The Wonder Report: Dec. 2, 2022
Light and Dark
Happy Friday —
As we ate the final Thanksgiving leftovers earlier this week, it dawned on me that Christmas is less than a month away and I hadn’t bought a single Christmas gift yet … hadn’t, in fact, even made my shopping list. In the last couple of days, I’ve remedied that situation, placing a few online orders and making a plan for pulling things together over the next couple of weeks. In some ways, Christmas shopping is a casualty of being a person who celebrates Advent. I just don’t think too much about Christmas until much later in December. On the other hand, Advent is all about preparing ourselves—our homes, our families, our bodies, our souls—for the holiday. In that way, even Christmas shopping can be a spiritual act in this season.
This week, I’m continuing my nature-inspired Advent reflections by writing about light and dark. I’m glad you’re here!
Since about the time daylight saving time ended in early November and the dark of night began arriving an hour earlier each evening, we pulled our curtains half-closed and that is where they still hang during these ever darkening days of December.
It’s counterintuitive in some ways, to partially block out what little light remains of these late autumn days. In summer, for instance, we open wide the curtains each morning, pulling them back as far as they’ll go to let the sunlight stream in for hours each day. But as winter approaches, it feels futile to resist the changing rhythms of light and dark.
The natural world actually takes its cues from the shortening of days. Long before fall temperatures cool, plants begin to adapt for winter because of the reduction of sunlight hours. Chlorophyll production slows down and eventually stops. Light also triggers migration among birds and is one of the cues for hibernation and brumation for mammals and amphibians.
Into these waning days of light, Advent arrives. Even as we approach the winter solstice and prepare for the year’s darkest day (in the northern hemisphere, at least), we are reminded anew of the bleakness of the world, of the darkness that blinds so many, of the great need for the Light that will give light to all.
Gayle Boss calls the timing of Advent “Christian tradition at its best, moving in step with creation.”
When the sun’s light and heat wane, the natural world lets lushness fall away. It strips down. All energy is directed to the essentials that ensure survival. Engaging in Advent’s stripping practices — fasting, giving away, praying — we tune into the rhythms humming in the cells of all creatures living in the northern hemisphere. We tune into our own essential rhythms. (from “All Creation Waits”)
Interestingly, while Advent begins in the ebbing light of fall, it ends on the other side of the year’s darkest day. About the time we place the baby Jesus in the creche each year, daylight is growing longer by as much as a minute a day. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5).
I wonder … how do you adapt to the changing light throughout the year? Does it affect your mood or spirit? Do you change your habits because of the changing light?
A Winter Song
I heard the tentative song of a cardinal as I walked in the park today. I looked up and saw a female perched among the naked branches of a small tree. I almost missed her, her pale feathers blending in with the brown of the tree and gray of the sky. But the sweet notes of her song gave her away.
Cardinals don’t migrate in the winter, so the shortening days and the dropping temperatures portend the hard work of survival over the next few months. Somehow, knowing that she’s preparing for a hard season made her song that much sweeter.
I wonder … how do you bolster yourself for winter—practically, emotionally, spiritually? What song are you singing as you prepare for hard seasons ahead?
For Further Reflection
Victoria Emily Jones wrote about Rembrandt’s “Holy Family at Night” and the poignancy of chiaroscuro, the use of strong contrasts between light and dark, in her Advent, Day 6 reflection on Art & Theology.
Does winter make you want to sleep more? Why don’t you, then? In this New York Times column by Tish Harrison Warren, she makes the case for a modified human hibernation. It might be just what your soul needs.
If you regret that you weren’t more organized a month ago and bought yourself an Advent book to read through this season, then I’d like to recommend the resource I’m using: The Light Has Come. This packet of 25 illustrated prayer cards by David O. and Phaedra Taylor covers Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany. There aren’t enough to do one every day, so there’s no pressure to have already started. And though there are a few date-specific ones, like the St. Nicholas card I’ll pull out next Tuesday on St. Nicholas Day, most could be used any day of the season. Plus the best news is that they are on sale at The Rabbit Room.
Finally, I loved hearing the Advent hymn, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” sung in the Ojibwe language.
Well, you’ve come to the end of another Wonder Report. Thanks again for joining me. It’s a privilege to share this space with you and to enter into these conversations together.
As always, if you’d like to send me a note or ask a question, you can hit reply and end up in my inbox. Or you can also leave a comment on this newsletter, which will live in the archive over on Substack. I can’t always respond quickly, but I always respond.
Until next time,