Monday, December 3, 2012

The Gift of December Darkness

Night (noun) 1.the period of darkness between sunset and sunrise...nightfall...the darkness of night; the dark.                     --Random House Dictionary
So my three “42 Inch Cool White Twinkling LED Snowflake” outdoor Christmas lights returned to action this past Sunday night, after having slumbered away for the past eleven months in my garage. From early December to the first weekend next January, my trio of oversized white plastic flashing hexagons (which can be yours for just $24.99 apiece from Target!) hang from three trees in my front yard. From sundown until midnight, they twinkle away with an otherworldly glow. Not hard to miss. 
Tacky? Gaudy?  Over the top?  To my east I’ve got one neighbor who swears by the understated simplicity of single candles in the windows and a green wreath on the front door illuminated by a spotlight. But then down the street on his front lawn another neighbor plants a life sized plastic blow up Santa Claus striding atop an airplane. Each night Saint Nick inflates and sets down upon a candy cane landing strip.  When it comes to holiday lights, I guess beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  Yet it this very human impulse to light up the night at the darkest time of the year which fascinates me.
December is finally about the night more than any other month of the year in this part of the world.  It is dark and will get darker right up until winter solstice on the 21st. Dusky days diminish in natural light. Even at high noon on a clear December day the quality of sunlight is subdued, slanted and diffuse. We arise in the shadows and come home in the dark.  And so in this twelfth month we face a choice: to push back the night, to deny the night and fight or even fear the night or to love the night and all that it brings.
Not easy, for the night and the dark can get a bad rap.  It was in a darkened room as children, after all, that we first learned to fear the night with its imagined bumps from under the bed and shadows on the wall.  Dark is the absence of light, a negative definition.  Thieves forever skulk in the night. Souls full of sin are named as “dark”.  It is at night we struggle the most with worries that seem to only fade away with the sunrise and light. 
But consider the gifts of the dark. It was in the dark God formed us in our mother’s wombs, the dark and warm waters of life. It is on the darkest of night, no moon in sight, no clouds above, when we remember our place in the vast and amazing universe, stars blazing away in an indigo sky. We look up and see the work of the Creator and know everything is made of the same cosmic stuff.  The dark reminds us that we need each other: a hand to hold on to, a friend to depend upon, a family to sit with in front of a warming fire on an ice cold night.
The dark is fully democratic. The star I view from the safety of my suburban front porch is the exact same star the homeless man on Boston Common sees. The night reminds me that he needs me and I need him, for together we each live in one miraculous and interdependent world, forever marked by the light and the dark. If we are going to wade into the night, let’s do it together. 
There is finally no escaping the dark and the night.  It holds us for half of life.  It returns every December. It circles around every afternoon or evening.  So I say put up all of those holiday lights and then go out and buy even more and hang up those flashing and twinkling and pulsating lights too!  Bring it on! Soft and sweet icicle lights that swing from the gutters.  Rudolph the Red Nosed reindeer balanced on a rooftop.  A Hanukah star all ablaze and Joseph and Mary and baby Jesus camped out too, right on Main Street. 
It is all good. It is all light.  It is night. In the words of Sarah Williams, from her poem “The Old Astronomer”, “Though my soul may set in darkness, it will rise in perfect light; I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.”
See you in the dark.

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