The house across the street is slightly hazy in the fog that has blanketed the city as it so often does on winter mornings. The chickadees and finches are darting around the narrow backyard outside my window. Juncos on the ground where I mostly can’t see them, but a sure sign that Jake, the neighbor cat, is on his side of the street. The camellia buds are full, but likely a month away from blooming. The red berries on a tall bush are delightful and I know in a couple months they will ripen and perhaps ferment. I have seen dozens of cedar waxwings descend on it in the early spring and bounce around, soaring on and off in wild swings.
Lots of ministry was offered two days ago at Meeting for Worship: a focus on darkness and on light, both inward and outward. The pain of loss magnified in the darkness of the long nights. The darkness experienced by others as a place for renewal. Essential to our being and preparation for the explosive growth of spring. There is no document saying that Jesus was born on December 25. Like so much of Christian ritual, this holiday builds on ancient celebration as the days begin to lengthen once again. A remembrance of hope, of what will be that is so helpful to the human heart.
By chance, our Bible study group, which meets faithfully at 7am each Monday morning, is reading the closing portion of the Gospel of John about the crucifixion. The two major events of the Christian calendar are counterpoints to one another. My literary sense wants to put these two stories somehow into the metaphor of the foggy day, especially since I know (from the days of having an office in a highrise downtown) that the fog only rises to about the 12th floor. Above that there is a glorious sun rise over the shoulder of snow-covered Mt Hood. So lots of natural images of darkness below and light flowing across it as in George Fox’s image of the oceans of darkness overcome by the ocean of light.
As with most metaphors, a a vivid reality is evoked. Our sense are engaged. Times of trying to drive an unlit road on a foggy night rise up along with the fear and tension that accompanied the drive. Then there is the contrasting sense I feel as I look out the window and feel the warmth that immediately surrounds me made more precious by the knowledge of the dankness outside. It is a time of year to curl into a snug quilt and allow God to work on the heart.
Winter and darkness –forces to work against or times of preparation? I have this choice each day, each year. I move between pressing forward to accomplish work I feel called to do and curling into a warm blanket to sit in contemplation that works beneath awareness.
Reading the end of John at a time when everyone around me is focusing on the beginning of the story leaves me feeling uncomfortable and confused much of the time–hanging around out there in the fog. I have been fighting against the temptation accept this story literally, which several in the Bible study group seem to do. As we focus on the story with modern eyes used to reading history that attempts to accurately describe events, it is hard to immerse myself in a story that is written by those who are used to listening for a deeper Truth. I see the irony as I resist the idea of a personified God active in the world even as I know in the depths of my being the reality of divine presence comforting me and guiding me.
The arc of the story of this person named Jesus is embedded in the hopes of a people whose land has been conquered and who walk past the graphic reality of torture as they enter their capital city at the time of a central religious celebration. We sit in an unconquered Rome, one which still uses torture, but hides it in another land and has shifted a religious celebration into an orgy of materialism.
The story we celebrate this week is one of hope and a promise that the horror and greed around us will be transformed. The story that concludes each of the gospels also affirms this hope and promise, but makes inescapable the suffering that may be part of the path for those who share this hope. The old stories offer a light to guide even the wisest of me across the desserts to see a child born in poverty and to offer this child the wealth they carry. The same light challenges the values of the world around us, the empires that seek to rule our lives. To follow that light may be a painful journey made possible by the hope that shines atop the thickness of the fog, even if we cannot see it. Yet the hope also permeates the darkness and prepares the soul. Invisibly, the soul is strengthened and reformed so it might break forth in ways foreign to our very human ideas about who we are and what we have to do to accomplish the end of empire.