Today is the shortest day of the year. For many, the lack of sunlight in winter is a serious issue, causing flatness and lethargy and grief. The long hours of night can draw us back to primeval fears of what we cannot see and affect the working of our body. And this year, when our normal routines are firmly out of bounds, and we are obliged to spend more time on our own, the time from sunset to sunrise may feel even longer and even more isolated.
Yet we should not be afraid of the night. The Christian tradition is woven through with the strong jet thread of God’s constancy and his presence even in the night-time, even when we cannot see or sense him.
In Jill Tomlinson’s “The Owl who was afraid of the dark” Plop the young Barn Owl learns to face his fear- he learns that dark is exciting, kind, fun, necessary, and fascinating. He discovers that dark is wonderful and dark is beautiful.
We need to learn the same truths. Dark can be homely and cosy. Dark can be an Advent womb in which we learn again who we are and who God is and what our place in the world must be. Dark can be accepting, forgiving grace.
Dark can be unseeing, smoothing the fractures of life away. Perhaps it is the sun which stares too hard at things we wish we could deal with away from the gaze of the day. Perhaps the night can be a safe cave, hidden away in the belly of the whale where God alone is, where God can restore our strength and our vision and our courage before leading us again to the light.
It is in the dark that the light shines most beautifully and where the whispered promise of light foretold is most compelling, light shining soon in the winter darkness. It is the same fine light which was in the beginning of creation, the same light which will, some decades from Bethlehem, grow imperceptibly in the darkness of a garden tomb before the dawn, risen. The promise of light incarnate is never more precious than in the moonless, starless, lightless night.
It is the shortest day of the year. Dark isolates and divides. Around us unknown perils prowl, seeking whom they might devour. And yet, as well, dark can shield, shelter and soothe. Dark can rebuild, recreate, restore. Without distraction we can simply sit in the calm constancy of God, the God to whom light and dark are both alike. And in the dark we know and trust most profoundly and most wonderfully the promise whispered in the darkness and carried on the wind- that the Light is coming into the world, coming soon, coming now, coming.
Richard Lamey is the Rector of St Paul, Wokingham and the Area Dean of Sonning in the Diocese of Oxford.