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 traveled by dark feet and dark wings.
We only have another minute to lose of light as we make our way to December 21st and the Winter Solstice. This threshold time stands in the midst of some of Minnesota’s coldest and darkest days. The door at this threshold sits in the season of Advent and will move into the celebration of Christmas. These, of course, are not unrelated events though we in the Christian household have sometimes tried to deny the fact. But the honoring of the Sun’s return and the celebration of the birth of Jesus, called the Light of the world have been entwined by human’s need to make sense of what they experience and what they believe about that experience. The common denominators are darkness and light.
Several years ago my husband and I traveled to Newgrange in Ireland. This ancient place of worship and history is full of mystery and a sense of power that defies words. Most believe it to have been built by humans as a way of measuring the ways sunlight seems to recede and then return. Looking like a giant earthy spaceship it rises out of the lush Irish countryside. Stone carvings lay in various spots around the outside of the mound. Walking around its perimeter allows the imagination to see the ancient ones circling, dancing, and moving in ways understandable and confounding.
But it is inside that the real mystery and amazement happens. We stood in the center of the cave-like structure, humans who did not know one another just a few minutes before crushed together in silence and awe, looking at the cave drawings pointed out by our guide. Giving us a sign that the electric lights rigged up to keep the curious safe would be turned out, we fell even further into a deep quiet. We were plunged into darkness that was so black it was disorienting. The only thing that allowed me to know where I was came from the breathing of the people around me. I was still surrounded by humans even in this deep darkness!
Using an enormous flashlight, the guide then began to simulate how the Sun would rise and hit a stone at the end of a very thin opening in the path ahead, striking it just so. It shown so brightly it seemed impossible. She then explained that this is what those who had built this place had probably intended. Out of the pitch darkness they would know that the light was returning. I am imagining that planning for planting for the next months could then take place. But my imagining was, and is, still held in the mystery of this place and the darkness I experienced at this created threshold. What must it have been like for those who did not know, did not have even the most rudimentary understanding of how the planets work?
The next few days will be the darkest of this year. Even with the twinkling lights we have hung on trees and in our homes, the darkness is our companion. The threshold that welcomes us is shrouded in a mystery we partially understand. But once that turning happens and our planet creeps ever so slowly into the light of Christmas the mystery does not end. How does the light brought into our faith story by this infant we celebrate illuminate our path? How do we allow this Light to become not only the beam we follow but the light we become? How do we make our own cave paintings telling of the stories of the darkness in our lives and where the light came in?
There are only a few days left before we know the turning of the light once again. Until then, the invitation is to go dark, to watch for what is blooming and listen for what is singing and how we are companioned by dark feet and dark wings.