Desperately Seeking Light

“The Light shines in the Darkness and the Darkness did not overcome it.”  (John 1:5)

I live in the Pacific Northwest where the days get very short this time of year (approaching 8 hours of light).  To compound that is the weather pattern – this is our rainy time of year.  Today is such a day and it is really dark.  Well, not totally so, but certainly gloomy and overcast and dreary.  My response is to hang Christmas lights outside earlier than I ever would have elsewhere.  Lots of folks do it here as we work to push back the darkness.  We traveled for Thanksgiving celebrations, but the day after our return I was out there, hanging the lights.  They provide a sense of cheer and welcome in the midst of the dark.

Another thing that does that is gathering with Family, which is what we did for Thanksgiving in Wisconsin.  This year was not as large a gathering as some but it was certainly spirited and warm.  It’s cold there, but also sunny.  

My sister had provided major support for our Dad until he died in the year 2000 (Mom died in 1996), so she ended up with the family albums that my parents had put together.  This Thanksgiving we dragged them out to look at what was there and to begin the process of deciding what to keep.  The task was a journey into darkness because my family had a lot of death and grief throughout my childhood and even early adulthood.  The first album I opened told the story of my older sister who was 6 years old when she died suddenly of spinal meningitis.  I was 10 months old and there are a couple of pictures of her holding me.  I have no memory of her at all.  But, of course, her death was devastating for my parents.   And ultimately, that would impact me as well.

The album itself is kind of appropriate. Put together around 1950, it is all black with a gold and red emblem in the middle.  The contents are very sad.  Pictures of Anne when she was born up until she died.  And then the short news story about her sudden death and the certificate of burial.  Half the album contains condolence cards.  How do you recover from such darkness?  How is that the light prevails?  And what does that really mean anyway?

We are living in very dark times.  Shootings in schools, neighborhoods, Armed Forces Bases, social gatherings, have become a common occurrence.  The common understanding of our culture has all but disappeared as everything, from science, medicine, behavioral norms, courtesy, respect has all been shot with holes.  Public figures condemn each other and call each other names on social media.  Violence, Corruption, deal making, profiteering, becoming wealthy at all costs, “me first” – all of these abound in the public sphere and in too many homes.  

“The Light shines in the Darkness and the Darkness did not overcome it.”  (John 1:5)

When we lived in California, unlike many of the folks there, I came to dislike the endlessly sunny days.  No clouds, not much rain, occasional fog, but that was very rare (unless you went into San Francisco or to the coast in the summer).  The creation of light requires darkness to give it meaning and depth.  In fact, without darkness, we would be blinded by light.  Both are needed to make a whole experience.  Perhaps my family experience of death beginning from the time I was very young is what has given me an appreciation for darkness.  Dark times bring me to ask the hard questions and to let them live in me without any easy answers.  

Have you ever been anywhere where it is totally dark?  Only once in my lifetime did I have that experience.  I accompanied my husband on a wild cave tour, led by him and some of his friends.  When we got into the cave, we turned out our lights at one point to experience the dark.  It was 100%.  I literally couldn’t see the hand in front of my face.  At that time (almost 40 years ago now) I really didn’t like it.  But I today I wonder.  If I could have seen that experience like being in the womb of the earth, I might have responded differently.  I might have relaxed and enjoyed it a bit longer instead of responding out of fear.

Going through dark times (personal or global) can be similar. Even though we can’t see our way out, we can try to look at the experience differently.  Is something new happening that we haven’t noticed?  Are we being invited to reflect on our own life and change some things?  Is there a pattern that we haven’t seen that will give new meaning to our experience?  There is an inner light that emerges from asking such questions.  Just asking them brings that light into our hearts and minds, and creates space for life to move forward.

I have no memory of my sister’s arms around me as I began to crawl and stand and interact with her and the world, but my body knows of that loving (if tentative) touch.  I did find light in that black album that was so full of grief.  I saw it in a picture of my mother with my sister on her lap, facing the camera.  Both of their faces are happy, my mother’s especially so.  I rarely saw that in my mother as I was growing up, as grief drew her into anger and resentment. 

My sister’s death, along with others that my family was to endure, somehow grounded me in a life that is vibrant and thriving, looking for light everywhere.  I am grateful.  The light that I constantly seek is found in you and me, in the forests, on the mountains, in and on the sea, in the other humans and creatures with whom we share this planet.  May your dark times reveal the light that sustains you and moves you forward toward ever increasing life.

“The Light shines in the Darkness and the Darkness did not overcome it.”  (John 1:5)

5 thoughts on “Desperately Seeking Light

  1. Patricia
    My folks lost two of their children early in my life. Both of my sisters were impacted by Cystic Fibrosis from birth. Your discussion here about light and dark have given me some insight as to the disposition of my parents, especially my mother.

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  2. You capture the movement of light and darkness so well, the longing and necessity for both as well as the tendency to forgot one when steeped in the other. Remembering the bleakness of Pittsburgh winters I am so grateful for our green NW in the midst of rain and cloud and grey sky. Thank you for your very personal reflection on the verge of Solstice.

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  3. I liked your comment about the need for contrast – light and dark. It reminds me of seeds and growth and the natural world. All forms of life emerge from the nursery of darkness into the light of day.

    I’ll keep in mind your comments, particularly on the 21st. Many thanks!

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