Now that we’ve passed through the longest night of the year, the Winter Solstice (in this hemisphere anyway), we find ourselves moving towards the lighter seasons of the year, and in just a few days we will be celebrate the story that is at the heart of Christian faith – God coming into the world to be in solidarity with us in our broken, vulnerable and beautiful humanity, and of light shining in the darkness.
Five years ago I wrote a reflection that I’d like to share today. The issues of that day were far different than the ones we face now, yet somehow the message still applies to where we find ourselves at the end of 2021. My children are older, my living circumstances have changed, and back in 2016 I didn’t have an inkling about pandemics. Yet, I still cling to the same hope that light will come.
But before I share that, I wanted to let you know about a few things coming up in the New Year. We are looking for a few more participants for our online retreat on 2nd January to welcome the New Year with a New Song. If the timing works for you, please join us!
Onwards into 2022 and Beyond
- Sing a New Song Online Mini-Retreat 2 January – There are a few places available! We’ve been asked to offer another “Sing a New Song” Retreat, this timing favoring Pacific Rim timing – specifically Eastern Australia, where a friend of mine is based. We will be listening for the new song in our lives just after the turn of the New Year, on Sunday the 2nd of January 2022. This time, Paul and I will be the ones yawning and sipping our morning coffee at 7am in Ireland, in the cold of winter, while our friends on the Pacific Rim will be bright eyed and bushy-tailed at 6pm Australia in the heat of summer. It will also be daytime for East Asia, the Indian subcontinent, the Middle East, and Europe. Perhaps this is a chance to look ahead and consider what the new year could be about for you or someone you know? Book your place here
- Silent Retreat 25-27 February – I’ll be leading a Silent Retreat at the beautiful Corrymeela Centre here on the north coast. It will be a chance to still the swirl of everyday life and listen, deeply, to yourself and to God, while in the midst of a gathered community. We listen to ourselves – to our own voices, needs, pains, griefs, longings and hopes for the future. And we listen to what God might saying to us and leading us into. Silence crosses many barriers. This retreat is open to people from a variety of religious and spiritual backgrounds, and it would be lovely to have you with us. Book your place here
- New Psalms for the Spirit Podcast Episodes It’s by chance that these new episodes are coming out during the season of Advent, but I think it’s fitting. At this time of the liturgical year we recognize our longing for a better world, and we name our hopes for justice and peace to become more fully present here on earth. Those themes are most definitely present in the Psalms, which constantly remind us that God is with us in our broken, vulnerable, beautiful humanity.
- Ep. 16 Lament as a Sacred Act with Peace Lee, spiritual director, preacher and educator on decolonial and feminist perspectives
- Ep. 17 Delivering us through the Pains of Life and Death, with John L. Bell, hymnwriter, author, broadcaster of the Iona Community
- Ep. 18 Awakening to our Belovedness, with Ruth Patterson, Presbyterian minister, writer, retreat leader and founder of “Restoration Ministries” in Northern Ireland
- Bless My Feet Community – I plan to start a new series in the new year… more on that in a few weeks.
- Spiritual Direction – I’d love to walk alongside you on your journey. Find out more about what that might mean for you here
- Turas Pilgrimage in Ireland October 2023 – find out more here
Reflection, 22 December 2016
The longest night is over. The light is already beginning to shine on this earth for a few more moments each day.
But the last few months have seemed dark indeed. Bad news upon bad news. Even good news has been dimmed by the worry that a shadow might be cast over it at any moment.
Each time I open up the paper, or look at the TV, or scroll through my social media newsfeed and see haggard bodies walking through torn-apart streets, and weary faces seeking a place to rest, and desperate people pleading for rescue, there’s no ignoring it: there is darkness in this world. When I hear story after story of individuals or communities being targeted and harassed because of race, or religion, or the way they choose to express themselves, there’s no denying it: there is darkness in this world. When I read about land being willfully polluted by greedy profiteers, or natural disasters sweeping away entire landscapes, or rising temperatures destroying ecosystems, there’s no avoiding it: there is darkness in this world.
