To last week’s entry from Ann Weems’ book of poetry Kneeling in Bethlehem I want to add another entry from her book. René came across this while we were doing our Advent wreath candle lighting this past week. It is titled “Toward the Light”:
Too often our answer to the darkness
is not running toward Bethlehem
but running away.
We ought to know by now that we can’t see
where we’re going in the dark.
Running away is rampant. . .
separation is stylish:
separation from mates, from friends, from self.
Run and tranquilize,
don’t talk about it,
Run away and join the army
of those who have already run away.
When are we going to learn that Christmas Peace
comes only when we turn and face the darkness?
Only then will we be able to see
the Light of the World.
My senior year at Shawnee Mission West High School, our A Cappella Choir put on our annual winter musical “110 in the Shade.” It is the musical version of the popular 1956 play “The Rainmaker,” about a snake oil salesman in a drought-ridden rural Kansas farm town (not to be confused with Matt Damon’s 1997 movie of the same name) promising rain.
Over the years I have never forgotten one of “110’s” best songs, titled “Everything Beautiful Happens at Night.” They simple, beautiful lyrics go:
Everything beautiful happens at night
Everything beautiful happens when the sun goes down.
After the day is through.
After it’s dark is when
All of your daydreams….
It is a love song that captures the romantic relationships between the Rainmaker played by then Oscar award winning actors Katherine Hepburn and Burt Lancaster.
Of course, darkness especially through frigid winter nights can be intimidating and threatening. In the Dark Ages in Europe, winter brought with it a high frequency of death.
Our Christian ancestors were wise to this threatening factor by setting the Advent- Christmas season in conjunction with the Winter Solstice (Jesus was probably born between late February and early April), the longest, darkest, night of the year. Our ancestors were clever too. They co-opted the pagan “Feast of the Unconquerable Sun” celebrated on the pre-Gregorian calendar original date of the Winter Solstice December 25th and made that date Christmas, “The Mass (or “Feast of Christ”). This conjunction of pagan festival and Christmas was designed to bring peace and joy to the hearts of Jesus’ followers, as longer daylight paralleled Jesus’ birth and life beyond the Solstice.
Of course, we moderns have never completely overcome this respect for winter darkness with electric lighting and central heating. Winter still earns our respect as cold from our car broken down on the road that time of year chills us to the bone. The Covid vaccine notwithstanding, we have all heard and been personally affected by news reports that the pandemic will likely hit its peak in the next few days or weeks, with the prospect that all Americans may be vaccinated by mid-Spring. Hallelujah! Praise the Lord!
But life is full of ironies. One of those ironies is that light shines brightest in darkness. A good night’s sleep is often followed by a more energetic day. Those who have weathered tragedy and loss often are the ones who are most able to assist others who are experiencing similar heartbreaks and catastrophes.
More importantly, the kind of boredom, spiritual ennui, infecting our times is often the result of people running away as fast as they can from any pain or hint of suffering they may have to endure. As my clinical supervisor at Vanderbilt Hospital once wisely remarked, “Tears are often the truest indication a personal breakthrough is occurring.” Those who run away from the darkness of suffering and pain cheat themselves of the joy and exhilaration that facing the darkness can bring.
I hope each one of us will pause in these next few days and weeks to permit ourselves to get in touch with the emotional and mental challenges the pandemic presented us all with in 2020. Instead of running away from the darkness, I hope we can pause long enough to face into that darkness and even embrace it. Because on the other side something joyful, hopeful, loving, and peaceful awaits us.
It is the acknowledgement that…
“Everything beautiful happens at night.” And,
“Only when we turn and face the darkness will we be able to see the Light of the World”
“Even the darkness is not dark to you, O Lord” Psalm 139
P.S. Don’t forget that at dusk Monday, December 21, the conjunction of Jupiter & Saturn will shine brightly for the naked eye to see in the southwest horizon. It may be visible 2 or 3 evenings on either side of the 21st.