Advent 7: There Lives in Me

When I taught at a Waldorf School, we taught a little poem to the children:
There live in me an image
of all that I could be.
Until I have become it,
my heart is never free.

For some reason, as I try to recall it, my mind always substitutes “shadow” for “image.” It’s like something tickling at the back of my brain is trying to remind me that I am not only what can be seen on the surface, but that there’s something else there, too, some deeper me that needs to be recognized and integrated before I am truly whole and free.

Several years ago, I wrote a poem on the subject:

Shadow
I will be Crow.
Stone Steps to the Lady Shrine.
Spider’s tidy strands.
Moss. Pine cone.
Lichen. White stone.

Lady, what have you to say to me?

There lives in me a shadow. . .
Water trickling in the grotto.
Bark of the Sycamore Tree.
Crow. Willow.
Acorn. Sparrow.

What have you to say?

An image of all that I could be.
Ladybug on Her child’s chubby knee.
Spider in the fold of Her robe.
Green leaf. Cool breeze.
Whisper. Oak trees.

Become the Shadow.

I am the Crow and the Spider.
Scent of new boxwood.
The whisk-footed Squirrel.
Egg sac. Chickweed.
Web. Speedwell.

Breathe.

(From Song of the Toad and the Mockingbird by Elizabeth Weaver-Kreider, Skunk Holler Poetryworks, 2013.)

When I look into my own shadows, they’re composed of as many subtle colors and hues as the ones that intersect across my living room floor in the mornings. Some are indeed frightening and uncomfortable, because they are unknown, because they hold the secrets of my unresolved and unacknowledged self. Others hold a thrill, because they hide the daring and adventurous and wild side of me, because they harbor the self hinted at in my dreams. They whisper to me, ask me to take up the work they have.

The various personality and temperament studies I have done often point toward shadow work, to exploring those unexplored regions inside. I have found the Enneagram to be particularly helpful in this work. In the Enneagram, I am a pretty standard Seven, an Enthusiast. I call it Hedonist, to remind myself of the shadow possibilities. The Enthusiast wants to enjoy life to the fullest. What choose one option when five will do? We tend to overschedule ourselves, to take on more than we can handle, to eat too much and drink too much. We have a thousand unfinished projects because we want to try everything. We can be enjoyable companions because we like to pile on the fun. Some of the shadows that dog me are hoarding and gluttony and pain avoidance. There isn’t time or attention span enough to handle all the projects and ideas and things that I want to take on. And I get so excited about the next new thing that I avoid the actual work of other things I have committed myself to. In this case, working with my shadows means knowing this pitfalls, working with the anxiety that comes with saying no to the next new and exciting thing that comes along, learning to discipline myself to do the next thing that might bring work or pain.

And there are shadowselves that call me to integrate my the wilder, fiercer, more daring part of me into my everyday self. The shadows call: “Don’t let yourself be tamed! Don’t become domesticated! Don’t settle into safety and predictability. Don’t settle for the status quo.” It’s these shadowselves that raise their heads when everyday systems of oppression and injustice, patterns that everyone seems to accept, make us raise our heads and look around and start to ask questions. In order to live in a world that actively creates unjust systems, parts of ourselves slide into the shadows in order to function with minimal pain and less of the jarring sense of contradiction. Change in the world comes about when we let these sleeping shadows wake up and live within us.

Here, on the eighth day of our journey into the shadows of the December labyrinth, let’s walk into those rooms where our shadows wait, and examine their colors and shapes and textures. What might they have to teach us? This afternoon, I must tackle some things I have been avoiding, and set up a plan for myself to focus instead of fluttering from bright and shiny thing to bright and shiny thing.

What goal will you set for yourself? Maybe your natural state is to try to control all the details, and today you will let go of control? Maybe you’re dogged by particular shadow anxieties, and today is the day to look at them more closely, perhaps in the company of a beloved who can help you? Perhaps today is the day to wake up some sleepy shadows and start to make a plan to break the chains in an oppressive system that profits from your sleepiness?


Envisioning:
(At the beginning of Advent, my pastor asked us to hold the swords-into-ploughshares vision in our heads, to look for stories of people choosing that vision. For the next little while, I am going to look for such stories as my daily morning meditation.)

