On a cold Autumn night many years ago, I found myself in Northern Michigan, sitting in a large field and around a campfire with the group of friends I spent most of my teenage years with. There was no snow, but there was deep cold. There was a guitar, there was chatter, there was the warmth of the flames. We were under a wide open night sky that felt ridiculously expansive above and around our quickly shrinking selves. And as I have shared before, we sat and watched the sky fill up with colorful lights that danced and showed off above us. For a moment it was terrifying for this city girl, but as the show went on, we knew we were in the midst of the miracle called the Northern Lights.
It was the most magnificent thing I have ever seen.
For several years now, I’ve called whatever life shifting spiritual movements I’ve gone through, darkness.
There is the term Dark Night of The Soul which brought me comfort as it seemed to be a place that many who have come before me had been. But also it seemed, come out of. For a long time, I just waited for the moment when the curtains of darkness pulled back and led me out into the familiar light.
The darkness symbolized a stripping of beliefs, certainties, and a way of life. It started out shaky, moved into the floor dropping out from underneath me and has ended in what feels like a very empty place.
The darkness has not lifted. In fact, it has become a new home.
In my new home, I have found many comforts. I love the night sky, a dark room with candles, the white lights on the Christmas tree in our unlit living room. I love what the coming darkness means. It’s time for sipping a cup of Sleepytime Tea as I prepare for bed. It’s a very quiet place. Sometimes the darkness feels to be the safest place of all. I’m thinking of the small room I would stay in at the Jesuit Center. The falling asleep in the pitch dark with a tea light dancing on the desk, lighting the small space around it.
The words that carry me through this Advent season are those of Jan Richardson and her poetic masterpiece that is the book, Night Visions. It not only has made the darkness a more welcoming place, but also a place of beauty.
Empty places can be very beautiful, I’m finding out.
Empty and hollow places make room for new things.
(day one) darkness by Jan Richardson
Say that you have chosen it.
Say that it was your own hand that turned out the light, your own mouth that blew out the candle, your own eyes that closed themselves against the brightness.
Say it was your doing.
Say you needed the shadows ,the darkness, that your eyes had begin to squint at the brightness, that the light had begun to make your head buzz. Say you needed the rest.
Say you asked for it. Longed for it.
Say you didn’t.
Say it wasn’t you who chose it, wasn’t you who reached to turn off the light, wasn’t you who snuffed out the flame, who covered your eyes.
Say the darkness stole up on you, say it overtook you, say it clamped its hand over your mouth before you could scream, it’s fingers across your eyes before you could take one last look at the light. Say it jimmied your door in the middle of the day, say it climbed through your window in the middle of the night and took sunrise with it.
Or, say it simply called to you from where it stood in the doorway, looking longingly at you and winking it’s great pale eye.
Say you followed it home.