Embracing Darkness

Third Acts of Faith, December 2022 Issue

By Jane Ellen Nickell
Coordinating Committee Member

In these days when the seasons turn and night falls early, we find ourselves living in darkness. Many winter rituals involve lighting fires or candles, with bonfires for Yule, Hanukkah’s menorah, Advent candles, and the kinara that is lit during Kwanzaa. These dark days seem to call forth some innate desire for light.

In our quest for light, we often condemn the darkness. We construct darkness as evil, using that connotation to justify the oppression of people with dark skin. But darkness has a beauty of its own. In seeking light, we miss the mystery that lies hidden in shadows, what Henry Vaughan calls “a deep but dazzling darkness.” Light itself would have no meaning apart from the darkness. Night is the blank canvas on which the light of day is splashed.

We need the darkness. Just as surely as our bodies need the night’s rest, the earth needs this dormant period of winter. In the months when our part of the earth is tipped away from the sun, seeds lie beneath the ground, awaiting the warmth of spring. Trees stand bare, flowers die away, and grasses stop growing. In the midst of this drab season, evergreens remind us that this time is not about death, but is simply a different phase of life, as the earth cycles round to a season when nature will again flourish with new life.

As we work to address threats to democracy and impending climate disaster, many of us feel that we are experiencing a dark time. These winter days invite us to embrace the darkness and to balance our activism with rest and quiet reflection. In our winter celebrations, we engage the wisdom of ancestors through stories of how they survived difficulty. Through rituals of light, we look for signs of hope that, like the evergreens, promise a resurgence of life to come.