The Darkening Season

These days, of the year winding down, are exciting if you are living in the Washington DC metropolitan area. An administration transition brings whole new groups of people into the city as whole groups leave or seemingly disappear as they leave their posts in the prior administration. While these days are still fraught, the country breathed a collective sigh of relief when by the Saturday after Election Day it was finally clear that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will lead the next administration. Their work begins in January.

The work and hardships ahead are immense, but it has always been the American spirit to just “get in there and do”. Now we all will. I am thrilled and delighted that the whole country seemed to take a moment and passionately take up the gauntlet of voting; no easy thing this time. Even though some are in denial about the outcome, the fact remains that the democracy has been tested and found to be working. That is what counts right now. The rest is negotiating change. It has been said that if you are offended by the notion of making sausage, then don’t watch how and what government does and does not do. Having worked in government, I agree wholeheartedly.

The Full Beaver or Cold Moon arose over the Sangre on November 29, the first Sunday in the Christian season of  Advent—preparation in the days before Christmas. The sunrise, next morning, revealed a blood red moon as it reflected the sun rising in the east at moonset in the west. Fabulous! Portentous! Wonderful! Signifying to all a new day and a new light, even though we are in the final stages of our seasonal cycle through the calendar year.

The nights are long and the silences deep. Nature is hushed and still as the insects have departed. Streams and rivers are running very slowly, if at all, in our drought-stricken state. Even the leaves are silent as the animals retreat into the darkness, now coming between 4:15 and 4:45 pm—when the sun goes behind the mountains to set. It is as if all of life is bowing in the face of some mystery or wonder, yet unseen.

Nighttime is the time of celestial grandeur as millions upon millions of stars reveal themselves in the early-darkening skies above. Trees are dark and bare, revealing the bones of life all about us. Even the evergreen junipers and cedars seem colder and darker as their color has somehow changed from light and bright green to a a muted dark almost purple green tint. This season reveals our need to dream as if to restore our individuality and re-establish our places in the midst of the world, perhaps only the one we remember as the world as we live through lockdown after lockdown.

There is a bittersweetness of this strange and peculiar time of the ending of autumn and the ongoing of the pandemic. We may not understand life, but we can own and lay claim to the life we do have, even in these awkward and strange moments of change and pandemic. And we can learn again to trust that grace and hope and wonder lies at the very center of our being.

It is no accident that in the darkening of this season in the northern hemisphere that the great religions celebrate the seasons of the coming of light: Diwali for Hindus, Bohdi Day for Buddhists (Jan 21), Hanukkah for Jews (Dec 10), Advent-Christmas for Christians (Nov 29-Dec 26) and Laylat al-Mi’raj, celebrating the long night journey of the Prophet observed by Muslims (early February or March). This time/season calls us to withdrawal, reflection, meditation and gratitude for our lives, even in these odd, but necessary moments.

Advent is a time of waiting and silencing the noise that erupts across our lives. This time invites us to consider and reconsider who we are and what we value and how much we value one another, especially when physically cutoff in so many ways. In a larger conversation, the monk and mystic/activist Thomas Merton described Advent this way:

“The Advent mystery is the beginning of the end of all in us
that is not yet Christ.”

—Thomas Merton, from Seasons of Celebration, Farrar Strauss & Giroux, 1965.

By Christ, Merton is describing a universal experience of being connected to faith and to wonder and delight and service. I like this idea as it allows everyone to find a place, to be at home in the love of God. My discipline this year is to be quieter than usual and listening more deeply, especially under the darkening skies ablaze millions of stars.

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