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Peering Through Dark Days in Search of a Little Light
We are creatures of light. We lament the season when we live in darkness. Brighter days make many of us feel so much better about life in general.

I’m counting down the days and, if you include today, there are 13 left. OK, OK, I know there are already people who immediately stopped reading and began the mental count to correct my obvious error. ‘Another math mistake, Lynda,’ that’s what those number crunchers are thinking. Everyone knows 16 days remain until the turkey comes out of the oven and the gifts tumble from under the tree.

A book of Advent, Christmas and Epiphany writings, it has been a welcome part of my annual journey through the darkest days...

Ah, but I have you there, for I am not counting the days until Christmas Day. I’m counting the days until daylight. Thirteen days from today I will celebrate the shortest day of the year because once it’s done, we begin to live more in the light than in darkness. 

I made this observation as I chatted with a local baker, having stopped by her bakery on my way home for supper. It was nearly 5 p.m., and she was about to close up shop. Outside shadows were settling around her doorway and we both lamented this current season when we spend more time in darkness than light.

Most of us have been getting up in the dark, eating breakfast in the dark, going to work in the dark, leaving work in the dark, eating supper in the dark, and going to bed in the dark. We let the dog out in the dark, collect the newspaper in the dark (and other brave souls deliver the newspaper in the dark). On cold mornings we scrape the car in the dark, the frost on the windshield and our puffs of breath lighting our way in a transitory illusion that’s pretty, but hardly substantial. 

But after Dec. 21, all that darkness will begin to recede into light. And even though the advancing light will be minimal, and take a winter to become fully exposed, the reality that the days are brighter will make many of us feel so much better about life in general.

For the past few years it’s been my habit to spend a few quiet moments each morning reading from meditative writings before I begin my work day. From late November to mid January I usually pick up the same book, one written mostly from the Christian perspective, but by a wide range of people.

The book, called Watch for the Light (Plough Publishers), includes a reading for Dec. 21, but does not stop at the winter solstice. A book of Advent, Christmas and Epiphany writings, it has been a welcome part of my annual journey through the darkest days of the year. It helps me move thoughtfully toward Christmas, but, even more, it helps me move reflectively toward light. And that makes me feel better about life, even on the blackest days of the year, even before the persistent lights of Christmas.

For example, on November 25 the book featured a poem by Sylvia Plath. That day was a grey, dull day, which those who are familiar with Plath might consider the perfect setting, but not exactly an answer to one’s search for light. After all, how can one gain hope from the words of a woman who ultimately expressed her utter hopelessness by placing her head inside an oven and breathing her last breath in fumes?

But even suicidal, depressed poets understand our need for light. In fact, I suspect they understand it even more than those of us who manage to hold depression at bay.

I discover this to be true as I read Plath’s poem, Black Rook in Rainy Weather. Her inspiration for this poem has come from watching a black bird outside her window on a grey day. Not much hope for light there, but Plath glimpses it, nonetheless.

“Suddenly at my elbow. I only know that a rook/ordering its black feathers can so shine/As to seize my senses, haul/My eyelids up, and grant/A brief respite from fear/Of total neutrality. With luck, trekking stubborn through this season/Of fatigue, I shall/Patch together a content/Of sorts. Miracles occur…”

Yes, even in this season of darkness, miracles occur. Light comes to us as a flash of inspiration, through a warm cup of tea, carried along by a child’s laughter. It comes to us on a starlit night and with the rising sun on a clear, cold morning. It comes to me as I sit at my kitchen table, taking just a few quiet moments each day to be reflective with words, an amazing light source themselves.

Light comes to us, in this season, with a promise. Wait for the Light. December 21 is coming. And after that December 25.

Lynda MacGibbon is a writer based in Riverview New Brunswick and the NB/PEI Director for Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship. She can be reached at lmacgibbon@ivcf.ca.

Originally published in Moncton Times & Transcipt, Moncton, NB, November 27, 2009, and simultaneously on www.canadaeast.com.

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