EMBRACING DARKNESS

One of my least favorite natural phenomena of the year is the darkness that begins to shorten the day each fall, particularly in the months of November and December. The sun begins to set before 5:00 pm and usher in the long evening.

I should be used to it, and like it. After all, I was born and lived the first six years of my life in Finland at a latitude closer to the north pole than Fairbanks, Alaska. But I can’t remember back that far to evaluate how it felt to enjoy only about 4 hours of daylight in the winter.  

 

 

 

Those of us who are Christians just celebrated Christmas, the festival of light, when we confess that Christ is the Light of the World that shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not overcome it (St. John 2:5). The holy season doesn’t end in the liturgical calendar until Epiphany, January 6, the twelfth night.  But, the decorative Christmas lights in our neighborhood are coming down this week house by house.

In all the major religions, darkness is interpreted as a negative thing: the symbol of evil, ignorance, grief, depression, fear and death. At our church, we offered a “Longest Night” service in mid-December specifically for people who are experiencing “dark times” in our life. (The readings we heard acknowledged the presence of darkness in our lives, but also pointed worshipers to light and reassurance so that they would leave the church that evening (into a dark parking lot) with hope for healing and encouragement.)

A classmate at Yale Divinity School, Barbara Brown Taylor, recently wrote, Learning to Walk in the Light. She writes, “I have learned things in the dark that I could never have learned in the light.” The book is an apologia for darkness against one of her religious pet peeves: “full solar theology” by which adherents, in every religious system but particularly among evangelical Christians) who can discern God in light and spiritual highs alone. Instead, she encourages us to “embrace the darkness”.

Instead of thinking only of “darkness of the tomb”, she would have us consider the darkness of the womb”.

Personally, I have experienced the last two years as a particularly dark time in American political life. (Lest we Canadians consider our nation exempt, last year’s election in Ontario, when the Trump-wannabe Doug Ford was elected in a virtual landslide was, I think, a descent of my home province into the political darkness.)

The current administration in my adopted country has passed legislation or, more often, issued Presidential executive orders, the aim of which is to diminish if not extinguish altogether the light and intelligent, informed progress of the decade preceding 2016. Primary among the “deeds of darkness” is to roll back environmental regulations—after declaring in the darkness of ignorance that global climate change is a “hoax” and not supported by scientific evidence. Under the current leadership, permission has been given for increasingly open, unapologetic racist and misogynistic comments in public. The National Rifle Association continues to have its claws dug deep into politicians so that even the most common-sense gun control proposals don’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of being taken seriously, much less passed into law. Dark, indeed, and there’s a very real prospect of six more years of the same!


However, following my seminary classmate’s recommendation, we can look at the darkness a little more closely and, in an unorthodox manner, see it potentially as a womb  and find new life in it. While the pace of school shootings has been rising dramatically for example, there are signs of new life and hope in the committed political leadership of the engaged and courageous student survivors of the Valentine Day massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. They stand firm in their insistence the current darkness be resisted. Impressively, their savvy organizing and eloquence convinced the then-governor of Florida, one of the most conservative states on the east coast, to promote legislation to raise the minimum age for gun ownership and other common-sense gun control provisions. Remarkably, they even called on President Trump in the White House for a so-called “listening session”. Unfortunately, even after the students’ urgent pleas for significant change, Trump suggested arming a certain number of trained teachers in each school in the nation. He wasn’t really listening at all.

For a precious while, in the dark “womb”, there was a shaft of unexpected light in the darkness and a sense of hope for the first time in a long time.

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Medical Update

After my previous two blog posts about my health condition, readers have been asking for an update.  

An MRI confirmed my own suspicion that I had suffered one or more minor strokes in the past two years. It clearly shows the death of some brain cells caused by “small vessel disease”, the atherosclerosis or “hardening” of the walls of the small capillaries that carry blood within the brain from the large arteries. Those particular brain cells are, to put it in Charles Dickens’ words, “as dead as a doornail”, and they won’t be resurrected on this side of the grave. Predictably, high blood pressure and elevated counts of bad cholesterol are the culprits. I’ve been treated pharmaceutically for those two conditions for over 25 years, but you can’t fight heredity. Both of my parents died in their mid-sixties of causes related to high blood pressure and  cholesterol.

The neurologist said that physical therapy can train the synapses in the brain to blaze new neural pathways that bypass the now-defunct areas of the brain. Says friend and reader, Dr. William Price of Orangeville, ON, “The brain has a remarkable capacity to heal and correct itself.” Thanks for the support, Bill.

Nonetheless, he said that I need to expect some decline in cognition and memory. To think that, some of my fellow high school mates used to call me one of the “brains” of the class.

I am also being treated for a condition called “occasional involuntary leg movement”, which mistakenly I had been calling “restless leg syndrome”. I can’t sit for very long before my left leg begins to want to kick someone or at least move, often violently. It’s become an obstacle to falling and staying asleep.  

Likewise, sometimes at night, my arms follow suit and flail about as though I were fighting monsters in my dreams. That explains why on some mornings, I find the bedside lamp or glass of water on the floor beside the bed with no memory of how that happened.

Thankfully, I can still work on novel Number Three  (Love Out of Reach) and this blog standing up at the computer.

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Thanks for reading and inquiring about my health. I sign off with hopes that your health is good and your start to the new year has been a happy one. Until the next post, life this day and the next ones gratefully and mindfully.

JAS