I think of the people of Landisville Mennonite Church and others who work with them to be companions to refugees and asylum seekers and immigrants who have been detained in York County Prison. These people are holding a vision of a welcoming community that helps people find their way in a new place. A group of people has come out of this work to raise money to pay the bonds for immigrants in the York detention center. Their website is IBAEPA.org, The Immigration Bond and Advocacy effort, if you would like to participate in their making their vision a reality.

Advent 7: Approach with Curiosity

This is a picture of my cat Erebus through the window between our kitchen and the breezeway. Behind him are some of the houses of Legoland, but my own reflection is caught within the shadow of him, and behind me is the reflection of the window to the outside.

One of the dangers for me in this season is numbness. There is so much to do; there are so many details to keep track of, so many people with needs to respond to. Compounding this, the cold and the closing darkness make me draw inward, pulling inside myself. It can be easy to forget to feel, to live in a survival mindset, moving from task to task with an automatic and robotic air, just trying to hold on and make it through.

It helps to be conscious and deliberate in my response to the pull toward hibernation, not denying the desire, offering myself small oases of hibernation in the context of the busy life I must continue to lead. Stop and breathe. Stop and read a poem. Stop and draw a picture. Stop and smile at someone. I need to change the pace, stepping at the rhythm my body and psyche demand rather than the rush and bustle that the frantically commercial outside world demands.

It also helps, here in this winter labyrinth, to hone and practice curiosity, letting the mind out to play, opening the heart more fully to wonder and delight. Look up from the relentless task list in front of you, and let your gaze wander over the world outside the momentary ruts. Notice the colors and textures. Take an interest. Be curious. It helps to combat the dullness.

I have developed an obsession with taking photos of reflections, and reflections of reflections. In the picture above, I am caught in the reflection of a picture of my cat through a window. His name is Erebus, which is the personification of darkness and shadow in ancient Greek cosmology. Even the shadows have a wonderful variety of shade and hue. Shadows and reflections of shadows are doorways, places where worlds meet, tangible and intangible places of possibility.

How will you be changed if you decide to walk through one of those doorways?


Envisioning:
(At the beginning of Advent, my pastor asked us to hold the swords-into-ploughshares vision in our heads, to look for stories of people choosing that vision. For the next little while, I am going to look for such stories as my daily morning meditation.)

This week, I have come across several articles about Rain Dove, a model who responds to critics and detractors with what one writer called ‘relentless kindness.” Rain Dove is non-binary, and receives quite a lot of hateful responses to their social media posts about their own life. A recent incident in which an angry parent posted an angry and blaming note to Rain Dove about their influence on the parent’s child turned into an honest conversation about being present for a child who needs tender-hearted adults. Rain Dove began with humor to diffuse the anger, then probed gently and non-judgmentally to find out the root of the parent’s anxiety. Then they asserted repeatedly that it seems obvious that the parent must really love and care for the child and want what’s best. I want to be like Rain Dove, practicing a vision of a world in which we approach each other with relentless kindness.

Advent 6: Examining Shadows

Every year, I have to talk myself through this. I love darkness. I love the quiet and the rest, the comfort of enveloping night. And–

And the short days and long nights also fill me with a growing sense of panic, a sense of claustrophobia, as the night comes early and the dark lingers late into the mornings. I feel the panic rise, like it does when my clothes are too tight or I’m in a crowd, closed in on all sides by people, or when the seatbelt in the car pulls tight and won’t let go. It takes a conscious effort of will and a lot of self-talk to get myself back to the quiet space where I can sit in the darkness of early evening and remember how good it is to sit in the warm yellow glow of a lamp and feel the gentle arms of darkness around me.

So, here in the sixth passage of this labyrinth walk into December, I want to look into the shadows. Perhaps tomorrow, or another day, I will look into the more metaphorical shadows inside me (they make me claustrophobic, too), but yesterday I was caught up in looking at the blues and the indigos and violets that glow in the edges of the shadows and color the deeper areas. The under-shadow of the clouds was such a blue yesterday that I wondered if my eyes are developing a more acute sense of blue as they grow aged and fuzzy. The indigos beside the blue were richer, more lustrous. I think I know why the search for indigo has been a human obsession.

