Some years back we had a lot of rewiring done in our house, which was a huge project. For days on end, the house was crawling with electricians pulling wires through walls, and installing outlets and switches. The basement ceiling looked like a rat’s nest of conduit and copper. To a layperson’s eye it looked like complete chaos, and the work just seemed to go on and on.
One day, just as I was beginning to wonder if this would ever end, our electrician comforted us by saying, “It always looks the worst right before it’s done.” And sure enough, in a couple of days the chaos settled into an orderly array that magically lit up the house with the flip of a switch.
That experience came to my mind probably because tonight is the winter solstice, the longest night of the year for us in the northern hemisphere. Although I love the long nights, I realize that a lot of people don’t. The season seems bleak and depressing to them and they long for the return of the light.
These times we’re living through can also seem bleak and depressing, and it’s easy to fall into despair imagining that the chaos and darkness we’re experiencing in our country and across the globe is here to stay. And yet, on this night we are reminded of the truth that the Earth has been demonstrating for millions of years, that all things are cyclical and that this longest night ushers in, not more darkness, but the return of the light.
We arose out of and are sustained by the material of this Earth. We are, in a literal sense, Earthlings, and Earth’s wisdom and cycles are encoded into our physical and spiritual DNA, which is no doubt why so many spiritual traditions at this time of year ritually bring forth the light in the darkness, just as the Earth does. Jews light the menorah candles, pagans light the Yule log, Christians light the Christ candle, African Americans will soon light the candles of Kwanzaa. On this longest of nights, during this “bleak midwinter” season, may you be held in the mystery of the darkness and comforted by the light that is destined to return.