Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.Martin Luther King Jr
The darkness declares the glory of light.T.S. Elliot
December is a busy month of celebrations with many focused on the arrival of light. It is not by accident that these holy events take place in the darkest days of the year. Hanukkah is known as the Festival of Lights. Bodhi Day celebrates the day Siddhartha Gautama achieved enlightenment. Solstice or Yule is a pagan celebration on the shortest day of the year celebrating the return of the sun and is a festival of rebirth. Christmas is a day of honoring the birth of Jesus the Christ. In John 8:12, we read that Jesus referred to himself in these words, “I am the light of the world.”
We all know what we would consider a dark time, individually or collectively. Times when we have lost our way, said goodbye to a loved one through death or betrayal, lived through battle in war, devastating illness, and any condition when we feel separated from our inner life. We have learned to fear the dark as a place where we can get hijacked by disturbing thoughts, lack of hope, painful memories, or a feeling of emptiness. As children we grew fearful when the lights were turned off. Not trusting the dark, we saw monsters in the corner; what was once our favorite yellow toy truck now is an animal waiting to pounce. When we cannot see, we do not know how to orient ourselves. Our imagination grows wild. In our fear we don’t think to wonder what it is we are really seeing. We want light. We want what we perceive as truth, reality.
Life cannot survive without light and the smallest of seeds cannot germinate deep in the soil without the rich moist darkness surrounding it. We will not die from lack of sunlight, but prolonged lack of light will bring us to illness which will then take our life. These are references to light from an external source, the sun, or a light bulb but what this season is really reminding us of is the light within each of us. A light that has gotten clouded over, diminished, or forgotten. It is what Jesus spoke of in proclaiming himself ‘the light of the world’. Here he is speaking of the internal light that so radiates from him he becomes a guiding principle available to all, a source of spiritual light. Buddha also found that light source as have the rare few who continue to guide us and help us find our way.
As adults we can still fear the dark for many reasons. Trauma, despairing thoughts, layers of insecurity and doubt, and all the conditioning we have learned that keeps us from our true self. All the mental junk mail that arrives daily and that we have not filtered out, over time creating a perception of self and of the world that does not serve us well.
If we cannot live without external sunlight, how do we survive in our soul’s journey without awakening to the light within? Meditation and contemplative prayer are avenues to that light. When first learning to sit in meditation or contemplative prayer with eyes closed, we can feel anxious about what we might find. What is supposed to happen? In the inner dark and quiet we experience the jumbled thoughts of our mind, the lack of direction, the desire to be done now, the impatience for light and the opening of our eyes. We are outer referenced and want the light to be on.
The more we practice the more we learn to trust the inner darkness, the quiet, and the workings of the mind. If we bring curiosity, we see the shadow self, all the personality aspects of self we don’t want to admit to or don’t recognize in consciousness, but in themselves are keys to our healing soul, and in recognition and patience open an avenue to the light. This is a common truth for all no matter our political or religious or social beliefs. The billionaire as well as the one living on the street. Our hate and discrimination will not light our way. Light is found in our hearts of love, our compassion, care, and kindness.
In the early 80’s, I was asked to preach during advent, the waiting time before Christmas. It was three years after a dark time in my life, the death of my infant daughter and my continuing struggle with health issues. I was asked to share how I found light in the darkness, what brought me forward, gave me hope in this advent of my life. Simply put, it was light. I consciously chose light, hope, love, and compassion. It has taken me years to understand those words more fully as I continue to live into that choice; I continue to learn and to understand. Like the seed deep within the moist dark humus, we can only grow into our fullness or languish and die. There are not a lot of options.
In that darkness, I learned more about who I am. I looked closely at what was needed to help me to grow— the dung that we place on the garden for the natural nutrients. This is not clean, tidy work; it is digging, weeding, nurturing, pruning with honesty and courage. Choice is not made on one day and then see what happens; choice for light and love is made daily, becomes a discipline, a practice. An embodiment of courage. But in that moment of choice, it also felt natural, an ‘of course’ moment that I had to trust and see where it led me. In doing so we begin to recognize, even briefly, this light in each other. The inner light becoming as important as the outer.
During this season of light, we are reminded. We celebrate. We take stock of where we have come in life. Feel gratitude for life’s blessings and the connection to spirit, the All. To whatever being we have chosen as our guide, our guru, our reflection of what can be, we celebrate the birth of the light of the world, in our hearts, in our very being. We celebrate the return of light in our days. We honor and bow to those who have achieved this rare human occurrence.
May the darkness of these days increase our awareness of all the light there is to see.
Holiday blessings to all.