sacred time and fairy lights

In blogalectic with Jenna and Masha

It’s a cold night, a restless and windy night in St Andrews, heavy with the despondent dark of early winter. And I see that Jenna has blogged about “murderous fairies.” A pleasant topic in sunny old Washington, perhaps, but here—not far from the cathedral ruins and the endless, rolling shadows of the sea—it’s not a phrase I care to utter aloud. They might hear.

The cold wind brings a change of seasons with it, the last dreary days of harvest when the fields are thick with winter cover. The autumnal fires have burned out, now, and long dark of winter is here. In some small, almost irrelevant way, the world is different. We could say it’s the angle of the sun, or the frost in the air with the sky as sharp and steep as a cathedral roof. But it’s not that. It’s a change that feels the nip of delight as well as cold—the thrill of steaming, spiced drinks, heady fires, the bustle and excitement as we prepare for the feast. The night is closed round us now, but the lights are coming.

December is the cruellest month,  but winter is the season of lights.

We carve a small space in the darkness of light and warmth, and though it’s filled with laughter and music and sound, I think it’s a place of silence. If we care to stop and listen for it, we here it—the silence between the notes, before the laughter, as the candles are lit and the prayers are said. The silence of these feasts, of this sacred time of anticipation, when we live, as Masha suggests, the whole of the year at once, has in itself the promise to calm and quiet the noise and busyness of the rest of the year.

For Jenna, and Masha, and myself, these days of preparation and silence attract us to the place where our art is born. We create out of silence; the silence, not the sound and fury of the world around, gives us stories, and “the courage to stand up and die in order to utter a word or a poem.” These days of darkness and light remind us, silently, patiently, to return and not forget. Because forgetting is easy. Forgetting is fearful. The pressure of ordinary time—words and clamour and responsibility—where we pour these blog posts and other writings—demands that we speak and clamour to make ourselves heard. And the louder we choose to talk, the closer we come to losing our words and our voices.

Here in the silence of the winter feasts, though, it’s easy to remember. The memory is not easy—outcast nights, barred doors, grief and desolation and loss. But the memory is joyful: the light shone in the darkness, and still shines, and will shine again. Silent we stop to receive it, to wonder. Silent, will we dare to carry it with us in our ordinary time of words?

Outside the wind shudders against the glass, and perhaps the good folk ride with it on whatever errands they pursue—we can only hope they don’t pass this way tonight! But inside, here, in the silence and glow of anticipation—here is hope. Here is winter. Here is light.

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8 thoughts on “sacred time and fairy lights

  1. I love it…thank you. I’ve been listening to a lot of audio books lately, the most recent of which is Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, and this struck me as a great candidate for a spoken piece too. Love the site.

  2. “sunny old Washington”–pfffft.

    Seriously, this post is gorgeous. I love the idea of winter as the season of lights… I’d never thought of it that way before, but I got to thinking about the church in Godric’s Hollow, and you’re right. 🙂

  3. Thank you, John, for taking away my breath–the breath that visibly hangs a few extra moments in the cold, still night air of winter. I can almost see the starlight glittering in your eyes as you gaze silently through that frosty pane. This may be one of the most evocative posts I’ve read in months….

  4. Thanks for the kind words, everyone. I won’t pretend I didn’t need the encouragement this week. But already, paradoxically, winter is seeming a very fruitful season for me this year. And it seems to be starting a pattern for the rest of the year, so we’ll see.

  5. beautiful read. i can see this in a volume of contemplative essays designed to invoke deep reflections on life.

    and, much like life, it fascinates me that we all see something different (and yet all the same…) december is the most healing month, for me, because it brings closure to the year and offers the quiet promise of new beginnings. true, her winds and cold slice right through…but then i spill myself out and art is born.

  6. Beautiful writing, John. It evokes pictures in the heart, as well as in the mind. May your heart and mind be filled with the “Light of the World” as you celebrate this holiday season with your precious family.

    Love, Mom (Debbie)

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