This morning, the shadows cast beyond the lamplight cross shadows falling through the archway to the kitchen. The lines between create distinct zones and areas, but try to look directly at the borders between light and shadow and doubled shadow, and suddenly the boundaries blur and disappear. Stare too long at the edges of a shadow and it starts to pulse and shift.

Without light, there is no shadow. Yesterday when I got home from work, I climbed onto the picnic table to catch a photo of the glorious shadows cast by the sycamore tree onto the red wall of the barn. The moment I raised my camera, a cloud slipped in front of the sun and the shadow was gone.

On today’s journey into winter, shall we explore the spaces between sun and shadow, consider the ways that light creates shadow, hone our noticing of color and line in the deepening shadows of winter?


Envisioning:
(On Sunday, Michelle asked us to hold the swords-into-ploughshares vision in our heads, to look for stories of people choosing that vision. For the next little while, I am going to look for such stories as my daily morning meditation.)

Yesterday, One of my friends told me of a woman in a retirement center who greets each person she passes with, “God loves you.” This reminds me of a student of mine who would come into class every day with a high five and a “Make it a great day, Ms. Weaver-Kreider!” And of the students who always thank me as they are leaving class. And of the people who look others in the eye, and make the effort to make that powerful human contact for just a moment in the day. Loving interaction which in which we See each other–that’s my vision for today.

Advent 5: Webs of Prayer

As I walk today’s fifth passage into the dark labyrinth tunnel of December, I can’t help but contemplate the cobwebs. In my physical house, the spiders have moved in from garage and attic to the house proper, seeking warmth and light and fresh insects. (Some of that is on my list winter comforts, too, though not the third.) I do take down the webs when the spiders become too assertive with their territory-claims, but mostly I live and let spin. They’ve learned to eat the stink bugs in the past five years or so, so I can’t begrudge them too much real estate.

And the web is my primary symbol of prayer. For being such a universal activity in so many religious (and even nonreligious) traditions, prayer remains nearly undefinable. What we do when we pray varies by person and situation. While I can speak a prayer in words, and I love poetic communal prayer, as an individual and contemplative activity, prayer for me has been more of a visualization or meditation, more like a raising of energy, than a direct invocation.

For thoughts on prayer, I tend to turn to the poets rather than the theologians, though when the theologians speak poetically, I am more likely to trust them. I like Mary Oliver’s perspective in “The Summer Day”:

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?”

and Joy Harjo’s “Eagle Poem”:

“To pray you open your whole self
To sky, to earth, to sun, to moon
To one whole voice that is you.”

When I pray, I feel myself on the web, feel you on the web, feel the love, the intention for healing, for restoration. It’s not a physical feeling, perhaps, but usually the metaphor is realer than words for me, and I sense the thrum and tug of the energy between us humming like. . .well, like a prayer.

Today, here in this metaphorical passageway, with cobwebs above our heads, and the watchful spiders around us, let’s practice working with that web of prayer. Consider some situation for which you long to see healing and rightness return. On a breath, send out a line of spidersilk on the breeze toward that spot in the field of existence. Be the spider, surfing the electrical currents in the air, tugging the strand taut between you the the story you pray for. Feel the hum of energy and breathe your own healing intention along that line. I will listen for you on this web of which we all are part, and wait to feel your energy.


Envisioning:
(On Sunday, Michelle asked us to hold the swords-into-ploughshares vision in our heads, to look for stories of people choosing that vision. For the next little while, I am going to look for such stories as my daily morning meditation.)

Yesterday, someone sent me a link to a story of three young men who noticed an elderly woman sitting alone at a restaurant. Something prompted one of them to go and ask if he could sit with her. He asked her about her life, and she told him that she was a widow, approaching what would have been her 60th wedding anniversary. He asked her to join him and his friends at their table, and they had a transformative encounter that enriched them all. They were separated by gender and age and race, and yet they met with open hearts, and a tender and holy connection was made.

