Jane Kenyon's poem, At the Winter Solstice, describes the effects of the longest night and the shortest day. It's easy to be negative about the mathematics of light, shortest day, longest night. But light isn't amenable to clocks; whether they go back or forward the sun still shines. The spinning of the earth, the pull of the moon, the orbit around the sun, these determine our allotted daylight and night.
The pines look black in the half
light of dawn. Stillnes…
While we slept an inch of new snow
simplified the field. Today of all days
the sun will shine no more
than is strictly necessary.
This, the first stanza declines to be negative. The clue is in that last word, necessary. Light is necessary for life, and the sun will shine. As for the second last word. We live in a TV saturated culture where the word 'strictly' evokes quite different, less portentous, and more transient concerns! It's well into Advent: "The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light...the true light, that lightens every person, has come into the world."
The sun will shine no less than is strictly necessary is not what she wrote. This wise poet recognises that for some folk the sun doesn't always shine no matter how pleading the prayers or desperate the hopes. Or so it can seem.
Some full time carers, exhausted by the demands of their own loving, work on and on, driven by that potent mixture of guilt at not doing more, and love that wants to do its best.
People struggling with various forms of addiction, and their decision time without number to quit, to change, to reclaim their freedom, dignity and self worth. And still the night goes on, and light is hard to find.
Grief is one long, long night of looking for enough light to go on living by. Hope isn't extinguished, but for now it lacks the fuel of possibility, opportunity and new beginnings. Bereavement is one of the longest nights in the human calendar.
Modern praise songs lose much by their over-positivity, and their lack of accommodation to the soul shadowing realities of many who come to worship. Earlier hymn writers seemed to have a more mature range of emotional options. Maybe our so light ridden existence, flattened by fluorescent, illumined by light emitting diodes (LED), has made us less familiar with darkness, less sure of how to deal with those overshadowing experiences that are part of the rhythms of life. Those emotional long nights and short days are as much part of our existence as the lengthening and shortening days throughout the seasons, dictated not by our mood, but by gravitational pull and the orbiting spin of our planet. Amongst those earlier hymns I like this one, and in particular, this verse; a good late Advent verse:
Long hath the night of sorrow reigned,
the dawn shall bring us light:
God shall appear and we shall rise
with gladness in his sight