Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Advent Gratitude: The Liturgical Year Begins as Darkness Grows

 

shutterstock_251257738“the glory is fallen out of / the sky the last immortal / leaf / is // dead and the gold / year / a formal spasm / in the // dust / this is the passing of all shining things” … into the night so dark no night could be darker than, the cold so cold, no cold could be colder than; the journey through “The mile still left when all have reached / Their tether’s end: that mile / Where the Child lies hid.”

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not overmaster it. But neither has light overmastered the darkness: lights do not shine in darkness unless darkness predominates; when there’s mostly light, we see the darkness as residual shadows, not as the ambient state.

Darkness is in one sense the enemy of God, of Christ who is Light, whose dawn at Easter irreparably shatters the dark of death and hell, the light of the eighth, eternal day, shining for all days before and after:

Can there be any day but this,
Though many sunnes to shine endeavour?
We count three hundred, but we misse:
There is but one, and that one ever.

But darkness is also God’s gift. Darkness is how we come to know that light, not darkness, has positive substance, a substance not to be taken for granted. Dark nights of the soul are from God, not the enemy.

Easter is eternal, the center of the liturgical year. But the liturgical year begins with Advent, the season farthest from it, the season that waits in ever-increasing darkness, waits for a light that’s not yet even born. Advent is a season of hope, yes, but also one of penitence, another Lent, not ending in the drama of Holy Week and the decisive triumph of Easter, but ending merely in an incipient promise, new born and shivering in the dark; an infant born into an age when surviving childhood was by no means assured, “An infant crying in the night: / … and with no language but a cry.”

Those of us now heir to the story of this child live with the luxury of already knowing how the story ends. We know that, in the light of Easter, this tiny hairless mammal, crying inarticulately as all newborns must, will reveal Himself as the Word Made Flesh, the Word who is, indeed, the Final Word – the One Who will return “with clouds descending” at the Second Coming, bearing the “dear tokens of His passion” on a “dazzling body,” heralding a new heaven and a new earth where the chaos of the sea is banished and all tears will be wiped away. In light of all that, our jollying and hollying doesn’t have to wonder at the absurd fragility of one light nascent amidst so much darkness.

Nor do we have to wonder whether the Annunciation portrayed a God of Israel no different from the other lecher gods of antiquity, rogering human females as it pleased them, providing convenient (if not exactly plausible) cover for bastardy and infidelity. Nor need we worry, as those tenderly devoted to Jesus did, even as Easter itself was dawning, why “they” had taken Jesus out of the tomb, and what “they” had done with His body. Right up until the moment they witnessed the resurrection, even Jesus’s most faithful followers couldn’t know what we take for granted now: how the story of this child would end in victory.

Faithful Christians can’t un-know how the story ends, but the liturgical year is space to imagine the story unfolding in time once more, to marvel at its absurd contingency, how “the path that leads through nature and history to his Kingdom does not simply follow the contours of either nature or history, or obey the logic immanent to them, but is opened to us by way of the natural and historical absurdity – or outrage – of the empty tomb.”

no lingering no backward-
wondering be unto
us O
soul

No lingering, no backward wondering. The glory of autumn is over, all wrecked, all spent in pursuit of the darker solstice, the point at which light almost dies. At the end of Holy Week, we will extinguish the candles one by one, despite the growing light of springtide. But now, as the darkness of winter grows, we light the Advent candles, adding one mere point of light a week, points not overmastered by darkness, but not conquering it, either.

lead us
into the
serious
steep
darkness

Perhaps that’s what hope is, not a sunny disposition, but plunging headlong into the dark, knowing that it is dark, as if all the glory of autumn were no defiance of the darkness to come, but a positive passion burning for it, burning for winter’s barrenness, burning all the brighter not to resist its own extinction, but to anticipate it, to anticipate the darkness that makes newborn light visible. Perhaps the growing darkness of the year at Advent is there to remind us of

a faith that set us free from optimism long ago, and taught us hope instead.

And thanks be to God for that.

This post in the November gratitude series was inspired by e e cummings’s poem The Glory Is Fallen Out Of and Samuel Barber’s work for a-cappella choir, Twelfth Night, lyrics by Laurie Lee, here sung by the Resonance Ensemble.

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  1. Done Contributor

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake: But darkness is also God’s gift. Darkness is how we come to know that light, not darkness, has positive substance, a substance not to be taken for granted. Dark nights of the soul are from God, not the enemy.

    This principle is so important to understand, and answers 95% of the questions people ask about why God allows X or Y.

