It is the shortest day of the year. Who has not heard, at least once in their lives, Robert Frost’s poem, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”…. The poem indicates that this meditative pause happened on “the darkest evening of the year.” That would be this evening.
There will be abundant darkness after early nightfall tonight all over the land. But no snowy evening where I am (in Florida). though here and there some northerners have scattered about their Christmas decorations some artificial snow — an act of nostalgia for something that was not always pleasant or easy to deal with, but which, in the early going, can be one of Christmas’s gentle visual enhancements (“I’m dreaming of a White Christmas…”)
Wherever we are, even in the depth of the city, there is some wooded arbor, some darkened space we can pause and stare and meditate after nightfall — some place that is “dark and deep.” It might be a chapel. It might be our own little room.
I’ve written of unpleasant darkness, of light deprivation, of the black seal that covers over acts and places of evil-doing. But the good darkness of the theatre before a satisfying play or the room where we have lit the birthday candles on a cake, of that proverbial “light at the end of the tunnel” — that darkness before the dawn, that darkness allows us to enhance and appreciate the light. Perhaps the white — or whiteness — we dream of at Christmas or anytime — is light. We are four days from Christmas, where is manifested, in its dark, deep solemn recesses The Light. The Ultimate Light. And in silence we are able to meditate on it — Silent Night. O Holy Night.
It has been a painful year of fear and pandemic and bitter political divides and destruction, absurdly, carried out in the name of “equality”– a dark year in many ways, waiting and hoping for the light and peace of mind, peace over the land. That pain, that negative darkness cannot be dispelled easily or, perhaps, until the end of time, or the end of our individual lives when, if we have faith and have persevered, we hope, along with St. John Henry Newman, for “a safe lodging and peace at the last…” For, as Newman so beautifully put it, “the night is dark, and we are far from home.”
We have been told there will, someday, be an end of time. But the light — the candle, the flame — that Christmas light in our hearts is called Hope. We work in hope of brighter moments, or changes of heart, including our own and, of course, changes — sometime painful changes — in the conditions of our personal and national lives.
That is the hope that can lighten our heart, God’s own light, as we wait for Christmas, stopping by those woods, so “lovely, dark and deep.”