Monday, December 8, 2008

Darkness and Light

Winter is nearly upon us, something I have been anticipating since September. As in years past, I spent the entire fall season moping about, mourning the departure of evening sunshine and dreading the November sunsets at 4:30 pm. Once the winter solstice kicks in on December 21st (give or take a day), the days start inching towards the light and I begin to feel the faintest twinges of relief. Each extra second of light is anticipated and appreciated.

In the Christian tradition, the season of Advent is all about a similar anticipation – in this case, the spiritual “light” embodied in the birth of the Christ child. Mostly all I remember from Sunday school (other than the cold wooden church pews…) are my feeble attempts at singing harmony in the choir and getting to light the Advent candles, adding one each week. It all culminated in a Christmas Eve service, with the church packed to the rafters and the lights dimmed, all of us holding tiny white candles and singing “Silent Night” and “Let Their Be Peace On Earth”. Afterwards we would all walk outside, with the stars above blazing in the freezing cold air as the snow scrunched below our feet. It was the one time of year that I went to church and actually felt like I’d had some semblance of a religious experience. Whether it was the service or the singing or the brightness of the stars, I felt part of something bigger, something meaningful; the world seem to get quiet and just, for a tiny spec of time, stop turning.

One of my favorite songs as a child was “This Little Light Of Mine” (I’m gonna let it shine…let it shine…let it shine). Unlike many of my peers, I had utterly no qualms about standing up in front of the congregation and singing loudly (if, um, slightly off key). Those Christmas Eve candles always made me think of this song - each of us carrying a representation of the light that resides within us. Many years later, while living in Memphis, I attended a fabulous church where, one day, the minister delivered a sermon on the concept of “Imago Dei”, quoting "This Little Light Of Mine" as a metaphor for how the light of God resides in all of us. She went on to say that really, this light represents all of our potential, and suggested that perhaps not reaching that potential or settling for second best is really the worst sin of all.

While I'm not the most religious person, I do go through phases of wanting God in my life - usually when things are completely falling apart, and prayers sound more like wish lists than divine communications. Lately I've been feeling like my light has been flickering, possibly even extinguished altogether, and that not only am I not living up to my potential, I don't even know what my potential is. God hasn’t really been all that present, despite all the praying I’ve done, and I’ve watched not just myself but people I dearly care for struggle with their own dark times.

And so, even though I am entering the Advent season with a lack of faith I find disturbing (paraphrasing Darth Vader there...), I want to believe that faith begins in these dark times, when there is nothing to hold onto but the promise of light. I want capital-F Faith under my tree this year, dammit!

1 comment:

Chris Tolomei aka alicethelma said...

My kids and I have gotten into a nice habit of celebrating the solstice because it IS cause for celebration - the days growing gradually lighter. Thanks for your post!