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Holy Darkness

When we moved to Seattle the winters became more pronounced.  I didn’t think moving 600 miles north would make such a difference, but we easily have three hours more darkness in the winter than when we lived in Northern California.  It also feels more perceptible because the sky is often gray and the sun that much lower on the horizon as it makes her gentle arc across a winter sky.

In contrast then, summer days are also much longer.  Days are filled with light in long expanses.  And while summers can indeed be beautiful here in the Northwest (of course anytime is beautiful here), I find them difficult sometimes with their stretches of sun.  I actually long for dark cool days.  Autumn and winter are my favorite seasons, autumn with its beautiful display of color and winter with its invitation to darkness, stillness, rest, and reflection.  I know many struggle with the effects of lack of winter light, but I wonder how that might be different if we didn’t force ourselves into unnatural rhythms of perpetual work all year long and responded to the invitations to rest and listen.

I wrote back in August about The Solace of Darkness for me.  This was soon after Duke died, and as I shared, darkness was not about absence of God or even deep sorrow, but about relishing the place of dreams, creativity, and the wildness of God:  “For me, the vast night sky, the endless underworld of the sea, and the sleep world of dreams speak to me more clearly of God’s Mystery and Being. The glorious darkness of womb-spaces where new life is slowly and gently sprouted, that place of fertility and juiciness and hope where we begin to birth new possibilities long before we even realize the shape of them.” 

As I prepare for Advent and continue to reflect on the image of birthing, I place my hand on my belly, my center point and place of grounding and nurturing.  We are discouraged from honoring the wisdom of their bellies.  I listen for the stirring there, the seeds planted which will one day will make their shapes against a future sky.

J. Philip Newell in The Book of Creation, says the Celtic tradition points to Mystery as both brilliance and darkness.  Darkness honors God’s wildness and ultimate mystery.  We domesticate God with our images and boxes, but God cannot be contained.  In the waters of our creation story we find the dark mystery of God that gives life to all things. All of Creation is rooted in the Unseen, finding its origins in the darkness of the womb long before becoming visible in the light of day.  Holy seeds unfolding in their own time and way.

Creativity emerges from surges of unordered energy from unknown depths within us.  We are often afraid of these emotional, sexual, and artistic energies, but they have their origins in God and when we suppress them, we turn them into forces of death rather than vitality.  Rather, we need healthy ways of giving them expression and life.

Darkness and unknowing for me is profoundly hopeful, because in darkness I recognize that what I can see and even imagine are not the fullness of all possibilities.  Only God is big enough to hold those.

Some of my favorite songs to celebrate darkness include two inspired by St. John of the Cross:

Holy Darkness by Dan Schutte  (Listen to a clip at the link)
Holy darkness, blessed night,
heaven’s answer hidden from our sight.
As we await you, O God of silence,
we embrace your holy night.

Loreena McKennitt’s Dark Night of the Soul, my favorite song from her Mask and Mirror album.

I see Trish at Story Midwife is also in love with darkness, so go read her wonderful thoughts.  Make sure to click on the link to check out Behold, the album she mentions. You can listen to samples here.  They have a beautiful a capella song called Into the Dark and also a version of one of my favorite Advent songs, Breath of Heaven (Mary’s Song). Trish’s voice is just stunning.

May you embrace this holy season. May you find illumination in the fertile dark earth of your soul.

Where do you experience the invitation to holy darkness?

-Christine Valters Paintner

P.S. I am experimenting with a new look for the blog, let me know what you think! (If the white text on black is hard to read, hold down your CTRL key and use the scroll button on your mouse to enlarge)

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13 Responses

  1. Each year I have a greater appreciation for the darkness, the waiting and growth that happen deep within, down under. So your black with white supports your words. Then come spring we can look for other colors, just as I do in my home. (It can be harder to read but in small amounts I think it is valuable this time of year.) This Advent/season of darkness seems for me to be about birthing, midwiving, feeling drawn to be in the cold (all bundled up) and watching the night sky, and of course, visiting my barn. And I’ll listen often to my copy of “Behold” by Trish and Richard. :)) – one of my favorites. Thanks for suggesting others. Advent Blessings, Cathleen

  2. Cheryl, a moonlight snowshoe hike sounds amazing. I hope you are blessed with beauty and the stillness you seek!

    Wendy, thanks for letting me know the effect of the blog colors. I will see if I can find a way to make the print bigger. I think containment and tabernacles are very important! It is just when we begin to believe that God is only found in the container that we run into problems, or when we try to fit other people into our boxes. I love the image of the womb as a place of nurturing and growth, but even what rests in the room eventually must grow and emerge into the world.

  3. Hi Christine, I like the idea behind the new look, but practicality wise it really hurts my headache-prone head (that control/scroll thing doesnt seem to work with my mouse etc).

    I actually really like the idea of boxes, containment, it is womblike. Focusing on just God’s expansiveness is really important in a sense, but doing so as the focalpoint feels so cold to me, I really need the warmth and directness and personalness and focusedness and comfort of some real containment. Our rejection of ideas of containment is like a rejection of female energy which naturally contains. I loved Bette’s comment on the locket.

