Wednesday, November 15, 2017

loving the dark November days...

Robert Frost wrote of these days:

These dark days of autumn rain, are beautiful as days can be;
the desolate, deserted trees, the faded earth, the heavy sky;
I learned to know the love of dark November days.


Intuitively, I have long loved the dark days of November. I fear them at times,

to be sure, but treasure them, too.  For 35 years, my Novembers were saturated in song in anticipation of our Thanksgiving Eve's annual Festival of North American Music. Three years ago a blizzard brought this tradition to a close. At first I was heart-broken and empty: it is hard to let go of something so important. Over time, however, it became clear that not only was the time right to let these gatherings slip into silence, but that I needed space to grieve their loss in order to become open to what the new music might be revealed by the Spirit.  To paraphrase St. Paul, "now we see as through a glass darkly, later we shall see face to face." The blizzard forced my hand - and it was holy - albeit  empty and sad, too much like the dark days of November.  Rilke wrote:

The darkness embraces everything,
It lets me imagine
a great presence stirring beside me.
I believe in the night.


At long last I have entered yet another encounter with letting go within the darkness in order that I might be embraced by a season of new blessings. These farewells have a finality to them:  t
his will be my final harvest dinner with our faith community; my last Thanksgiving and Advent as an ordained clergy person; my final Christmas Eve Eucharist.  At the same time, wildly new ways of sharing music, compassion and prayer are taking shape that cause a "great presence of stirring" within me.  Mary Oliver articulates it well: 

You are young. So you know everything. You leap
into the boat and begin rowing. But listen to me.
Without fanfare, without embarrassment, without
any doubt, I talk directly to your soul. Listen to me.
Lift the oars from the water, let your arms rest, and
your heart, and heart’s little intelligence, and listen to
me. There is life without love. It is not worth a bent
penny, or a scuffed shoe. It is not worth the body of a
dead dog nine days unburied. When you hear, a mile
away and still out of sight, the churn of the water
as it begins to swirl and roil, fretting around the
sharp rocks – when you hear that unmistakable
pounding – when you feel the mist on your mouth
and sense ahead the embattlement, the long falls
plunging and steaming – then row, row for your life
toward it.

One of my go to authors, Barbara Brown Taylor, wrote a spiritual memoir called Learning to Walk in the Dark. In it she explains how she pushed through her fears of the dark to experience their blessings."The only real difference between anxiety and excitement was my willingness to let go of fear."

I have learned things in the dark that I could never have learned in the light, things that have saved my life over and over again, so that there is really only one logical conclusion. I need darkness as much as I need light.... Life starts in the dark. Whether it is a seed in the ground, a baby in the womb, or Jesus in the tomb, it starts in the dark.

Yesterday I felt new life stirring within me in the new music I was learning to play with a beloved friend. Today I am reaching out to poets and musicians new to me who are keen on contributing to a "songs of solidarity" project set for the New Year. I am finalizing details for my upcoming retreat with L'Arche Ottawa, too. And tomorrow I will share tea and oranges with a colleague from another faith tradition in hopes of discerning new ways to collaborate.  

Oddly enough, none of these new ventures are grounded in church - at least church as I knew and lived in it - yet each resonates with the sounds of the Eucharist that I have known and cherished for decades. Brown observed that as she learned to walk in the darkness, it happened beyond her congregation:  "I wished I could turn to the church for help, but so many congregations are preoccupied with keeping the lights on right now that the last thing they want to talk about is how to befriend the dark."  She searched for guides beyond her comfort zone who loved the darkness concluding that "the difference between pastoral counselors and spiritual directors... is that we go to counselors when we want help getting out of caves and we go to directors when we are ready to be led farther in."

I can't help but think of Christ's words to his friend Peter at the close of St. John's gospel: I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.  For me, I am being led deeper into a darkness I do not fully understand, but trust beyond a doubt.  St. Leonard hit it out of the park with this one.

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