When I look ahead at the future, it doesn’t look as bright, crisp or clear as it once did when I was younger. It looks rather shadowy. As a mother of three young children who are rapidly becoming more independent, my maternal mind is primitively wired to sound warning bells whenever I sense danger, to ensure the safety of my offspring. I’m no longer that naïve child, that foolhardy teenager, that idealistic college student, that hormone-empowered pregnant woman, that blissed out baby mama. No, I’m the mother of three children who have their own legs, with which they can (and should) walk out into this big, bad, dark, dangerous world. I’m the mother of three individuals who have their own personalities, their own strengths and weaknesses, their own hopes and insecurities, and it is heart-wrenching to think of the pain or suffering they have, are, and will inevitably go through. I’ve witnessed too much sadness in the lives of loved ones for whom things have not always turned out rosy, and I know that things sometimes go very, very wrong in this dark world of ours.
There is darkness. Many have been sitting in darkness for the past few months. Many have spent their lives sitting in darkness. Many will sit through darkness in the years ahead. There’s no use pretending that this isn’t so.
In the beginning of Genesis’s account of creation, “darkness covered the face of the deep.” God creates light, but God doesn’t destroy darkness.
“Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness God called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.” (Genesis 1:1-5)
God does not banish the darkness. It remains.
Darkness remains. Darkness covers us with its shadowy blanket, casting mystery and unknowableness around us. Ancient peoples’ great fear was that darkness would not end, and that the light of the sun would never again return. Perhaps we are not so different, anxious as we are that the darkness might overpower the light; worrying as we do, that it might swallow us up forever.
In our darkness, we utter the same words prayed by others in countless times, places, and life circumstances, wondering whether God has left us.
“My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Psalm 22)
“How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” (Psalm 13)
“O Lord, God of my salvation, when, at night, I cry out in your presence, let my prayer come before you; incline your ear to my cry.” (Psalm 88)
The people who have prayed these psalms in their own times of trouble are our companions in our darkness.
But with voices echoing through thousands of years, these companions also testify to their own experiences of God’s faithfulness, assuring us that even though we cannot always see God’s face, our God has not left us alone.
“Even though I walk in the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.” (Psalm 23)
“In the watches of the night… my soul clings to you.” (Psalm 63)
“At night, God’s song is with me, a prayer to the God of life.” (Psalm 42)
One thing we know: there is darkness. But there’s another thing we know, and that’s that darkness does not last forever. The psalms also remind us of this.
“Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and God saved them from their distress; God brought them out of darkness…” (Psalm 107)
“The Lord is my light and my salvation: whom shall I fear?” (Psalm 27)
“Weeping may linger through the night, but joy comes in the morning.” (Psalm 30)
Morning by morning, we know that light will come. Morning by morning, the dark shadows scatter as the sun’s rays break over the surface of the horizon. At this particular time of the year – especially following the longest night, especially in the days leading up to the birth of our Emmanuel, God with us – we celebrate this profound truth.
“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it,”declares John 1:5.
Right now, I hold tight to this core belief. It is precious to me. It is a message that I want to live into as a parent, as a minister, and as a human being. It is a message that I want to pass on to my children, and my children’s children, and my children’s children’s children. It is the greatest truth there is, because it counters our deepest, most primitive, most reactionary fears. It is a belief both profound and simple, expressing the everlasting, undying hope to which we cling: that even though darkness remains, it will not prevail. Light will always pierce through even the darkest night, and a new day will dawn.
Until then, we wait. “I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in God’s word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning, more than those who watch for the morning.” (Psalm 130)
And when we do sit in times of darkness – which we inevitably have, are, and will, even during this Christmas season – may we find some small part in ourselves that can trust that one day, our Light will come, and all things will be brought into the full brightness and warmth of God’s hope, and peace, and joy, and love.
The image above is called “Woman before the Rising Sun” by Caspar David Friedrich (1774-1840).