The darkness embraces everything,
It lets me imagine
a great presence stirring beside me.
I believe in the night.
-Rainer Maria Rilke in Book of Hours
I write to you from the beautiful city of Vienna. I am in the middle of an amazing time of pilgrimage and journeying to the heart of myself. After many months of hard work writing and writing, I am now taking time to be and receive the gifts that move in me in response to the landscapes I am visiting. My first week was spent in Rome for the World Congress of Benedictine Oblates. There is much to process from those days of being with Oblates from around the world and visiting sites significant to Benedictine tradition like Subiaco, Montecassino, and Sant’Anselmo. (I have many photos to share upon my return!)
If Rome represents a sacred place in my spiritual lineage, Vienna is a sacred site in my ancestral lineage. This beautiful city is the place where my father grew up and I spent many summers as a child. He is buried at the cemetery here and I will visit his grave, although I can feel his palpable presence with me as I wander across the cobblestone streets of the inner city.
Today the weather has been stormy, and after several days of brilliant sunshine in Rome, I welcome in this sign of autumn’s arrival, one of my favorite seasons. We are entering the dark half of the year. It is a time to move inward as the earth sheds what she no longer needs. We live in a world illuminated by artificial light and so we can begin to forget the wisdom to be gained from being in darkness as Rilke points to above. I am reading a wonderful book right now — Let There Be Night – Testimony on Behalf of the Dark edited by Paul Bogard — a collection of 29 essays and stories in praise of darkness.
The Christian church honors the wisdom of this season by dedicating the month of November to the memory of ancestors and saints who have walked before us. The Celts believed this was an especially thin time of year and the presence of the wise ones who still dwell among us can be felt more keenly through the veil between life and death. As the earth prepares for winter, we too are invited to contemplate what death means for us.
I invite you during these October days to begin to consider how you might embrace the dark half of the year. What gifts are calling to you out of the long nights ahead that have previously gone unopened? How might you give honor to those ancestors who have traveled this road before you and welcome in the wisdom they have to offer you for your life now?
* There is still time to register for the Honoring Our Ancestors Art & Movement Retreat October 29-November 1, 2009 on the beautiful Hood Canal. *
© Christine Valters Paintner at Abbey of the Arts:
Transformative Living through Contemplative & Expressive Arts