The retreat we hold annually during Advent and the days leading up to the winter solstice is named for a gift, one among many, that of story. Planning it, I was drawn to the idea that while in the northern hemisphere the winter solstice marks the beginning of the return of the light, it is the longest night of the year. I found myself wondering about the gifts of that long night. In times like these, mining the abundant dark is a soulful necessity.
Ancient peoples, who lived close to the rhythms of the earth and watched the heavens intently, celebrated the moment when the sun renewed its westward journey along the horizon, assuring that the days would begin to lengthen again, bringing sunlight to the earth and with it, green life. Yet their joy was nuanced, because they honored the long nights too. In those pre-electric times, people had a deep familiarity with darkness, and knew its possibilities for dreams, storytelling, finding inner horizons, touching the sacred. There is a reason that the church placed Jesus’ birth at the winter solstice, in the heart of the darkest night.
The retreat began after dinner with a silent procession through the night woods to the Meditation Shelter, aglow with candlelight, about a hundred yards away. The idea was to walk in the dark, with only our flashlights to show the way along the rough path. The moon, nearly full and at its closest to the earth, cast a translucent, undeniable light over all. The trees stood clearly etched in the silver air, their shadows distinct on the forest floor. Flashlights were rendered silly as we walked along bathed in mirrored light.
Wonder evokes gratitude. Though we live in dark and difficult times, especially for those who care about the deeper possibilities of being human and for the living earth, yet there is silvery light all around, and more to be found within. Anthropologist and storyteller Michael Meade writes:
The “holidays” were once the holy days, a sacred time set aside to allow timelessness to enter the human realm and make things whole and holy again…An old description of the human soul was the light found inside the dark. …Amidst a deeply troubling time, the soul’s instinct to stop and touch the holiness and stillness of life remains…there may be no better time than the “dark times” we find ourselves in to rekindle the instinct for uniting together and expressing love and generosity…If we remain in touch with the inner spark and light of the soul, our experiences can become revelatory, our responses more spontaneous, and our hearts more inclusive and life-enhancing.
Wishing you revelations, spontaneous responses, full hearts, encouragement, and holy days overflowing with connection, generosity, and love.