Maybe it’s cold where you are. Maybe it’s not. But wherever you are on this side of the equator, it’s dark.
The one defining aspect of this season we all experience is the early darkness and long nights.
As much as I like the peacefulness that darkness can bring, I am always tired at this time of year. Of course, circadian and seasonal rhythms. Darkness is a signal to rest, to stop our activities, to slow down, to sleep long. And that is perhaps what I like most about this season. I do so love pajamas and blankets and the comfort of my bed.
If only I didn’t resist. But I’m not alone. I resist because you resist, because our culture resists. Because December comes with parties, baking, and buying of gifts, in addition to our normal responsibilities of jobs and families. When we should be slowing down, we seem to speed up instead.
Yesterday, I was looking for something in my filing cabinets when, in the back of a drawer, a spring green folder stood out among all the beige. It was labeled “Darkness” and clearly not in alphabetical or categorical order. Intrigued and surprised by the symmetry of this discovery, inside I found a TIME Magazine cover story from 2014, profiling Barbara Brown Tayler and her memoir, Learning to Walk in the Dark. One sentence jumped out at me, where Taylor says,
“Turning in to darkness, instead of away from it, is the cure for a lot of what ails me.”
Darkness is a cure. Sometimes the only way we recover from illness is with rest and sleep. By turning in to the darkness behind our lids, by covering our eyes.
Darkness requires letting go: of control, of what we think we know.
“I have learned things in the dark that I could never have learned in the light, things that have saved my life over and over again, so that there is really only one logical conclusion. I need darkness as much as I need light.”
We do need the darkness. Darkness calls us to pay attention in ways we never do in the light.
Darkness is a gift. In darkness, we discover things hidden by the light. We feel. We sense. We intuit. Darkness reveals what light cannot.
It was during the night that Jacob wrestled with an angel. This struggle which was both physical and without the benefit of obvious sight transformed him and he ceased to be who he was: out of the darkness, he became Israel.
Every beginning emerges from the dark. Every cosmology starts this way, as does every heroic achievement.
During this season of long nights, may you experience the gift of darkness. Allow yourself to sit in the stillness and in the unknown. Resist the urge to make lists and goals. Resist drinking or the distraction of your phone. Listen to the silence. O Holy Night, the stars are brightly shining. Fall on your knees. Wait and listen. Be patient. Be still.
Sit. Just sit. Eventually, the shift will come. Eventually, you will know what you need to know. Eventually, you will see. The darkness will show you.
O Holy Night, help us to embrace the gifts that you bring.
When your eyes are tired
the world is tired also.
When your vision has gone
no part of the world can find you.
Time to go into the dark
where the night has eyes
to recognize its own.
There you can be sure
you are not beyond love.
The dark will be your womb
The night will give you a horizon
further than you can see.
You must learn one thing.
The world was made to be free in
Give up all the other worlds
except the one to which you belong.
Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet
confinement of your aloneness
anything or anyone
that does not bring you alive
is too small for you.
– “Sweet Darkness” by David Whyte, House of Belonging