Two newspaper articles caught my attention last Sunday. The first discussed the ongoing “war on Christmas” and whether the United States is a religious nation that respects Christianity and its role in our culture and history. To some, the watered down “happy holidays” is an insult. In fact, the American Family Association publishes a “Naughty and Nice” list, scolding companies that it believes are “censoring Christmas.”
The other article was entitled “At the Solstice, In Praise of Darkness.” I am all for Christmas and look forward to the many liturgies this coming weekend, but on this day of the winter solstice, I suggest that reflection on the beauty of darkness can deepen the spirituality of these December days.
Our faith praises the light. We declare Jesus to be the light of the world. Baptism calls us to let our light shine. No wonder many people think that darkness represents sin and evil.
Last summer I sought out complete darkness at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park in Colorado. It is one of the few places in the country where you can still observe a dark sky, unobstructed by artificial light. Looking at the stars in total darkness was an unforgettable experience.
Each Sunday in Advent our thanksgiving at the table includes this line: blessed are you in the darkness and the light. One of my favorite images of Mary is the black Madonna, not only because the infant and mother are shown with black skin, but the depiction links us to the dark earth and fecundity.
As a solstice gift for today, I am providing a number of readings and poems for you. Amid the rush of these final days before Christmas, take some quiet time to ponder the beauty of darkness. Here is one of my favorites:
O God, black can be beautiful!
Let us be aware of black blessings:
Blessed be the black night that nurtures dreams.
Blessed be the black hole out of which creation sprang.
Blessed be the black cave of imagination that births creativity.
Blessed be dark wombs that cradle us.
Blessed be black loam that produces nourishing food for our bodies.
Blessed be black jazz that nourishes our souls.
Blessed be black energy that swirls into gracefulness.
Blessed be black coal that heats us.
Blessed be black boiling clouds hurling down lightning and cleansing rain.
Blessed be even our own darkness, our raw, undeveloped cave of shadows.
O God, help us to befriend black and not deny its power.
Help us not to cover over the dark with fear but to open to it with your grace and to be open to your life within the dark.
May we discover the blessings that lie deep within our holy dark so that we may freely affirm that
Black is beautiful indeed!
(William John Fitzgerald)