Today is the Winter Solstice; tonight is the longest night of the year. And this year, more than any other, I find myself sitting with the symbolism of darkness and light, sitting and wondering what will come as tomorrow the light grows stronger and longer.
For much of this year, for much of the past few years, darkness has seemed to rule. Friends and family were lost to death from the disease we tried so hard to avoid, and the pall of the pandemic closed us off from others and the activities that once brought joy. There were days and moments of hope—a vaccine, a return to in-person gatherings, a new calling to ministry—that were too swiftly dashed by new variants of Covid, unexpected hospitalizations (three!) for ailments that had nothing to do with the virus, and the complete disintegration of my longtime church home. Some days, it took supreme effort just to get out of bed and get dressed. Other days, it hardly seemed worth it.
And yet, darkness can be a blessing. It is a time to rest, a time to reflect on what and who really matter, a time to learn new skills without interruptions, a time to dream and imagine new possibilities, a time to explore new circles and communities, even if bound by the limits of Zoom. Like a seed planted in the dark of the earth, darkness contains within it everything necessary for new life.
I have to remind myself often of the blessing of darkness since my lifelong struggle with depression tends to emphasize the negative aspects of darkness. I have to surrender to the joy of darkness, not the hopelessness it might suggest. I also have to look for the humor that can sometimes arise in the darkness, laughter from the surprises that emerge when you cannot see what is ahead of you.
One such instance happened in the early hours of December 5th. The previous day, my daughter-in-law went into labor with our first grandchild. My husband and I were so very excited, but evening came and the baby still had not arrived. Since I had to get up early to sing at church the next day, I texted my son and told him I had to go to bed but I would keep my phone at my bedside so he could call after the baby was born.
He didn’t call. I slept deeply, wearing earplugs to block out the regular sounds of dueling CPap machines (mine and my husband’s). Around 4:30 Sunday morning, I woke up to go to the bathroom, but midway across the bedroom floor, I hit something on the pathway that was usually clear. How did a chair get in the middle of the bedroom floor? I wondered as I tripped and fell.
When I felt someone grab me, I pulled out my earplugs, only to hear my husband yelling, “Graham was born! Are you okay? Graham was born!”
Apparently, my son had sent a text which my husband had read more than an hour earlier. Too excited to sleep, but not wanting to wake me since he knew how tired I had been, Jim had a snack, did a little reading, then returned to stretch and do his PT exercises in the middle of the bedroom floor. For some reason, he didn’t move out of the way when he saw me get up. Instead, he started announcing Graham’s birth, which I didn’t hear because of the earplugs. He was the “chair” I tripped over.
Looking back now, only two weeks later, this incident captures both the pain and the joy of darkness. It was a birth announcement I will never forget, especially since landing on my artificial knee created a bruise that hasn’t yet healed. I look forward to someday sharing the story of how I heard about his birth with my grandson. In the meantime, I find hope in his new life.
Tomorrow, the days start to get a little longer. Snow is falling today, but springtime will come. In the words of one of my favorite artists, Peter Mayer, “there is a diamond in the soul of the longest night”:
Maybe peace hides in a storm
Maybe winter’s heart is warm
And maybe light itself is born
In the longest night
In the longest night
Of the year.
Wishing you the blessings of the longest night. Here is a rendition Mayer’s “The Longest Night,” sung by Craig Hella Johnson and the Conspirare Choir.