Thursday, December 24, 2009


Christmas Eve. The solstice, that night when the earth reaches the nadir of it plunge into darkness without which light would be impossible. It is part of the cycle that makes a mockery out of our feeble attempts to impose a linear narrative on the slowly turning sphere of birth, growth, descent, death and rebirth. It grinds our schemes and pipe dreams to dust as it turns, for the cycle knows what we refuse to acknowledge, that all of creation is grounded in death, that the rose blooms best when rooted in the decaying flesh of its brothers and sisters who have died and been enfolded back into the earth.

The cycle mocks our chirpy Christmas music because it knows that the manger sits in the shadow of the cross. The sixteenth century’s “Coventry Carol” captures this tension between birth and death. It is a lament sung by mothers whose infant sons have been slaughtered in Herod’s massacre of the innocents as described in Matthew 2:16-18.

All darkness contains a shard of light just as it is the shadows that give light its depth. Rather than a season of Hallmarkian joy, Christmas should be a time of sad reflection deepened by the sweet pain of memories of times long past and of innocence lost.

We put too much store in our doctrine of eternal happiness. The Spanish have a proverb that reminds us that there is no happiness, but only moments of happiness.

The paradox of darkness is that only by surrendering to it and plunging into its depths are we able to find the light that sustains.

So, may your holidays be a time of growth and of movement towards the light that is present even when the night is at its darkest.


John said...

This a good essay. Happiness cannot be appreciated unless it is a flash when surrounded by seemingly unrelenting gloom.

I went to bed late last night, getting an inherited laptop up to speed, and there was a winter shitstorm warning for all of the surrounding upper Midwest.

I awoke to about one inch of new snow, covering all the animal droppings. The backyard, with the ratty, old fence and bushes covered in snow, looks like the wake-up scene in "A Christmas Story." I am warm and dry, with more food than I can possibly eat, and the people about whom I worry and care have not yet broken the spell.

Ivan Hentschel said...

Thanks to both of you.

Case Wagenvoord said...

Beautifully put.