Growing accustomed to the dark
I understand some families in Newtown, Conn. are taking down their outdoor Christmas lights even now, prior to Christmas. The recent, incomprehensible murder of 26 people, including 20 children 6 to 7 years old, has made Christmas a season of grief instead of joy.
Indeed, today I feel it to be a season of human embarrassment, that I must witness again and again such deeds so inhumane (whatever the diagnosis) they make me wonder whether I, myself, am capable of such things, is that behavior endemic, do I myself share this kind of human illness?
What lurks behind my impulse to swear at another driver for cutting in front of me? What makes me gloss over or forget the Holocaust, the whole record of lethal goings on that have happened over the whole range of my fourscore years on this planet?
Can I really celebrate peace on earth? I find myself hesitating to hang another ornament on our half-finished tree.
But then there are our prophets, our tenacious poets, who share another kind of humanity with us – their reserve of hope, their belief in a future tense, that depth of humanity embodied in the Jesus, Mary and Joseph of Christmas, that our Christmas trees and lights assure us must prevail.
Take for example Emily Dickinson as she writes of her departure from a neighbor’s house at nighttime:
We grow accustomed to the Dark / When light is put away / As when the Neighbor holds the Lamp / To witness her Goodbye
A Moment / We uncertain step / For newness of the night / Then / fit our Vision to the Dark / And meet the Road / erect.
Building upon that experience, she then speaks of that larger darkness, such as events at Newtown impose upon our minds and hearts:
And so of larger / Darkness / Those Evenings of the Brain / When not a Moon disclose a sign / Or Star / come out / within
The Bravest / grope a little / And sometimes hit a Tree / Directly in the Forehead / But as they learn to see–
Either the Darkness alters / Or something in the sight / Adjusts itself to Midnight / And Life steps almost straight.
Have a blessed (I don’t say happy) Christmas and many more for years to come, indeed forevermore.
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Geoff Wood is a retired theologian who taught at Bucknell University, meets regularly with retired ministers in Sonoma and is now engaged in religious education at St. Leo’s Church in Agua Caliente.