25 Songs of Christmas: Dec 21 – Let there Be Light
Today is the Winter Solstice. The longest night of the year. The peak of darkness in the Northern Hemisphere. I have focused a lot on darkness this holiday season. It has hung heavy and oppressive around us. We see it on the news. We see it in our streets. Our schools. Our homes. Sometimes it even grows in our own hearts. Darkness comes in the form of oppression, racism, injustices, poverty, violence, and it seems to have spread at a crippling pace lately. The news reports are constant. Every time I turn on my computer, I see new reports of Black men gunned down, or children being abducted, terrorists taking control of another city, another country attacking its neighbors. And violence, as it always does, has begun to beget more violence. Revenge killings, retribution, capital punishment, civil wars abroad and in our own cities. The darkness continues to spiral ever deeper, and I am reminded of the words of Dr. Martin Luther King: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” And it seems like all we have sometimes is darkness with too little light to drive it out.
Then I was talking to a friend who checked in with me the other day, and she gave me a bit of a new perspective I hadn’t considered. She said that the racism and injustice in the way systems of authority work in this country are nothing new. You could probably pick any year in American history and find just as many unarmed people were killed, followed by just as many blown court cases and just as many acts of retaliation, if not more of them. I know enough about American history not to argue this point. No doubt, many years in our history have been worse. She suggested that the increase in news stories, in public outrage, in people’s willingness to stand up and say, “I am not okay with this,” is actually not part of the growing darkness, it may actually mean the exact opposite.
Her comments reminded me of a conversation I had with another friend early in the year. She follows a very different spiritual path from my own, but I often find we’re working through the same things, often in very similar ways, only with different terms. She told me back in the spring that 2014 was supposed to be a year of light. I had already seen a bit of what this year had to offer the Spangler family, and it didn’t feel like lightness to me. Even then I could sense the darkness spreading, and I told her so. She explained that the light didn’t always mean “easy.” It didn’t always mean “happy.” The light didn’t even mean “new.” Often times the light shined on things that were unpleasant, taking things long hidden and revealing them for what they truly were. Sometimes the light reveals things that horrify us, things we have worked hard to keep in darkness so we didn’t have to face them, because when we did face that truth in the full light of day, we would have no choice but to do something about it.
Which brings me to Solstice.
When I first started hearing of people who celebrated Solstice, it seemed odd to me. Counterintuitive. Why celebrate an abundance of darkness? It was only as I talked to more people that I gained a deeper understanding of what solstice celebrations were really about. The people who celebrate on this longest night of the year are not celebrating the darkness, they are celebrating the return of the light. You see, every day from here on we will get another minute or two of light. At first they will likely be too short to notice, too few to make a difference. There are still long nights ahead. There are still periods of great darkness in our future, but to celebrate today is to say, “This is as dark as it will get.” To celebrate today is to say, “I know the light is coming, slowly, but steadily back in to our lives.” To celebrate the Winter Solstice is to look at the pinnacle of darkness and say, “You are finished. This is all you get from us. From this day forward your grip over our lives will only lessen.”
I do not find it coincidental that so many of the world’s major religions celebrate light this time of year. Solstice welcomes the returning of the light. Hanukkah is the Festival of Lights. The Hindus of the world recently celebrated Diwali (they got a head start on us), and Christians follow the light of a single star to Bethlehem seeking the Light of the World. What if all of these ancient traditions are sharing the same ancient wisdom and we as a culture are just remembering ancient lessons here in our own dark night? What if the call pulling at us all in this moment is not a response to the darkness at all, but rather our spirits yearning for our own return to the light?
Maybe it won’t be an easy kind of light. Maybe at first it’s actually going to be really hard, uncomfortable, even painful to see the things we as a culture, as a country, even as a global people have worked hard to ignore, but if that process, if that coming to light ultimately leads to a real driving out of the darkness, then I say, let there be light.
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