    I guess I like the idea of the warmth and directness of containment–but still always with a little opening still there for new light to come through.

  4. Christine, I found myself resisting the darkness of your blog until I realized how much it corresponds to the darkness I am feeling after our change of location in August. I know I am being invited to embrace the darkness everywhere around me and within me and listen for what is present in my soul. Tomorrow night my husband and I are going on a full moon snowshoe trip with a group. I can’t wait for the darkness, stillness, natural light, and the awareness of my body traversing across the snow to speak to me! I am embracing your blog colors with new anticipation for what this season has to say to me.

  5. Me, Thanks for the link, I did read the posts on boxes, good stuff. Boxes are the ways we try to manage ideas, which is why I think we need an active practice of breaking out of boxes.

    Bette, I love the image of a reliquary-belly. I actually got a pendant after Duke died, which is technically a “pet cremation pendant,” it is a silver tube that closes with beautiful scrollwork on it. I actually have a bit of his fur in their right now, but want to put in a little scroll. I often hold it and it makes me feel more grounded. It has definitely become my little traveling tabernacle. Have you listened to The Ancient Muse yet? Really good stuff!

    Lisa, I completely agree about the wildness of God. I wouldn’t want a God who can be domesticated and conformed to my own desires. When we allow God to be God, life becomes much more interesting. I’d love to know the name of the song when you think of it.

    Thanks Trish! Yes, I love the deeply feminine quality of darkness, I adore the imagery of birthing even though I have never physically given birth myself, lots of metaphorical birthing though. Can’t wait to see what you come up with on your blog for a look!

    Rich, Thank you so very much, that means a lot to me, especially the image of being in a creative community, one of the things I love most about the blog world is being able to connect with so many wonderfully creative folks like yourself. Of course, even better that we have actually met. I am delighted you got back in touch and my soul sings with you.

    You are all so very wonderful! Thank you for the positive feedback on the blog look and thank you for your great creative energy, support, and sharing. You truly bless me.


  6. Christine – I need to echo the comments left my someone earlier this week or last. Your writing is so beautiful and you are such an invaluable resource. I start out at Sacred Art and an hour later I’m still chasing your links. All the time, my heart is filled with joy as I am way down deep in the midst of an affirming community of spiritual, artistic kindred souls. I’m SO glad I made the effort to be back in touch with you. My soul sings!

  7. Christine,
    WOW! LOVE the new look! I, too, have been toying with tinkering around with my blog colors – going with something darker for awhile. You’ve absolutely convinced me. Thanks for that inspiration. (And thanks for the kudos and link!)

    Mmmmm… Such good questions to roll around in, Christine. That – the rolling around – seems actually to be a gifted darkness-image to me. Rolling around in the fertile, lush, dark soil. There are no boxes in soil. There are only more and more layers of possibility to worm around in, to roll around in.

    Winter and darkness also feel so deeply feminine to me. Earthy and sacred, rich and here at hand. The Mother of all giving birth to all. And the sacred dark offering the mysterious lens to find that fertile, birthing energy within.

    Well. I could go on all day! Obviously, I love this stuff…

    Now —
    I’m off to experiment with my blog colors!


  8. I like your new look.

    I felt myself moved by this image of darkness and the wildness of God. It is this wildness which seems to be left out of talk of God. It is this wildness which convinces me of God’s presence and makes God’s presence actually more attractive for me. When I think of the darkness of the ocean floor or the infinite blackness of space; this is when I see God and am overwhelmed by the power and endlessness of the Father Creator.

    Thank you for this tremendous reminder. I, too, am fond of Loreena McKennit and Mary’s Song is my favorite Christmas song. In fact, I have performed it myself for a church function years ago. I would like to recommend a song by Chi Rho to you. I can’t think of its title at the moment but will get back to you. I can hear it in my head at the moment and it is giving me that wonderful overwhelmed feeling. :)

  9. Hi Christine – At a department store yesterday I saw a silver cross necklace with a reliquary-type box in the center of it with a hinged lid, sort of like a locket. What is popular these days are the prayer box pendants or charms. I’ve always been drawn to tiny compartments like this – places to hold tiny pieces of paper of secret wishes or a place to hold a teeny rock I’ve found. God is like this reliquary. He is a dark place for me to place my wishes and relics. From this Advent season on I seek the Mystery of God in my own reliquary-belly.

    As I run errands this afternoon and through this season I will be listening to Loreena’s “Mask and Mirror” cd.

    Peace and Hugs,
    (i like the black blog for winter. its pretty. the type seems smaller than the other look you had and the curser is black and blends in with the background. change is good)

  10. I don’t have time to write a real comment I only want to say that the problem of wrapping one’s mind about God and putting Him in boxes are things that interest me – I am so against containment Him- He is so much bigger than we can possibly fathom – and we are foolish to try to contain Him (Yet I confess, I am guilty of trying)…

    My Uncle recently wrote some interesting thoughts on boxes…I find I can’t link to his individual posts so go here – there are two down the screen slightly…

    Please don’t let him know I directly sent you there – as my understanding from other family members to read his blog is a privilege he has granted only a handful.