In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.
3 I will hold the Christ-light for you, in the night-time of your fear;
I will hold my hand out to you, speak the peace you long to hear.
The Servant Song 595 Voices United
On the day of the Winter Solstice many of us breathed a deep sigh of relief in body, mind, and spirit with the promise of longer daylight hours. Strictly speaking, it was longer daylight seconds but at least we were moving in the right direction. Today, the final day of 2021 the daylight will extend about four minutes longer that ten days ago, and by the end of January it will be approaching an hour. Despite this I've felt a heaviness because of the gloom brought about by the massive resurgence in COVID-19 infections across Canada, It seems that our region has recorded more cases in these same ten days than in the previous months of the pandemic combined. Even though we got our booster jabs the day before the Solstice and nearly a week before Christmas Day our celebrations with family were curtailed or cancelled and this took a toll on both of us.
Margaret Renkl is an excellent American writer who contributes opinion pieces for the New York Times covering "flora, fauna, politics and culture in the American South." On December 20th she mused about the triple whammy (my term, not hers) of the metaphorical darkness brought about by the pandemic, deepening polarization in the US, and the climate emergency. She asks:" How much more darkness could one year bring?"
Renkl admits that while she isn't enamoured of the dark, others are:
I know people who welcome darkness, who have always welcomed darkness. My brother, the collage artist Billy Renkl, is working on a series of artworks based on the canonical Book of Hours. To prepare for the collages centered on Compline, the night prayer, he checked the websit of the International Dark-Sky Association to find the darkest place within a day’s drive. When he got there, he spent all night lying on the hood of his car, looking at stars.
I'm doing my best, by the grace of God, to give thanks for the darkness and the contrasts it brings. I do love the night sky and delight in the full moon and views of the Milky Way when we are away from the light pollution of urban centres. It's more of a challenge to summon up a metaphorical embrace of darkness yet I sense that can learn from what we have going through if I'm willing to do so.
Some years ago I visited a convent in Colorado in a wild and beautiful setting on the border of Wyoming. In the evening I would attend Compline which meant I would walk a couple of kilometres along the dirt road from the guest house to the chapel. There was a sign next to the dining room which house said "this is cougar country" and it wasn't referring to the older nuns. On my way to the chapel and back I would literally whistle in the dark and sing hymns to stave off the denizens of the gloom, glad for the comfort of our gentle worship.
Christ be with you to light the way in 2022, whatever the challenges may be, real or imagined. Shall we make a pact together to seek out the gifts of the darkness, to support one another in prayer, and celebrate the stars, wherever they may appear?
Abbey of the Sisters of Walburga, Colorado