As each day passes, each day becomes shorter at this time of year. We are in the season of darkness. In ancient days, the coming of the darkness made people move inward, into their warm places, into their huts, into their caves, where fires were lit to keep the dark at bay.
The time of entering the dark is with us, as well. In the ancient tradition of the Christian faith, the time of entering the dark is called Advent. Darkness is entered with the expectation that this time is the Advent, the Coming of the Light.
More earth-based cultures than ours awaited that longest night and shortest day, the Solstice, which would be celebrated with bonfires, dancing, and ceremony.
It is no mistake that the festivals of Light, Hannukah, of Christmas, of Solstice celebrations, take place at this time of the year. These festivals of light emerged, I am certain, from people who were eager to turn to the Light as soon as it emerged.
We are not a people given to turning ourselves over to the darkness. We are so afraid of darkness! A cultural trait of Americans, for example, is that Americans tend to be upbeat, to smile, to put a positive spin on all things. There is no place in our native psyche for darkness.
Darkness, though, is part of life. To deny the darkness is to be in denial of reality. I like to say: “there is no way through except through.” By that I mean, one must descend into the darkness of the self in order to grow and to become richer and deeper
in all ways. The journey toward wholeness, toward being fully ourselves, is a journey that includes a descent into whatever darkness each one of us holds within us. And when we have taken that journey into darkness – as Persephone did in the ancient, ancient, ancient story – we emerge, complete, whole. We come into the Light as our true selves, the Light we truly are.
We cannot be free of our darkest selves – and we all have those dark places! – until we have gone to that place within ourselves where we face the darkest place and learn to love that place.
Life is a cycle, a cycle of good and bad, of true and untrue, of dark and light. Life is a cycle, and each one of us, whether we are conscious of it or not, is taking part in the cycle.
It is also a truth that when we do not face the darkness within ourselves, we will project that place onto others. Many of us recall a former President who called the then-Soviet Union, “The Evil Empire.” If we are honest, we know that we are the evil one to others who do not share our values, our history, and our place. Unless we have faced our own darkness, we will continue to look to others to be that darkness for us.
Early last evening, I heard demonstrators on the street. I went out onto the porch to see hundreds of people marching, chanting: “I can’t breathe… I can’t breathe… I can’t breathe…” People are out on the streets of the United States now, protesting, as loudly as they can, against our own national shame of projecting darkness onto those who have dark skin. We are them. They are us. We are one.
We cannot know one-ness, we cannot know whole-ness, until we have taken that descent into our deepest, darkest places. Until we do, we will only expect from others what we are not willing to expect from ourselves. We will not know true freedom, and hope, and love.
I trust that you will not avoid this time of darkness by running for the nearest light! We do that, of course, when we play Christmas music in the malls in September, when we only want to hear good news, when we do not allow others the space to cry and to grieve, when our saddest and difficult feelings are not honored, because we do not allow these things in ourselves.
Take this time of Advent – of the Coming of the Light – to go deep, to travel deep within, to go into the darkness. Acknowledge your own dark places. You will find, as I have, as so many others who have taken this journey have – that there is only Light in that darkest place.
But you have to descend to know.