    • #1
    • November 30, 2016, at 12:29 PM PST
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  2. Nanda Panjandrum Inactive

    Thanks…Strikes a chord for me in these early days of the season. Bookmarked!

    • #2
    • November 30, 2016, at 12:30 PM PST
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  3. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    “Ad-vent” of course means “to vent”. So get all your whining out before Christmas, because if you wake baby Jesus there will be hell to pay!

    ;)

    • #3
    • November 30, 2016, at 3:17 PM PST
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  4. Front Seat Cat Member

    I want to re-read every word here. I had a dream once. It was like a reckoning of my soul. I was surrounded by a darkness that was so black, it was not ordinary. I had no words to describe it nor did I understand why I was there. Then I was in a room – it looked like a dungeon. There was a podium. I had to give an account of my life. There was a door but I was completely alone. Talk about a wake up call. I consider myself a kind and decent person. I don’t know where that came from – maybe too many scary movies. But I never forgot it, and I questioned where I actually stood with God. There is a way out of darkness into the light. Thank you for your wonderful post.

    • #4
    • November 30, 2016, at 3:27 PM PST
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  5. Susan in Seattle Member
    Susan in Seattle Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    My experience has shown me that many miracles are borne of the darkness.

    Thank you for this potent reminder, Midge.

    • #5
    • November 30, 2016, at 3:28 PM PST
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  6. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake: an infant born into an age when surviving childhood was by no means assured

    I had never considered that aspect before. Thanks.

    Advent is a time for candlelight and gentle music, for sure. Millions of lights gather to be renewed by the fragile light of a newborn Creator and King — the most incomprehensible mystery of human history. Here is our Savior, a helpless baby.

    They had to wait. We have to wait. At least, we have that in common with the ancients.

    • #6
    • November 30, 2016, at 3:38 PM PST
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  7. OldDanRhody's speakeasy Member

    Thank you, Midge. Your OP reminds me of Gerard Manly Hopkins’ poem, God’s Grandeur – especially the second portion of the poem:

    And for all this, nature is never spent;
    There lives the dearest freshness deep down things; 10
    And though the last lights off the black West went
    Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs—
    Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
    World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.
    • #7
    • November 30, 2016, at 3:40 PM PST
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  8. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor

    Frank Soto:

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake: But darkness is also God’s gift. Darkness is how we come to know that light, not darkness, has positive substance, a substance not to be taken for granted. Dark nights of the soul are from God, not the enemy.

    This principle is so important to understand, and answers 95% of the questions people ask about why God allows X or Y.

    Yes, although there remains, always, a portion of that question which is unanswerable. The prose quoted in the OP comes from DB Hart’s “The Doors of the Sea, which ends thus:

    The imperishable goodness of being does in fact show itself in all that is… [I]t is still there even when – the doors of the sea having broken their seals – those waters… rise up to destroy and kill without will or thought or purpose or mercy. At such times, to see the goodness indwelling in all creation requires a labor of vision that only a faith in Easter can sustain…

    Until that final glory, however, the world remains divided between two kingdoms… light and darkness… In such a world, our portion is charity… As for comfort, when we seek it, I can imagine none greater than the happy knowledge that when I see the death of a child [which Hart uses as one example of something it would be monstrous to suppose we could justify with “lie[s] principally told for our own comfort, by which we try to excuse ourselves for believing in an omnipotent and benevolent God”], I do not see the face of God but the face of his enemy. Such faith might never seem credible to someone like Ivan Karamazov, or still the disquiet of his conscience, but neither is it a faith that his argument [earlier detailed at some length] can defeat, for it is a faith that set us free from optimism long ago and taught us hope instead. Now we are able to rejoice that we are saved not through the immanent mechanisms of history and nature, but by grace; that God will not unite all of history’s many strands into one great synthesis, but will judge much of history false and damnable; that he will not simply reveal the sublime logic of fallen nature, but will strike off the fetters in which creation languishes; and that, rather than showing us how the tears of a small girl suffering in the dark [another example] were necessary for the building of the Kingdom, he will instead raise her up and wipe all tears from her eyes –

    Being open about the dark side of life when you’re a Christian takes trust. We know from experience that the dark times can become those dark nights of the soul which draw us nearer to God. And we hope that’s what they will be. But we never know… Fortunately, we don’t have to know, just trust – although that’s much easier said than done!

    • #8
    • November 30, 2016, at 4:28 PM PST
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  9. Nanda Panjandrum Inactive

    OldDan Rhody:Thank you, Midge. Your OP reminds me of Gerard Manly Hopkins’ poem, God’s Grandeur – especially the second portion of the poem:

    And for all this, nature is never spent;
    There lives the dearest freshness deep down things; 10
    And though the last lights off the black West went
    Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs—
    Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
    World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

    I love Fr. Hopkins’ work…an argent, polished warmth amid the shadows!

