Updated: Jun 14, 2022
By Beth Norcross & Meighan Fraga
As we move into Advent and Hanukkah, both celebratory of light in the midst of darkness, we might not be fully convinced. Despite the glow of artificial light all around us, our bodies remember an earlier time -- an anxious time -- when the only hope against the growing darkness was the light of the fire. In Gayle Boss’s beautiful and profound work, All Creation Waits: The Advent Mystery of New Beginnings, she describes how the early peoples might have viewed this time of year:
Each day throughout the fall they watched the light dwindle, felt the warmth weaken. It made them anxious, edgy. . . Throughout December, as the sun sank and sank to its lowest point on their horizon, they felt the shadow of primal fear—fear for survival—crouching over them. . . Yes, last year the sun had returned to their sky. But what if, this year, it didn’t? . . . Our bodies still ask that question.
Our bodies still ask that question.
In particular, when our political and cultural climate feels particularly grim, we can intuitively feel the dark time -- both literally and metaphorically.
What does the Spirit have to teach us for this time? What does nature, infused by the Spirit, have to teach us for this time?
The first hard truth that nature teaches us is that darkness is a necessity for ecological systems. It provides cover from predators, relief from the cold for those who nest and burrow, and for many, a time of much-needed rest, healing and renewal. Faced with impending darkness, critters and creatures have several different responses. Some flee to warmer and sunnier climes, some slow down and withdraw, while still others stay active and resist.
In All Creation Waits, Gayle Boss describes how several specific creatures respond to the darkness of winter. We found one essay, in which she describes how female skunks confront the cold and darkness, particularly intriguing. This critter, generally solitary and independent, spends much of the fall readying herself for winter by eating as much as possible and creating a warm, deep nest. “But when winter begins nipping at her shoulder, she compromises. . . Solitary the rest of the year, here she folds herself into others.” She leaves her own nest to join with three to nine other females. “What matters is not whose nest, but togetherness.” Occasionally, one will poke her head out of the nest to see if there might be some food available. But mostly they sleep -- the fatter, heartier ones less so, the slimmer more needful ones more. Many are carrying young that will be born in the spring.
Gayle Boss says about the skunk: “In the cold, spare season her survival sense forces her to go deeper.”
We might ask during this season of darkness whether our survival sense is urging us, too, to go deeper. What might that entail? What resources might we find deep within ourselves in the slow rhythms of winter? Is Spirit waiting for us there?
And, despite our inherent independence, are there others with whom we might gather? Who are the slimmer among us who need our warmth? Who have additional internal resources with whom we might snuggle up? What ideas, imaginings, hopes for spring are we carrying through the darkness? How do we nurture those and keep them safe until it is time to release them in the warmth of spring?
For inspiration and guidance, you might check out our suggested reading list and continue to look for our series this month, Finding Our Way Through the Darkness, on our social channels. We will continue to offer short practices and reflections on living with intention and heart in the dark times. Find the first post, which offers a simple Lectio Divina in nature practice, on Facebook here.
Wishing you rest, warmth and renewal during this season of light and dark.
All Creation Waits: The Advent Mystery of New Beginnings by Gayle Boss
Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard
Winter: A Spiritual Biography of the Season, eds. Gary Schmidt & Susan M. Felch
Winter Hours by Mary Oliver
Dakota: A Spiritual Geography by Kathleen Norris
“For Warmth” by Thich Nhat Hanh
“I am Going to Start Living Like a Mystic” by Edward Hirsch