Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Dark Time

The days are darker now, the nights longer. Often there's fog, mist and gloom. Conversations devoted to lamentation are part this time of the year, when the hours of summer sun seem so far away. It depresses lots of folks.

Usually I am quiet when conversations like that are going on since I can't join in with the complaining. The truth is that I love this time of the year. I'm very fond of dark, gloomy afternoons. I really enjoy the colors of winter, after the leaves are gone; the very subtle shades of gray and brown and dark green. Something in my soul wakes up when the days get shorter and the light gets dimmer. I've tried sharing my enthusiasm for cold, dim November afternoons, but you know what it's like when you're having a good session of grouchy conversation with friends and someone tries to be upbeat. Being quiet is the better part of wisdom at those times.

I can't trace my love of dim light to any one thing or event. I know that a dark afternoon with an easy chair and a lamp beside it always seems like an invitation to me: an invitation to read a really good novel or something that will take some concentration. And I have such good memories of childhood Saturday afternoons when my father listened to the Metropolitan Opera on the radio and my brother and I played on the living room floor with Lincoln Logs or our Erector Set.

erector set
Originally uploaded by tigerluxe

(Those who are as ancient as I may know what I'm referring to when I say that we had an Atwater Kent console radio which was regarded as being very fine for "good music", and good music was one of my father's great joys, and one that he passed on to me.)

Atwater Kent Cathedral
Originally uploaded by jschneid

Whatever its root cause may be, I have a fondness for winter's darkness. Coming out of Compline at this time of the year is a treat for me. The dark at the end of the day, the Great Silence which is so thick it could be cut if only I could find the right knife, dim hallways, far away lights winking on the river, all seem very welcoming to me. I often go out to our porch just to sit for a few minutes and wait for the express train from New York to Albany which races past at a brisk pace, or for the passing lights of planes or artificial satellites, while the constellation Orion presides over the winter stars. Even when it's cold, I go often go out. I guess my nice layer of fat provides good insulation. Then there's my room, with the light over the bed and a candle in the corner. It seems so welcoming, so peaceful, so enfolding.

Best of all is prayer at night. I really don't have to start praying, prayer is just there. Sometimes I have to look for it to see how I can tune in to it, but it doesn't seem to be anything that I "do". It's part of the reality of the night and if I have to look, what I'm looking for is simply a way to get into what's there. But more and more it's just there, and what I need to do is turn my attention to it and settle in. I've written before here of the sense of fulfillment that I had in the months that I lived with a community that got up for prayer at 2:00 a.m. That was 30 years ago, and I still treasure those nights and I seek those times when I'm able to do it now and then. There have always been religious orders that included middle of the night prayer in their schedules.

Some years ago I discovered a society in England composed of people who pray at night. Some of them get up to pray an Office, some just turn their minds to God when they wake up. Some pray on the way to the bathroom and back. I will do the Jesus Prayer on my beads for a while. I don't know whether the society still exists or not, and I can't find them on the Internet. The one person I know who was a member has had a stroke and no longer speaks, so I won't find out from her. But having some support in this endeavor isn't a bad idea and I wish I was in touch with them, if they still exist.

That's my time, and my way. Maybe prayer finds you on sunny afternoons at the beach, or whenever. There are times when all of us suddenly awake to the reality of it. Prayer really isn't so much something that we do as it is awakening to the reality of the world and ourselves. Prayer is a part of who we are and of the world we live in. We discover our way to it as we go along, just by practicing and seeing what happens. Monks sing Psalms day and night. Some people find prayer awakening when they hear a siren. Some people find that level of their being when they are in the middle of a crowd of strangers. Whatever. The times and places are unique to each of us. The important part of it is discovering what our times are and then showing up.

And it does change things.

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