casts its light and heat in service to all living things?
How do you greet the Darkness in yourself and around you?
Is it a cocoon? A place of transformation and safety apart from the world?
Is the Darkness like a cave, a place of respite during a storm or the heat of the midday? Or is it a place to be avoided, full of unknown dangers?
Maybe the Darkness is a void, absent of time, space, light and being?
How then do we consider the moon which casts a reflection of another’s light into the darkness?
This season is an opportunity to befriend the darkness and embrace the beauty and the mystery that dwells there. If you are an early riser, resist the urge to turn on the lights when you first wake. For a few minutes – or a few hours – allow your pace to match the pace of the waking earth. Notice the way the darkness recedes to the gathering light. Notice the presence of God with you and in you through this transition. If you are a night owl, turn off the lights a few hours before you go to sleep. Become familiar with the shape and shadows of your house in moonlight and starlight. Your pace will slow to help protect you from bumping into walls. As it does, notice the still and guiding presence of God within you and surrounding you.
In this season, let us hold our Friends in the Light. Let us also sit with them in the Darkness.
Let us give thanks for the light which offers clarity and the darkness which nourishes faith.
Let us give thanks to the Great Mystery that weaves them both together.