Last May in Ireland, a bunch of us, gathered over breakfast, exclaimed over the wonderfully long days, even if they weren’t always sunlit. So much more time to sightsee! “What do you do in the winter?” a guest asked our host. His reply had us chuckling. “Not much. It gets dark at 5 o’clock. I guess that’s why we have pubs!” But he went on. “In a tourist driven country, it’s lovely to have a break between December and February. We can recoup and spend time with family.” That may have been the first time I heard someone say they loved the darker times of the year.
I’m thinking about his words still as fall creeps in and the time change looms. Since darkness greets me when I wake up, I’ve switched my long walks with the doggie to the afternoon. My headlights come on in the late afternoon twilight. The sun disappears so early it feels like bedtime ought to be before dinner time. Many people with seasonal affective disorder find themselves depressed and lethargic. Add to that a month when the world focuses on the scary side of darkness. Why would anyone love the dark?
You may know the third verse in the first chapter of Genesis “Let there be light.” It is a verse known both in the religious and secular world. The following verses (And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day) are pretty well-known too. But people often forget verses further in the first chapter of Genesis:
God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars. God set them in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth, to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. ~Genesis 1:16-18
“And God saw that it was good.” What God had done so far was good. Did God get rid of the darkness? No! God added to, not took away from. God separated the light from the dark, gave us the moon and the twinkling stars. Repeat after me: “And God saw that it was good.” Goodness infused all God created including the darkness. The light didn’t negate the dark.
In our world, we often negate the darkness as we view it with suspicion and dread. Thanks to our human experiences and what we learn from others, rightly or wrongly, we fear the dark. Nightfall conjures up boogie men instead of stars, slowing down our activities or fighting against insomnia like an enemy.
So how do we reclaim the goodness of dark nights?
Go to bed early.
Agrarian and monastic communities used to follow this practice. You’ve heard the expression “early to bed, early to rise.” Night fell. Candles were expensive so people went to sleep. Research has shown there was a period between midnight and three o’clock when people would rise naturally. What did they do during this time? Pray and study before settling back down to sleep for a few hours before the morning routine began. Are you an insomniac who wakes at two o’clock? Try getting up to pray, read devotion, and intercede for others. See what happens. It actually is an ancient practice connecting us to God. It works for me!
Remember we need the dark to rest.
Just ask folks who travel to Alaska or even Ireland who want to go to bed early but the sun just keeps shining through the window. Ask parents who desperately want their children to go to bed right after dinner but the sun hasn’t set. The dark night reminds us to slow down whether we want to or not. God created sleep to help us recharge our bodies.
Ignore bad interpretations of why we have dark times.
The clichéd “we need the dark times to appreciate the light” (and its many variations) makes me uncomfortable especially when said to a grieving partner or parent or someone struggling with life in general. We would all rather not have a cloud over our lives or face deep depression. Still, the blanket of night allows us to see those stars God put in the heavens or gaze at the changing moon. Darkness allows us to appreciate the flicker of candles in a candlelight wedding, a concert or a vigil. Think of darkness as a background, not a blanket.
Allow time to embrace the night and escape.
In the scriptures, biblical characters are constantly fleeing in a helpful cloak of darkness. Think about it. We may not be runaways but the night allows us to escape the world for a little while and gives us space to dream of a better future. That space is God’s creation too.
So there you have it, a positive spin on the darkness descending a little earlier for a little longer this time of year…at least in the Northern Hemisphere.
Let there be Night.
Did something teach you to fear the night or are you comfortable in it? What do you like about the dark of night? What would help you to like the darkness more?