I am preparing services for Christmas. Christmas Eve and our Longest Night Service (December 18th, 7 pm) for those who are, in the words Robert Frost, "acquainted with the night." I ran across what I wrote last year at this time about loss and love.
Reflections on Darkness…
I like sitting in the dark. It doesn’t have to be pitch black. It should be mostly dark, though. I find the darkness peaceful, embracing. It doesn’t demand anything of me. It doesn’t even know I am there. I don’t need an agenda. I don’t need to work. I don’t need to play. I don’t need to be busy. I don’t need to do anything. The darkness is healing. It flows through me.
A member of one of my previous churches shared with me that after she had lost her husband, people would wish her well, that she would be embraced by light and love, and so forth. She, of course, appreciated the caring, but she told me that the wish to be in the light was not something she really wanted. She wanted the dark.
Grieving may best be done in the dark. Grief is too vulnerable, too personal, too fragile to be left in the light. The darkness allows for thoughts and for feelings to move around a bit more freely, feelings of sadness, or even the less sociable feelings, like anger, annoyance, fear are free in the dark to move around the space with you. When the light goes on those feelings hide. The darkness creatively plays with them, shaping them, teasing them, making something new.
We need the darkness of the womb or the cave to be a place of birthing. I am fond of the dark. In the dark I am free from display. Robert Frost said it so beautifully.
I have been one acquainted with the night.I have walked out in rain—and back in rain.I have outwalked the furthest city light.
I have looked down the saddest city lane.I have passed by the watchman on his beatAnd dropped my eyes, unwilling to explain.
I have stood still and stopped the sound of feetWhen far away an interrupted cryCame over houses from another street,
But not to call me back or say good-bye;And further still at an unearthly height,One luminary clock against the sky
Proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right.
I have been one acquainted with the night.
--Robert Frost, Acquainted with the Night
Part of me is sad to see the night begin to lose its battle with the light at Winter Solstice. Oh yes, the light is coming back, the sun, the longer days are promised. Yes. That is good, too. But, now, I like, I need, I want, I treasure, I embrace…the dark.
Reflections on Loss and Love…
The last time I played chess with my father, I admit I let him win. It wasn’t obvious. I made more risky moves than usual and overlooked opportunities. But, nonetheless, I did and I didn’t particularly feel good about it. We never played that way, that is to let the other win. But with the arrival of Winter Solstice, he is now closer to his 100th birthday than his 99th. He sits out his days in a Veterans home, even though he isn’t a veteran, but sometimes he makes a convincing case that he once was one.
His mind is mostly jumbled. Several times a day, he remembers that his beloved Olive May, who he married in 1948 is gone. Gone for over two years now. He shakes and he cries, everytime he remembers which is several times a day. Something he rarely would ever do. In fact, never, in my memory. My father didn’t cry, didn’t hug, didn’t say he loved people. But he could laugh.
Our house was filled with laughter when I was a child. My father loved to joke and tease and my mother was, well, I always thought she was sinless, like Mother Mary. When I think of her not being there for any future visits, phone calls, emails, or letters, it is almost unbearable to go there. Never is a long time. I am missing my parents this Christmas.
And, of course, my son. Five years since his exit. I can think about my mom, or look at a picture, and be happy without the wince, mostly. You know what I mean, the wince. The wince is overwhelming with my son, Zach. I can’t look at a picture and just enjoy the memory. It has a cost to it. That cost is the feeling of loss and all the myriad feelings that come out and play when I sit in the dark. That is why I have to sit in the dark if I want to go there. You have to plan for these things.
A good friend, who I trust, told me there will be a time, at least it was for her, that the wince goes away, and the memory of a lost daughter, in her case, a son in mine, will not force its way into the joyful memory. But that time isn’t this Christmas.
Christmas is what it is. I like it. There is a magic to Christmas Eve that I love. It must be so much humanity poured into one night that it has taken on a life of its own. But sometimes it is that time a few days before Christmas, somewhere around solstice, that some darkness, and some loss, and some articulation of sadness, some Christmas blues from a piano man, is what demands airtime.
I’ll be back. But for now, some time, some space for sacred darkness and holy grief. In his book, Lament for a Son, Nocholas Wolterstorff wrote about his son Eric and his grief and he was questioned if grief ever lessens. Yes, he wrote.
“The wound is no longer raw. But it has not disappeared. That is as it should be. If he was worth loving, he is worth grieving over. Grief is existential testimony to the worth of the one loved. That worth abides.”