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Late Autumn 2019 | Exploring Darkness


Late Autumn Part 2: Prayerfully Awake

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And for the readers…

I talk a lot about the practice of cultivating the pause—of figuring out how to stop yourself before an automatic reaction just happens so that you can take a moment to choose an intentional response. And the more I tune into the rhythm of seasons, the more I’ve come to understand that the season of darkness offers us a natural pause. And if we’re willing to stay awake to this natural pause, we can practice slowing down. The word vigil refers to remaining prayerfully awake. Can we remain prayerfully awake as the earth models stillness? Vigilance is required because while the natural world might go dormant this time of year, culture never will. And if we let them, cultural habits of busyness can take over every aspect of our lives, especially as we prepare to move through the holidays. So let’s be countercultural. Let’s follow the example of the earth and slow down. Let’s allow ourselves time to rest and remember what matters most, because here’s the thing… We’ll never be able to make good, solid intentional choices without a clear vision of who we are and what we want.

In the Celtic Wheel of the Year, we’re at the end and the beginning. It’s a wheel, a circle, and there’s no hard stop. Life just keeps moving. But in the cover of darkness we can pause and look back. We can explore where we’ve come from.

This year I’ve been studying cultural appropriation and the work of de-colonizing yoga with Susanna Barkataki. She’s an American yoga teacher who’s family lineage contains both colonizer and colonized. Her mother is British and her father is Indian. In her work she’s challenging the western world to recognize yoga as a way of life—not merely a set of postures. (To which I say: Amen!!) She reminds us that yoga is unity and when honored in it’s fullness, yoga has the power to both nourish our spirit and ignite us in our work against violence and oppression. She often says that the work of de-colonization will take every single one of us.

And she invites us all to trace our own lineages back—to seek the wisdom of our ancestors before the roots of colonialism took hold.

When I look back I see the traditions of my Celtic ancestors who, like the ancient yogis, saw darkness not as something to fear, but as a necessary part of life.

There’s the darkness of the natural world… Of late fall and early winter when my chickens go to bed earlier and stop laying eggs. When all my kale is frost bitten and the last of the brussels sprouts have to be brought in. There’s the darkness of the bulbs, now buried in the earth, that will burst forth in spring. And the darkness of the grave, of death. Darkness is a fundamental part of the cyclical nature of life. In it’s most basic definition, darkness is simply the absence of light. It can be experienced physically—as in the difference between high noon and midnight—but it can also be emotional or spiritual. While I don’t have seasonal depression, I’m no stranger to depression itself. I know the feeling of numbness, of suspension in a nowhere land, of no feeling and all feeling at the same time.

But there’s also the darkness of the womb, of gestating new life. In this moment of ending and beginning we pause to look back, but we must also look forward. This is the time of year to ask the bold question: What do I want? Under the cover of darkness we can be dreamers and visionaries. We can remember our ancestors and imagine our descendants. In this moment of pause, as the world goes dormant, we can stay prayerfully awake. We can go slow enough to listen to our deep desires.

Life is cyclical. It’s a circle. And this moment of darkness is both an ending and a beginning. It’s a moment to pause and ask questions that go in multiple directions at once…

Where do I come from? Where do I want to go?

Who do I remember? How do I want to be remembered?

What darkness have I endured? What darkness has brought me new life?

What dreams have come true? What visions have yet to be born?

Let this season of darkness be an invitation into stillness and vigil. Let it be a time to pause and look backward and forward. Let it be a season of discernment, dreaming, rest, and blessing.


REFLECTION QUESTIONS

(choose 2 or 3 that catch your attention…)

  • What does vigil mean to you?
  • Have you ever tried to stay prayerfully awake for something?
  • What do you want? What discernment practices do you use to try and answer this question?
  • Where do you come from? This question can span generations… What’s your ancestral heritage? How did the place you grew up shape who you are?
  • Where do you want to go? In life… In work… In your relationships… In your practice…
  • Who do you remember? Who do you miss?
  • How do you want to be remembered? How do you want to be described in your eulogy?
  • What darkness have you endured?
  • What experiences of darkness have brought you new life?
  • What dreams have come true?
  • What visions have yet to be born?
  • What other multi-directional questions can you think of?

COMMUNITY COMMENTS

We all benefit from the wisdom of spiritual community. And community means more than one voice, so please add yours to the conversation. What did this week’s sermon and reflection questions spark in you?