By Margaret-Anne Enders —
As I write this, it is well past Winter Solstice, and the return of the light is noticeable. In the hectic preparations for Christmas, solstice is often forgotten, but it is an important part of many people’s spirituality. The Multiculturalism Program and the Women’s Spirituality Circle celebrated the Solstice with the community with food, music, reflection, and creativity. We wrapped up the event with a lantern parade through the edge of the forest. A trail of tiny lights scattered through the darkness. It was dark and it was beautiful.
Nevertheless, I feel gratitude for the return of the light deep in my soul, and I know I am not alone. The tangible growing of the hours of daylight provides welcome relief for those who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder as well as those who simply feel cooped up and suppressed by the darkness. The waning of daylight coincides with holiday time, which can be a difficult time for many people. Darkness has a reputation in our society with “bad-ness”—things that are unsafe, unsavoury—and is generally avoided.
Just as darkness is shunned in the physical realm, so too in the spiritual realm. There is much in spiritual literature, traditions, and practices that urge people to go towards the light, live in the light, grow in the light. Light is revered and darkness is spurned. In some spiritual traditions people are taught not just to avoid the darkness, but to fear it and the evil it is said to harbour. Those who have questions or crises about their faith are sometimes accused of not having enough faith, which then adds to the pressure to get back into the safety of the light.
It is consistent with our present day society that we only want the light. We are sold comfort and happiness at every turn. Hardships are seen as a sign of weakness. When unwelcome feelings, thoughts, or questions surface, we do our utmost to push them aside. We avoid any kind of discomfort with any number of quick solutions—chocolate, TV, Facebook, prayers with bargains —the list goes on.
I, too, yearn for the light and I love songs and spiritual practices that focus on the light, yet I often feel that the darkness is under-rated, or more, perhaps, misunderstood. In our quest for light, it is easy to forget that, in a climate with four seasons such as ours, there is a great purpose for the hours of darkness. Darkness provides the Earth and its creatures with much-needed time for rest and rejuvenation. It helps bodies to slow down, hunker down, and survive the colder temperatures.
Barbara Brown Taylor, in her book “Learning to Walk in the Dark,” explores the concept of lunar spirituality. She critiques what she calls “full solar spirituality,” which urges people to only go toward the light. With lunar spirituality, one takes the light and the dark and treasures them each for the gifts they offer.
So what might the gifts of darkness be? One gift is to able to see a different perspective. Here’s an experiment: look at an object in full sun. Take the time to observe details—the texture, the way the light interacts, what light it picks up, the shading and consistency of colour. Look at the same object at dusk. You will notice different qualities. Wait a few hours and explore that same object in complete darkness. You must use different senses. Your tactile senses are awakened, you feel temperatures, textures, forms. It is a new way of seeing.
Another gift is patience. In the darkness, we must move slower. It takes longer to find our footing. We can allow ourselves the time to rest and be quiet.
A further gift of submitting to the darkness for a time is relief. When there are certain places we can’t go, certain things we can’t think about, we end up spending a lot of energy pushing down, pushing away. It can be a great relief to stop resisting. We can muster the courage and look inward. Just as the shell of an agate looks dull on the outside but contains beautiful crystals inside, so too do we harbour great treasures inside.
In my own spiritual journey, I have encountered the darkness many times. As often happens in early adulthood, questions about my faith and the beliefs I absorbed growing up needed to be updated and made into mine. The dark times of questioning and doubting became opportunities to grow in my faith and to gain a deeper understanding of myself and my place in the world. Being in the darkness has given me the gift of presence and awareness. It is impossible to sleepwalk through life during times of challenge. And living through dark times has shown me the strength that I possess, that I can survive and even thrive during tough times.
It can be scary to step into the darkness, so remember this: first, darkness does not always mean despair. There is a continuum. Despair is far to one side of that continuum, and understandably, it is hard to appreciate despair. Second, exploring the darkness also does not mean being overcome by the Dark Side. Looking at the darker emotions of fear, anger, jealousy does not mean succumbing to urges to harm others or take off to Mexico and never come back. It is merely acknowledging these feelings we all have, which are part of our humanity. Just as with the experiment with the object in the dark, we can just be curious
So during this time of the growing of the light, I invite you to reflect on the growth that happens in the dark times. Who knows? Maybe you’ll even see darkness in a new light.
In her work with the Multicultural Program at Cariboo Mental Health Association, as well as in her life as a parent, partner, faithful seeker, left-leaning Christian, paddler, and gardener, Margaret-Anne Enders is thrilled to catch glimpses of the Divine in both the ordinary and the extraordinary. To find out more about the Women’s Spirituality Circle, call her at (250) 305-4426 or visit www.womenspiritualitycircle.wordpress.com or on Facebook at Women’s Spirituality Circle in Williams Lake.