Winter Solstice: An Advent Collision

Last night crept in, longest night of my life–farthest north I’d ever been on a winter solstice–and I dissolved into the sort of writhing, fearsome sobs that feel like they ought to produce something. I hoped they would.

“I am feeling overwhelmed,” I told my husband. “I think I’d benefit from some time alone.” I imagined the angels looked down upon me, sorry I was in such consternation.

Two Mary figures vie for my affections. The first, Lady Mary of Downton Abbey. She is not the exemplar of success; it’s only that she fell into the comfort of an aristocratic family and has the pride, class, and stubbornness to hold onto it. And then there is Mary, mother of God. Her most confident cry is one of praise that God has favored her in her humility.

I want to be both, to stop sniveling in apology and worry, to be the listener and accepter that Mary is: Let it be unto me. For three years running, that line grips me. But couldn’t I yet know the graces of being a confident woman, whose etiquette and words are so deftly handled that it’s a social comfort to be with me in any circumstance? On the other hand, if I choose let it be, then I fear my natural foibles will fall undisciplined upon and around me, an embarrassment to the potential of beauty in the universe. In short, surely both Marys cannot coexist in me.

If I accept that I am growing and not seeing my own growth, then I accept that it is okay to be in the dark, to be ignorant. Maybe it’s never a lingering thing, of course, but it seems a weak word anyway: ignorance. Pressing on, accomplishing my version of good, making and remaking–in the name of glory (but never, admittedly, in the name of greed)–those are the prizes of success: not that we are given to, but that we are able to give and must, by all means. Christmas giving, after all.

Oh, our tilted axis, and oh, earth orbiting round the sun–you mean dark days. Clark Strand, in his New York Times article “Bring on the Dark: Why We Need the Winter Solstice”, honors the idea of darkness as something robbed from us in our modern generations’ immersion in artificial light. Darkness used to be a holy space, when people of old “touched one another, told stories and, with so much night to work with, woke in the middle of it to a darkness so luxurious it teased visions from the mind and divine visitations that helped to guide their course through life….It was once the hour of God.”

The hour of God. The hour of open hands. The hour of sleep, when there is ample space for rest. Darkness puts a stop to our constant seeing, our intentional discovering. Perhaps it leaves space unfilled, so that we may be recreated and named by God instead of giving in to “the impulse to remake the world in our own image.”

There will be light in time; there will be springs and summers in which to walk and plan and build. But in the darkness, we open the habitual possibility of listening to the words of a messenger angel, who may tell us what great blessing comes to the world beyond all that we could ever dream, through us (see Mary mother of God’s story) or through others (see Joseph the carpenter’s story).

Or maybe we will grow to savor the darkness, when nothing of consequence at all is announced, when we realize that peace has already come.

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