Advent 4: Breath in Motion

Here we are at the turning into the fourth passage, another day’s journey into the cool darkness.

After a day of really focusing on my breath, I find that I am breathing more deeply, breathing more steadily, although there were moments yesterday when I felt I had split off my core from my head. Like I was breathing from a solid inner steadiness, feeling the ground, but my head was filled with wings.

I was trying to help students meet a contest deadline, and all day they kept coming into my room with last-minute questions about submitting their poetry and stories online. This is one of my great joys, watching them take risks and put themselves out there. I got both anxious and giddy. I lost a couple papers that I needed because I lost my focus. It all came together, and I got most of my own work done, and I think all the young folk got their pieces submitted. Still, the flurry and the bustle made it harder for me to be as present as I could be for a student near the end of the day who lives in a high stage of anxiety. I have been trying to help him to be a more independent writer, and I sort of pushed him out of the nest a little yesterday while I helped another student in the class to complete her contest submission.

I’m not beating myself up, just trying to note how I had a perfect moment to practice what I was preaching about holding a steady breath for others who are anxious, and I missed the chance. I wonder, had I taken two more minutes quietly helping my anxious student set up his document, breathing steadily beside him while he began his work, breathing evenly while we talked about deadlines and how he has plenty of time to complete his short essay, might I have been able to make his afternoon a little calmer and less fraught?

We’re not called on to calm everybody else down. I know I couldn’t have single-handedly solved this young man’s anxiety. Still, it was really the perfect chance to practice the calming breath. It is helpful to look back at the passage we’ve just come through and consider how I might have negotiated it with more intention.

How was your own breathing yesterday? Did you have a chance to steady your own breathing, or to help someone else to breathe through an anxious moment? Shall we continue with strong, calming breaths today? Today, I will step more intentionally into that space of intentionally grounding into my breath when I am with others who are in anxious or dramatic spaces, observing whether it helps to bring us closer to calm.

Breathe in, holding a keen and conscious awareness of the energies swirling around us. Breathe out calmness and quiet, stillness and steadiness. We have our breath. We have these lights that we carry. All is calm. All is bright.


Envisioning:
(On Sunday, Michelle asked us to hold the swords-into-ploughshares vision in our heads, to look for stories of people choosing that vision. For the next little while, I am going to look for such stories as my daily morning meditation.)

This is a powerful story, and it’s already been beautifully told by many others. It’s the story of how a community in East Berlin in the 1980s, repressed and suppressed by a harsh and controlling SS, held a ploughshares vision for peace and justice, and contributed to the change that brought about the fall of the wall. Here it is in the words of Simon Smart:

“A less known but vital part of the story was the German Peace Movement that began in East German churches from about 1980. Among a population driven to paranoid suspicion and fear by the pervasive network of Stasi officers and informers, the churches became a base for community discussions and agitation for change. They provided a rare forum to express hunger for individual freedom and a peaceful resolution to Cold War conflict.

In September 1983, at the Protestant Church Congress in Wittenberg, German Pastor Friedrich Schorlemmer organised to have a sword melted down and turned into a ploughshare. This provocative demonstration was picking up on the Old Testament’s vision of peace in the prophets Isaiah and Micah. In East Germany, this became a powerful symbol of a non-violent push for change. It’s remarkable he got away with such an overtly political statement — in those days, and in that place, most people did not.

But it was the grungy, unremarkable city of Leipzig that became the epicentre for popular opposition. From 1980 the Church of St. Nicholas, with only a small congregation of worshippers, began to host Monday night “Prayers for Peace” meetings. Under Pastor Christian Führer, these meetings, which would begin with people reciting the beatitudes from Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount — “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called children of God” and so on — soon became a regular meeting where believers were joined by anyone interested in discussing environmental care, disarmament and the right to travel freely.

Momentum built over time. Those gathered would end the meeting by marching together through the streets calling for change. By 1988, 600 people would meet on a Monday. This swelled to 4,000 in September 1989. When, in early October of that year, the government cracked down with arrests and beatings, the stage was set for serious confrontation and the possibility of brutal violence against the protestors. The government promised as much and hospitals were readied for the carnage to come.

