[Preface: I received my PET scan results this week. It looks all good. I still have a small nodule in my bottom right lung but it continues to shrink. Otherwise, no spread of the disease. So the healing continues to go well. Thank you all for your thoughts, prayers, and positive energy.]
I think I’m inadvertently starting a series of posts on a topic. Last week I wrote about Addiction and Recovery. Today I’m writing about darkness.
Some people suffer seasonal depression around this time of year. I never understood that before, but I am feeling it acutely this year. I’m also feeling a bit of survivor’s guilt. Which, for me, is wrongly named. It should be squander’s guilt. I don’t feel bad about surviving– I feel bad about looking back and thinking I should have accomplished more with this time that I didn’t even know I would have back in April.
Writing it out, I can see that I’m putting the intention in the wrong place with that feeling. It shouldn’t be about accomplishment, it should be about practice and love– which I try my best to engage in daily. But somehow, especially this time of year, it doesn’t feel like enough.
I heard something last year that put a radical spin on my understanding of this dark time of year, the season that the church refers to as Advent. The following text is from the Rob Bell (a spiritual writer) podcast, called the RobCast. This episode is called Darkness and Hope but I’m focusing on the darkness here. If you’d like to listen to it in its entirety, it can be found here. The podcast is an interview with Alexander Shaia, who has a background in anthropology, studied under Joseph Campbell, and is from Birmingham, Alabama. After listening to this, and finding this again this year, I need to read more of this guy.
RB: “Advent season. In December…something within me that’s tuned into nature starts to shut down. I find I like sleep, quiet. Things I’ve been saying for the past year– stop saying those things, stop saying those stories, we’re done, we’re wrapping something up. More and more I’m realizing is a body-heart-soul connection with what the natural rhythms of creation are doing all around me. And Advent was people for thousands of years naming these cyclical patterns in nature.
AS: For Christianity in the northern hemisphere, our whole cycle of feasts were set by the earth. You can looked at all the council documents and the letters…but all this came out of the earth, we were responding to the spirituality of the earth. Christianity at its heart is an eco-spirituality.
Where does this whole thing about Advent come from? When the Christian world met the Celtic world, we’re talking 4th / 5th century common era, The Celtic world goes from Ireland to Turkey but does not go south of the Alps. So that entire northern sweep of Europe is bound by one core practice, which is seeing the great tree that joins the underworld, and this level, and the overworld together.
The great tree that holds all three levels of the world together. The tree becomes representative of us, and how we’re each called to hold those three worlds together.
RB: So the Celtcs saw this great tree of being and the roots are your resources? Depth?
AS: The roots are depth, your history, where you come from…they are giving you what is your potential to do in this life.
RB: So the trunk, the middle would be what we already know?
AS: Yes, our level of reality.
RB: So the top, the branches and leaves up top, would be the…
AS: The heavens, the upper-world, our highest potential. The tree becomes a representative of us and how we’re called to hold those three worlds together.
RB: Wait, the roots, the under…isn’t fire, hell, darkness, judgement?
AS: No, no. The underworld would be our deep resources, the core resources.
RB: Because the Celts were all about the goodness of things, not about spliting everything up. They were about the integration and that which is deepest in you is good.
AS: That’s why the Celts never came into Greece. Greece is that reality that split everything apart into warring opposites. Classical Greek philosophy is very dualistic. The Celtic world is very holistic.
RB: Opposition versus Integration.
AS: Yes, yes, yes. And you have two different forms of Christianity depending on which of those worldviews you come out of.
As long Christianity stayed in the Mediterranean, we stayed very close to our Jewish Mother in the way we practiced and saw the world. The Jewish cycle of feasts are much more about the moon than the sun.
RB: And harvested based on that.
AS: When we went north of the Alps, we had to translate (and I think this is the best form of Christianity), we said we don’t have to hold onto the moon cycle. We understood the Christ story in what your life is about. We see it. Let us share with you how we see the Christ story in what you already know.
RB: The Christ already present.
AS: The Christ already present. We can’t go anywhere and bring the Christ. Christ is everywhere! Christ has always been everywhere!
RB: So night is not to be feared. Darkness is not be abhorred or avoided. It’s understood to be a very normal, healthy, necessary part of the rhythms of life.
AS: Integration not opposition.
The Celtic world understood and we understood in our Mediterranean metaphor, that darkness is the beginning. You can’t move forward if you don’t do well at the beginning…
This time from early November all the way to the Winter solstice was the time of holy darkness. They understood they needed to rest. The harvest was over. They would now step back. They could rest. They could be recreated. They could allow nature to fill them again. They could have new dreams. They needed to set aside the old words, the old dreams…and see what newness would happen to them in this dark time.
So Christianity see this and goes, “Ah! We’re going to call this dark time Advent. Beginning time.” And this beginning time will be the place that will rediscover our vitality and our creativity. If not rediscovered wholly new, rediscover deeper. Be reformed. Be revitalized in this time of darkness which is the beginning.
To me, it’s a sadness that later in Christian history Advent was shorted to be 4 weeks before the Winter solstice, Christmas. As opposed to understanding the more human in us, that we instinctively know that this whole time for us in the northern hemisphere November and December, the dark time, is a time to be embraced.
In a Celtic way, we don’t light candle in this time against the darkness. That’s the old Greek dualism. In the Celtic way of integration we put candles around our homes, trees, and everywhere because we want to decorate the darkness. We want to make the darkness luminous.”