If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the night around me become night”, even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you.
We are rapidly approaching the Winter Solstice, the darkest day of the year. It is the beginning of the crescendo of the frantic commercialism of Christmas, with children and merchants eagerly anticipating its fruits. In the USA, it is also the time of the highest levels of suicides. It is important as we enter this season to remember the treasures and hopes that darkness holds.
Astronomers have always known that darkness is the best place from which to see the light. Ancient mariners knew this too. They anticipated the darkness for making course corrections by the stars in the midst of vast oceans. Southern slaves, under the cover of darkness, followed the “Drinking Gourd”—the Big Dipper, to freedom in the North. In Matthew’s legend of the birth of Jesus we are told that “wise men from the East” followed a star in order to find where the “king of the Jews” had been born.
In the beginning of the Genesis 1 creation myth, when “darkness covered the face of the deep,” the very first words uttered by God were, “Let there be light”. Psalm 139 (quoted above), attributed to David, assures us that the Divine Presence, known by many names, can always be found in any darkness, whether it is physical darkness, emotional darkness, or poetic darkness. In the wonderful birth metaphor in the first chapter of the Gospel of John we are assured, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”
I find comfort in these words of assurance. They remind of something Elaine Kirkland, United Church of Christ musician and songwriter, shared at a Northern California Annual Meeting in the late 1980s. She had been searching for a positive image of darkness and came up with the “womb of Sophia”, the womb of Wisdom. When we encounter darkness, we need to re-enter the womb of Sophia in order to be born anew into the light—to become enlightened.
As we move into this annual season of darkness, I find it helpful to remember the treasures that can be found in darkness: 1) Without darkness there can be no light; 2) darkness is the best place from which to see the light; and 3) darkness in all its manifestations, when embraced for good, can serve as the womb of Sophia to lead us into enlightenment. This is particularly important as we seem to be entering not only a time of seasonal darkness, but also a time of dark ages characterized by money rather than relationship as the primary value of society. The harbinger of the gathering darkness is increasing polarization and demonization of the “other”. We have been warned and prepared for these darkening times since 1977 through a successive series of global literature and related movies: Star Wars; The Lord of the Rings; and Harry Potter. Each of these entities shows that the way out of encompassing darkness is three-fold: 1) tenaciously maintain a vision of the potential of Light to overcome darkness; 2) a willing to seek the help of a small community of like-minded individuals; and 3) to risk everything to restore a harmony of justice and peace. This is also ancient wisdom.
I find two great consistencies in Scripture. One is the unconditional nature of universal Divine love, and the other is human nature. The itinerant Jewish Rabbi, known as Jesus, sought to unite these two factors. He, as the Living Word of God according to the prologue of the Gospel of John, became the light of all people. In the 2-3 short years of his recorded ministry he taught his followers how to become lights shining in the darkness that the darkness cannot overcome. His formula was two-fold and simple: love the Divine with your whole being and love your neighbor as yourself. This wisdom is the clearest path out of darkness, but it is a difficult path to find as it often has its beginning in the darkness of Sophia’s womb.
Light is often equated with truth. If that is the case, darkness can be “untruth”. In this season of gathering darkness I encourage you ask yourself a simple question of all you do think or say: “Is it the truth?” The answers should come from your heart, not from your mind. I also commend to your meditation in this season of gathering darkness the words of James R. Lowell written on December 11, 1845, entitled “Once to Every Man and Nation”. You can find them in many hymn books or on-line at: http://www.cyberhymnal.org/htm/o/n/oncetoev.htm
I leave you with my own prayer, which can be sung as a doxology to the tune of Old Hundredth:
Great Spirit, Source of Love and Life,
Help us bring an end to strife;
Fill all our hearts with peace and grace,
May we enhance the human race.
Peace and blessings to all.
P.S. No one knows for certain when Jesus was born. Most scholars do not believe it was December 25. Rather many believe that the 4th Century Church Fathers chose that date for the birth of Jesus, the Light of God, because it was the date of the pagan festival of Sol Invictus, the day of the Invincible Sun, when light overcomes darkness following the Winter Solstice.
Copyright © 2012 by Dan Hatch
89 Eucalyptus Knoll
Street Mill Valley, CA 94941