    • #9
    • November 30, 2016, at 5:20 PM PST
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  10. Percival Thatcher
    Percival Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    A great deal to reflect on, particularly considering the way I’ve been feeling lately.

    Thank you, Midge.

    • #10
    • November 30, 2016, at 5:40 PM PST
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  11. OldDanRhody's speakeasy Member

    Nanda Panjandrum: I love Fr. Hopkins’ work

    So do I.

    • #11
    • November 30, 2016, at 5:48 PM PST
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  12. Nanda Panjandrum Inactive

    OldDan Rhody:

    Nanda Panjandrum: I love Fr. Hopkins’ work

    So do I.

    I find him a companion on the journey, very often…There’s a wonderful spoken-word interpretation of some of his works, called, Back to Beauty’s Giver, by Richard Austin. Here’s a video excerpt from YouTube.

    • #12
    • November 30, 2016, at 6:12 PM PST
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  13. Grosseteste Member

    Thank you for this well-considered meditation.

    • #13
    • November 30, 2016, at 7:30 PM PST
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  14. Grosseteste Member

    Also, for the uninitiated, this post is part of a Group Writing series on Gratitude, planned for the whole month of November. If you follow this link, there’s more information about Group Writing and links to the other posts this month (the schedule is updated with links as posts go up). We hope to serve as a leaven for Ricochet leading up to and following the election.

    December’s topic will be My Favorite Things; click here for more information, and to sign up for that topic.

    • #14
    • November 30, 2016, at 7:31 PM PST
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  15. Manny Member

    I love it when you post religious, Midge. You should do it more often. Excellent post! The secualr part of the Christmas season grows weary, but I get so much joy out of the religious Advent season. And yes I associate it with the growing darkness which ultimately transitions to growing light! I don’t associate the darkness with any evil or malice. For me it’s God’s hand in the world, just as the light is. Blessed Advent season to all.

    • #15
    • December 1, 2016, at 6:33 AM PST
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  16. SkipSul Coolidge
    SkipSul Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Maybe it’s just the way I myself find little of value in ceremony, or maybe it is that my own time horizons tend to be so far out, but while I do cherish the changing of the seasons I also have never been able to wrap my head around a liturgical calendar. Time itself, rather than darkness, is what weighs heavily on me most of all. Darkness itself holds little power over me, for it is in the darkness of the night, or of the winter, that I find quiet, focus, and renewal. But the press of Time, the never ending march of upcoming events, duties, obligations, growth, and death – these things are never far from my mind or my heart, and the routine of holidays rush by me like a blur.

    • #16
    • December 3, 2016, at 9:37 AM PST
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  17. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor

    skipsul:Maybe it’s just the way I myself find little of value in ceremony, or maybe it is that my own time horizons tend to be so far out, but while I do cherish the changing of the seasons I also have never been able to wrap my head around a liturgical calendar. Time itself, rather than darkness, is what weighs heavily on me most of all. Darkness itself holds little power over me, for it is in the darkness of the night, or of the winter, that I find quiet, focus, and renewal. But the press of Time, the never ending march of upcoming events, duties, obligations, growth, and death – these things are never far from my mind or my heart, and the routine of holidays rush by me like a blur.

    Possibly, one reason to value the liturgical calendar is as a balance against the press of Time.

    You mention darkness as a time of focus and renewal. It may be that for many of us. Maybe it’s just because it’s a break from routine, or maybe it really is the darkness that causes the services conducted in darkness (Christmas Eve, Epiphany, Tenebrae, Easter vigil) to be points of focus in a way services close to them, but conducted in daylight (Christmas Day, daytime Good Friday services, Easter once the sun has dawned), may not be. At least for some people.

    Whether liturgy is a brief respite from those long time horizons, or whether it’s a respite from a disparity between obligations with long time horizons and a lived reality conflicting with that, the sense that liturgy or ritual belongs to another kind of time is not so unusual, I think.

    • #17
    • December 3, 2016, at 10:59 AM PST
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  18. Nanda Panjandrum Inactive

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake: the sense that liturgy or ritual belongs to another kind of time is not so unusual, I think.

    Our pastor likes to remind us that liturgical seasons exist not only to sanctify time, but also to let us glimpse Eternity. This can ease the weightiness of time’s passage for the believer; and permit each moment to be a gift.

    • #18
    • December 3, 2016, at 11:34 AM PST
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