Today’s Word from Keyboardist Sheila Weidendorf…
I once lived in a house set amid wooded hills. Behind the house a path led up one such hill, winding its lovely way through the forest. But at night, the path disappeared from view beneath the veil of darkness. In the dead of night, no path was perceptible.
This season of Advent leading up to Christmas (fortuitously just about concurrent with the winter solstice!) marks weeks of gathering darkness. The life-blood sap of trees returns to the roots, animals hibernate, much of the natural world goes dormant, both saving and gathering energy that will again give rise to new life come spring. We humans, however, have lost sight of the natural rise of fall of things—the holiday season typically requiring us to be busier than ever, rather than take a note from the natural world and turn within to embrace the cold and the dark as the gifts they are, as opportunities to know ourselves and our God more fully.
Of course, the dark nights do not always feel like gifts. Some days (or weeks, or months, or even years) can seem to last forever in interminable hardship, or sorrow… or, one could say, darkness. Have not most of us experienced a grief so great, a challenge so seemingly impossible, a sorrow so deep that it seemed no end was in sight? No light at the end of the tunnel, no port in which to safely moor, no safety from the storm, no solution discerned? Indeed, it seems to me entirely human to pass through the occasional “dark night of the soul,” when we feel completely alone, cut off from both God and the human community, given over to despair. The entire Book of Lamentations in the Old Testament is, essentially, a series of poems of despair, of alienation from, or fear of, abandonment by the Creator. And even Jesus called out from the cross, “Why Father? Why have you forsaken me?!?”
How easy it is to forget that the path forward still winds its way through the woods, whether or not we can see it! Too, life is rich in vicissitudes! There are no mountains without valleys, no heights without depths, no light without darkness. The trouble is that we view the world—and maybe ourselves—too readily through the lens of a limiting dualism rather than expand our awareness to the fullness of the possibilities of human life. Isn’t that evidenced by the very birth of the Christ child, of God made manifest on earth in human form to show us there is no separation at all, no distance between the darkness and the light? When we feel overcome by our own dark nights of the soul, may we be reminded that the dawn is nigh, and the path leading us toward morning is always revealed in Grace.
[Just a footnote about my hymn selection: It has always been common for folk tunes to make their way into other musical forms, whether hymnody or symphony. The Finnish folk tune used for this hymn was—in its original expression—a popular love song. This upset the Suomi (Finnish) Synod so much that, in 1958, they refused to include the hymn that used its melody in their hymnal. Lucky for us it still found its way into the current hymnody!]
Tune: Tuoll’ on mun kultani (A Finnish Folk Tune)
Text: Trans. by Olav Lee from a Norwegian version of the Finnish tune.
[Olav Lee (1859-1943) was on the faculty of St. Olav College in Northfield, Minnesota]
Pub: First published in English in 1932 by Augsburg Fortress Press