We are traveling the darkest part of Earth’s journey around the Sun. For a second on December 21st the northern hemisphere reaches its furthest tilt point away from that prodigious, immense, life-sustaining star, and we call that day the Winter Solstice. Our longest night. The next second we round the bend to journey back.
Every year we celebrate the birth of Jesus just after our neck of these planetary woods begins that journey back toward the Light. The truth of that rumbles merrily in my bones.
Still, I’m learning to welcome long nights. A December moon lights the path to the goat barn and hen house when we venture into the darkness to close them up. I feed sliced apples to Clara and Sophie, our soon-to-be-mama Nigerian Dwarf goats, under Orion and the Pleiades cluster. Coyotes, owls, occasional frogs are voices I hear in the night—and these days we have a lot of nighttime for listening.
For deep listening. Maybe for the deepest listening to noiseless nudges, to the plumpness of silence itself.
How loud the sounds of light! How soft the sounds of darkness. Long nights bestow the gift of soft flickering candle flames, bone-warming heat from a wood fire, hot peppermint tea and fleece throws, and deeper sleep besides. Long nights offer more time to read and make music and to learn things borne out of the plentitude of gathering darkness.
If we lived only in the light we would miss what can be experienced only in the dark.
In his poem, "To Know the Dark,"(1) Wendell Berry writes:
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.
What if God meant it all as gift, when casting the seed for a world that would have ever moving parts causing tides to flow in and out, planets to spin, bodies to be born, to age, and to die? What if this season of darkness is a precious one-season-a-year kind of gift that deepens our understanding of what it means to live in a world that that includes long nights and short ones? What might come to pass if we learned to go without sight into the dark to discover what blooms, to listen to what sings?
During Advent we wait in travail, as it were, for Light to be born. Inhabitants of this 2020 Earth wait in a world sorely out of kilter, jam-packed with conflict in ecological, social, economic, and political realms, teeming with our own personal sorrows and the pains of those we love. Besides that, we’re soaked through with a global pandemic reminding us how connected we are. We walk in the darkness, hoping to find something blooming. Something singing.
Maybe welcoming that darkness will allow us to discover a hope that comes from bearing witness to feet and wings (and hands and hearts) moving quietly in the dark. God neither sleeps nor slumbers and is ever moving amongst the shadows, singing the songs of burbling streams and falling snow, moving in our dreams, surely even also in incubating vaccines.
Maybe tonight I'll don my coat and boots and accept God's standing invitation to walk into the darkness with wonder and expectation.
(1) Berry, Wendell (1999). "To Know the Dark" from The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry. Counterpoint.