The holidays are supposed to be a time of bright lights, big fancy presents, nuclear families gathered around large roasted birds, joy overflowing, and generally lots of egg noggy fun. All of which can make it that much more painful for those of us grieving loved ones who won't be with us this year.
We are currently approaching the winter solstice, the longest night of the year, the time when darkness comes early and stays late. There’s nothing wrong with this. It’s a seasonal thing. We can’t control the turning of the earth or the absence of the sun. We just learn to live with it. Much like when we lose a loved one to death. Something in the way the earth turns and keeps us in darkness as we grieve. Light shines briefly and sets too soon. We’re gifted with a little warmth during the day but it’s often times not enough to keep the darkness at bay.
Grief and loss are like this. A time when we close up our homes and stay inside alone. Or wander in the dark with our hands in front of us trying to feel our way forward and tripping often over things unseen. And yet, here we are in the midst of winter holiday season, worshipping at the hearth of our grief. Gathering in childhood churches and family homes in this dark time full of simple candlelight with a simple faith that light returns. And not only that light returns, but that the most beautiful light shines only in the darkest times.
In the Christian tradition, they say a star was the sign that hope was coming. What they don’t say is how dark the times were. Poverty, oppression, physical danger, threats of violence and death were daily occurrences in first century Roman empire. And so, like now, things were very dark, and that single star was very bright. In fact, the people of the Judeo-Chrisitan stories would not have been able to see that star had it not been so very dark.
You don’t have to be Christian to look to the stars for hope, to find light in the dark, to light a small candle on the hearth. Many of us of all faiths have lost people both recently and long ago and wonder if we'll ever be OK again. The dark nights certainly still visit us though maybe less often than before. And I hope you will always remember that on those dark nights you can always light a candle for the ones who have passed into Spirit. The candle on the hearth becomes a candle in our hearts becomes the dark night stars becomes our fervent bright hope that light will come again.
Worship gently in the sweet dark, beloveds. Your grief and your hope are friends.