Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Darkness; On the longest night of the year

My friend in Portland wrote this on the 21st and shared it with me today via email. The photograph was taken by him outside his residence at Portland University.


Today is the shortest day of the year here in the northern hemisphere, December 21. Midnight in Portland brought new layers of snow and then early morning freezing rain. The weather holds the northwest hostage. Our ground is covered with a white glaze almost blinding to the eyes as we labor to make our way around on foot. Most vehicles are on vacation today. The sun hides in the gray sky behind very gray clouds. The dictionary states that gray means cheerless and dismal. And, it’s just a few days before Christmas.

The final hymn sung at our Advent Mass this Sunday morning, proclaimed: “Jesus, hope of the world, -- Jesus, light in our darkness, here we await you, O Master Divine. Here we receive you in bread and wine – Jesus, hope of the world… shatter the darkness… banish our doubt and fear.”

Like all of us, I have dark days and nights. I have the usual gray bouts with loss, disappointment, loneliness, defeat, doubt, fear. Many of the stories told in this book are joyous and genuinely remarkable tales. They eventually add up to be a pleasing, hopeful account of life. Other stories cannot end happily. Some will never find their way to a satisfying outcome. In between uplifting or challenging stories are those usual portions of grayness. Hope is a gift that is intended to carry us through all that life dishes out. December 21 may serve as a good example for hope. It is dark now but we know that in the future there will be more daylight. We may not have the light we wish for now but it will come.

Years ago during a Quaker Meeting in Texas I experienced an epiphany, an awakening to the magnificent power of the Inner Light, the very presence of God’s Spirit dwelling within each and every person. While many religions with which I am familiar believe in the divine indwelling of God, the notion of God within us as light crystallized for me during a silent meeting of Friends. To me, Light signifies relationship, in this case deep connectedness in the very life of God, our loving creator. I realize how vital this truth is to the meaning of hope.

The prophet Isaiah understood this well when he spoke for God: “I will lead the blind on roads they have never known; I will guide them on paths they have never traveled. Their road is dark and rough, but I will give light to keep them from stumbling. This is my solemn promise.” (Is. 42, 14-16)

The snows will melt. The ice will be gone. The gray will allow sun to break through. Hope reminds me the same will be true in our lives. We remember our own stories. We reflect on the fact that God arranged for changes time after time, season after season. Every moment the Inner Light lives in us. It’s God’s promise.

-=Richard F. Berg, csc

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