The Longest Night: Intentional Movement towards The Light of the World

The cloud cover is denser. The trees are grey. The garden is silent and sleeping. I’m not a fan of winter.

The shorter days get to me. When I’m visiting my hospice patients and it’s getting dark before 5 p.m., I find myself drooping. I get home to a list of chores: dinner, dishes, laundry, and some days even finishing my charting. I’m not happy. I am one who flourishes in the light.

For the last couple of years I’ve tried to keep a sense of where I am emotionally as the days get shorter and shorter. I find that I am short-tempered, and as much as I am an extrovert, I don’t want to deal with people. So as we moved from the Fall Equinox towards the Winter Solstice this year, I made some intentional shifts in my thinking and my practice.

1. I use my “Light Clock” in the mornings as I’m getting ready for work. I need sunlight, even at 6 a.m. There’s one downstairs in the main living area… and one in our bedroom. It helps!

2. I counteract my growing grumpiness by engaging in “A Month of Thanksgivings” in November. Now I get that some people HATE it when people take a whole month on Facebook with posts on what they are thankful for. I get it. I spent last November (2013) hoping for a job — that I didn’t get and it depressed me. But I tried to be intentional in my thankfulness, because I do have much to be thankful for in my life. This year was easier than last year, but I still had to work at it.

3. I am pro-active in helping to plan and lead a “Longest Night” service at our church. The time of Winter Solstice is difficult for many people. Sitting at the bedside of a patient last week, as I sang an Advent hymn to him (“O Come, O Come Emmanuel”), he opened his eyes and said, “I am ready. God can come now.” His family would have preferred he make it to Christmas. His heart and his cancer didn’t oblige. I know they will walk through these last days before Christmas and beyond with heavy hearts. And I know there are many who are struggling to be joyful in a time when everything is wrong.

The Longest Night or “Blue Christmas” services you hear about vary from church to church, as we each find our way through the scriptures and the words of Hope that come with Advent, and the longing and waiting for Christmas. Our church tends to be on the contemplative side, with space for writing, thinking, creating and worshipping.

The service is also one of intentionality: we do not want to stay in the Dark. With quiet, with prayer, and with others, we take one step and another towards the promised Hope found in Christ. We don’t tell each other to “cheer up”… we walk together in our shared struggles and dashed dreams.

This year, with the help of my family, we created a 3-circuit labyrinth in the church’s Chapel. (I’ll share more about how they did it in another post.) The room was dark, lit only by the lights at our feet and some Christmas lights and candles on the perimeter of the room. There was soft music playing and the room had a other-worldly feeling about it, one where the distance between heaven and earth was a very “thin place.”

I had spent over an hour the night before trying to figure out how to do this by myself and ended up being frustrated. A little simple math and geometry, and they  had the whole labyrinth done in less than 2 hours!

Longest Night labyrinth at Church in Bethesda, Maryland. Dec 21, 2014
Longest Night labyrinth at Church in Bethesda, Maryland. Dec 21, 2014

As I pondered this, I thought about what God had shown me in this liminal space:

– Even though I am frustrated and sad, I need others. I need to know there is another day coming, where the Light will return. I take this as validation that my November postings of Thankfulness are a good spiritual discipline, not only for myself, but for others.

– There’s options I have not always considered…. and there’s strength in numbers. I especially need others to help me get past my frustrations and see that there other ways to do things.

– Rarely does one make the journey from darkness to Light alone. It is almost always overcome-able if you have friends for the journey.

– The practice of gratefulness, for me, is essential. That means doing a little year-end Facebook meme (and knowing that while the year wasn’t perfect, it was full of God’s goodness. I just have to look for it.) That also means I don’t get sidetracked or feel guilty if I engage being thankful. (You’d be surprised — or maybe not — at how people can get snarky about “brag-booking” when in truth I am trying to stay positive.)

– I found ways to enjoy Christmas music all-month long. I am an educated Church musician, and I’ll break all those “Advent rules” and sing Silent Night in Advent. I’ll sing it to my patients who may or may not make it to Christmas. And I’ll sing with heart full of gratitude for the coming Light. Jesus.

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