On 9 October, in an atmosphere of resolute defiance among both the protestors and the authorities, 6,000 people (their number including hundreds of Stasi officials) turned up to the church, and another 65,000 in the surrounding streets. It was easily the largest anti-communist demonstration in the country’s history.

The crowd set off on a march, holding candles and linking arms, waiting for what seemed an inevitable massacre. Organisers feared the worst but implored their people not to give the riot police any excuse to act against them. The marchers held banners proclaiming, “We are the people,” and called out their slogan, “No violence.” Astonishingly, inexplicably, the guns remained silent. “The only thing [the government] weren’t prepared for was candles and prayers,” said Pastor Führer.

Fifteen days later, 300,000 people turned out on the streets of Leipzig. It became the inspiration for the escalated popular opposition around the country that put so much pressure on the East German regime. These were vital ingredients in what eventually bringing down the wall. Leipzig earned the nickname the “hero city.”

In the days of the Nazi threat, the German church’s story was one of catastrophic failure — collusion, widespread cowardice and self-interest. The role of churches in the demise of communist East Germany, while only one of many factors, is a brighter story. Players in this drama, like Christian Führer, represent some of the best the church has offered: commitment to the greater good; true community engaging, not only the faithful, but those outside the church in a common and righteous cause.

These figures also embodied the radical and counterintuitive teaching of Jesus to resist evil but to refuse violence in doing so. That kind of rare commitment has, on occasion, produced surprisingly positive outcomes: Martin Luther King, Jr and the Selma marches; Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu in post-apartheid South Africa. The Leipzig protests, and ultimately the fall of the Berlin Wall, belong in that noble tradition.”

https://www.abc.net.au/religion/the-german-church-and-the-fall-of-the-berlin-wall/11683466

Advent 3: Breathing in the Dark

Today, we turn in to the third passage of this labyrinth. One thing I have noticed as I take this journey every year is that I get breathless. I find myself needing to take big sighs that don’t seem to quite satisfactorily fill my lungs. I’ll be walking in the halls at school and realize that I have been breathing shallowly, skimming the surface of breath.

So I sit or stand still, lift my chin, set my shoulders back, and take a long slow inward breath that goes down to my toes. When I breathe out again, I release some of that breath downward, through the base of my spine, into the Earth. You and I both know that the lungs are the organ of breathing in the body. I know that when we talk about breathing into our guts, we’re activating the diaphragm to get more involved in the activity of breathing. Still, for me, deep healing breath seems to follow more completely when I expand the activity of breathing throughout my body and into the Earth below me rather than simply centering it in my lungs. In the end I come away more grounded.

Try this, today in a moment between moments. Notice your breathing. Are you breathing deeply or shallowly? Settle yourself into a quiet space, either sitting or standing, and straighten your spine just a little. I think we’re trained to do the sudden, ramrod upward stance to quickly correct “bad posture.” This is about subtle movements that allow for a clear passage of air into our lungs. My shoulders go up and back a little, and I feel my spine as the road that connects Earth and Sky within me.

Breathe in. If you count when you breathe, you might try that. For me, I want to avoid regimentation in my breathing, and counting feels like that to me, but to some people, it’s a comfort. As you breathe in, notice your gut expanding, and feel your body open. Breathing out, send at least some of that breath down to your feet and to the base of your spine. This breath is roots that anchor you and hold you, connecting you to Earth.

Sometimes I get my arms involved, moving up and down with the breath, or I’ll shift my torso back and forth like a snake, to bring the breath into the nooks and crannies between my ribs. Roll your shoulders gently, or your neck, if that helps. Or make an audible sound on the outbreath. For me, the key is to do whatever helps me feel the breath filling all of me.

Right now, walking in this velvety morning darkness, I feel the quiet darkness of winter in the breath, and I take in the shadows that surround me. I am not afraid of this darkness. It’s the darkness of a deeply restful night, the darkness of a beloveds arms enclosing me, a regenerating darkness. The darkness in the chambers where the seed rests before it feels the stirrings that cause it to transform.

