On the eve of bit of snow this week, we move into the darkening season of winter, still in turmoil. The energy of the autumn has not left us, quite yet. Temperatures have been both unusually cold in the North and unseasonably warm in the South and Southwest, but that’s about the change as the estimated high for the day may be 49F/9.5C. So to finally be on the verge of a much cooler week and having a chance at moisture, especially the winter kind, is a moment to hold my breath moment as the winter changes begin.
Only getting about nine hours of sunlight per day, down from thirteen or so at the peak of summer, we move into the dark of the year. Knowing the movements and cycles of season and stars, remembering our ancient forebears were held in stark fear of the encroaching long season of darkness. Life was curiously reduced to mere survival as the light retreated to the horizon earlier and earlier each day till late December, when the imperceptible changes become slightly more apparent with two or three more minutes of light per day until Spring when there is equinox.
Some describe these weeks as “dreamtime” and indeed it may well be as well retreat into our homes and hearts seeking warmth and security, and shelter against the challenges of darkness and cold. Sacred traditions mark this season with some of the brightest and most exuberant celebrations humans can contrive to meet the seemingly “eternal night”. With Christmas fast approaching, Hanukah just ended and a host of spiritually significant days for Muslims, Buddhists, Pagans and Zoroastrians; it is a rich time.
Perhaps we are prone to dream when people seem to crowd in on us or we tend crowd in on ourselves in order to restore some sense of individuality or uniqueness as sentient beings, as well as to hold on to that which is deepest in us. To know the secrets of the night, we may need to learn to sit with the darks inside us until they yield what someone has called the “transcending third” (thank you Marv Hiles for that thought).
In this season of light and dark, plenty and scarcity, we are brought to mind of others who have touched us in some way over the past year or those about whom we rarely think about (like the homeless and the Salvation Army bellringers and their buckets). In spite of our traditions and or lack thereto, we seem to be looking for a general sense of wellbeing and wholeness, in a season where commerce and industry offer a whole lot less. Maybe, just maybe, are we looking to hear the the sound of angels or some other angelic (transcendent) message of hope against fear?
Howard Thurman, mystic and preacher, civil rights leader and teacher, writing in Deep is the Hunger—Meditations for Apostles of Sensitiveness (Harper and Row, New York, 1951, pp. 89, 91-92) tells it this way:
Yes, the singing of angels is something of what this darkening season offers. the hazy band of dust that one sees in the early sunset evenings is our mysteriously beautiful and breathtaking galaxy, our home, the Milky Way. We are an island under an unimaginable sky. In that sky we we see bits of our own beginnings in the cosmic dust of the universe. It is said that 97 percent of the human body consists of stardust.It is a claim by scientists who have measured the distribution of essential elements of life in over 150,000 stars in the Milky Way galaxy. Thus what is above us is within us and we are it and it is us. Love the interdependent relationship of selves to the universe.
Thus this season is not about feeling good. It is about finding the inspiration to begin again or remain steadfast in our service and commitments to others. Again, Howard Thurman explains it this way.