I cannot deny that I’m still anxious and claustrophobic about the long nights; that’s a feeling I need to keep naming and exploring, but at the same time I can still welcome the quiet restful dark. Walt Whitman said: “Do I contradict myself? Well, then, I contradict myself. I am large. I contain multitudes.”

One more thing about breathing: I have noticed that when I am talking with a student who is anxious or upset, if I subtly and consciously shift my breathing to a deeper level, they unconsciously join me in the deeper breath. I can see a shift, almost imperceptible, in their eyes, a relaxing. Try it when you’re in the presence of someone who is breathing shallowly because of anxiety or anger or weariness. We draw each other deeper as we tend to our own breath.

And so we walk onward, breathing together in the darkness. Breathing in the the darkness. I hear your steady breath, and the breathing of those who accompany us on this journey, and I know that when my breath falters, yours will be there to remind me to deepen.


Envisioning:
(On Sunday, Michelle asked us to hold the swords-into-ploughshares vision in our heads, to look for stories of people choosing that vision. For the next little while, I am going to look for such stories as my daily morning meditation.)

The story I think about today is Starhawk’s novel, The Fifth Sacred Thing. In the story, the army of the Stewards is moving up the coast toward a free city/region. The people of the city have founded their civic life on principles based on nonviolence. As they decide how to respond to the coming army, they consider the point that armed resistance has been the chosen path of humanity for millennia, and it hasn’t worked. If they refuse to fight the invaders, they will lose their free way of life. If they find ways to arm themselves and fight, many of their number will die. If they choose a path of nonviolent resistance, many of them are also likely to die, but they might have a chance of preserving their way of life, and they won’t be compromising the principles upon which they’ve based their whole community. They tell the invading soldiers, “There is a place set for you at our table, if you will choose to join us.”

I would spoil the ending for you to tell you more, whether they miraculously “won” the day with their brilliant tactics of nonviolent resistance, or whether they were overtaken by the violent forces in the end. But that’s actually part of the point, isn’t it? We don’t know whether the vision will “work” in any physical/human sense, but we do it anyway because we hold a vision for the possibility for a different way for humans to be human with each other.

Advent 2: What Will You Risk?

Today we make our turning into the second passage. Yesterday’s journey was quite pleasant, really, as I looked around and saw how many are taking this journey with us. That’s the paradox, isn’t it? It’s a solitary journey that we walk in community, a journey of silence that contains the whispers and singing of others, a joyful anticipation and a recognition of deep grief and pain. Can we hold both sides of the story, center ourselves within the paradox? Sure, we can. Labyrinths are funny that way. They’re disorienting and confusing, and you can never really know where you are, and yet—unlike the fragmented turnings of a maze—the pathway is a single twisting line. All we have to do is to follow the next twist ahead.

Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes reminds us that we were made for these times, echoing Mordecai, the loving uncle in the ancient story, telling his niece Esther the Queen: “Perhaps you were brought here for just such a time as this.” Esther risked her own life to save her people from a capricious and arrogant ruler. As we journey today, let’s ask ourselves: What are we willing to risk in these times? What will we put on the line?

Simply walking into this labyrinth is a risk. We do not know what is around the next bend, what monsters lurk deep and unrecognized within the shadows of our psyches. But walking together, holding our lights high, whispering to each, “I’m here; don’t be afraid,” we can find our way through.

Yesterday, we thought about those burdens in our packs. I have one that I don’t know how to carry, and it asks that question about what I am willing to risk. I’ll put my pack down a moment here and take it out. Open it up. See, all that rage and grief and uncertainty swirling around in there? I want to be one of the ones who stands in the gap here when my country still has not returned the children to their parents, when no one seems to know what to do to make that happen. I want to speak out, to speak truth. But I don’t know how, exactly. So it all just swirls around in there, taking up space and making my pack so heavy.

Take a moment to explore one of the burdens in your own pack, one that you don’t know quite what to do with. Write about it in your journal, or tell a friend about it. Write a song or poem, or paint a painting. I still don’t know exactly how I am going to resolve mine, but it feels lighter now. Maybe this December journey will shed some light for me. For you, too.


Envisioning Peace:
Yesterday in church, Michelle asked us to hold Isaiah’s vision of a world in which the response is peace and understanding rather than violence, ploughshares rather than swords. She asked us to consider situations in which people chose the peaceful path. During Advent, I’m going to look for stories and ideas that hold this vision.

For today’s story, I hold in my mind the vision of Queen Esther taking the risk onto herself, speaking her truth, and averting the genocide of her people. I think that one of the ways in which people step into the ploughshares vision is to choose a third path. Instead of simply capitulating to the injustice or taking up arms to fight it, this path does resist and stand up to the oppression, but with truth instead of weapons.

I think this is just what our times are calling for. How can we envision this third response?

Opening the Door to Advent: Day 1

Advent, Day One:
It seems as though we’ve been walking in this forest forever, daily trekking deeper into the dark woods. At first, in the golden light of September, we revelled in the slanting light, the gentle breeze, the energizing zing in the air. Slowly and steadily, we walked further into the wood, each day closing in around us little by little: more shadow, less light.

Today we have arrived at the doorway to the labyrinth of December. We hear the voices of the carolers, and we notice the twinkling lights, the bustle, the rushing to prepare, prepare, prepare. We join in. And also we stand aside, wondering if this is really the meaning of it all. We celebrate the community the season brings, the sense of participating in ancient rituals and traditions. And we sigh and roll our eyes, frustrated with the commercialism and materialism of it all, the knowledge that the season has been co-opted by a capitalist system that must see profits this month in order to succeed.

We stand at the door of the labyrinth. We’ve been walking in increasing shadow for weeks now, and today we step into the deeper shadows of the maze, carrying our heart-lights to guide us, seeking the light that will carry us into the coming year. In the Christian tradition, people pause and consider the coming of the child of light, the one who breaks the chains of oppression, sets the captives free, brings healing to the nations. Ancient pre-christian European traditions and their modern-day followers await the birth of the solar child at Yule. We recognize in both of these over-laid traditions that the outer shadows are mirrored by our inner shadows, and just as we cannot escape the shadows of the outer world, we must walk through the inner shadowscape in order reach the light at the center. And together, we seek the light that is coming.

Today, we walk the first passage into the labyrinth. What are you carrying this year as you walk? Can you give it a name? Write a bullet list of the heavy things that weigh down the pack on your back. What fears and anxieties and angers do you carry? What complacency? What closed boxes reside in that pack, boxes you fear to look into? Can you simply give them names for now?

Now consider the light which you carry in your hand. Picture it. Is it a bright flashlight with a focused beam? Or are the batteries dying, offering a diffuse and precarious light? Is it a lantern, full and bright with a strong flame? Or a candle, flickering in a protected glass jar? Consider the strength of the light you carry. How can you shore it up and strengthen it for the coming journey?

If your batteries are dying, what will refuel them? Will you do one piece of art a day? Even if it’s a 3’x5′ doodle? Will you read three poems every morning when you wake up? Will you walk for half an hour on your lunch break? Will you sing along to the radio in the car without worrying about what people in the other cars think? Will you call someone you love? If your batteries are weak or your flame is low, commit to doing one thing today to strengthen your light on this first passage into the shadow-realm.

Good. Let’s walk together through today’s passage. What a lovely light you carry! Mine’s been flickering a lot lately. Sometimes, it burns so brightly and cheerily, I think I’ll never have to worry, but then a gust of wind comes along without warning and nearly extinguishes it. But we can feel safer if we walk together. If one of us begins to lose the light, let’s trust that someone else’s light will be sufficient for a little while until we can get our own going strongly again.


Gratitude List:
1. That fox we watched nosing along the creek and the bosque yesterday. This morning, in the hollow at the base of the cherry tree by the creek, we imagine that some woods and weeds tucked into the shadows there was the fox curled up and sleeping. It really does look like it!
2. We saw two of the white squirrels at Londonderry Village yesterday. Rumors are that there are as many as five.
3. Seasonal rituals and celebrations that help to offer comfort and direction for the inner journey.
4. Companions in the labyrinth of December. Thank you for sharing your lights.
5. The light will return.

May we walk in Beauty!