As the days grow shorter and autumn deepens its hues, this past Sunday marked the beginning of the season many Jesus-followers call Advent.
Once, Mary began her long journey to Jerusalem to oblige their state’s census while growing the life of Emmanuel (God-with-us) within her.
Now, we attend to the ordinary matters of life while carrying the hoped-for life of the Divine kin-dom, culminating in our collective celebration of the Christmas season.
But how do we move from mundanity to labor pangs to birth?
Can we enter into this season without spiritually disassociating?
Oftentimes, Advent is framed as a contest between ‘day’ and ‘darkness,’ resisting the night to usher in the light. But as contemporary voices like Drs. Wil Gafney and Alexander John Shaia remind us, the darkness, too, is holy.
“This good news [of Advent] is framed in the stark language of light and dark, shadow and glory. And it is far too easy for us as [Westerners] to hear those words through our history of race and racism. We are taught from a young age that everything light and white is good, and everything dark and black is bad. Even when we are not thinking about it, it is in the back of our minds. Race is always in the room for us. But it wasn’t for John, Jesus and their world. Identity mattered, whether you were Greek or Jew, slave or free, woman or man, but not the brown of your skin – most skin was brown in Israel then, even Roman legions were largely black and brown, having been filled with conscripts from Africa and Asia.
The mystic Howard Thurman taught us that somewhere between the light and the darkness, between the shadow and glory, there is a space that he called the luminous darkness, others have called it radiant blackness. Think of the night sky spangled with stars or the sheen on black silk or satin, or the glow of beautiful ebony skin. In the age of Black Lives Matter I invite you to take another look at the light and the darkness and see them on their own terms.
In the beginning before God created light there was darkness.
We are afraid of the dark, but God is not.”
Scripture affirms this embracing, nondual vision:
“The people remained at a distance, while Moses approached the thick darkness where God was.”
“Clouds and thick darkness are all around God; righteousness and justice are the foundation of the Divine throne.”
“And when the priests came out of the holy place, a cloud filled the house of the Lord, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud; for the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord. Then Solomon said, ‘The Lord has said that he would dwell in thick darkness.’”
(1 Kings 8:10-12)
“I will give you treasures of darkness and riches hidden in secret places, so that you may know that it is I, the Lord, the God of Israel, who call you by name.”
Henry Vaughan, 17th-century Welsh poet, couldn’t help but remark:
“There is in God (some say),
A deep but dazzling darkness.”
Perhaps the way we receive the blessings latent in this Advent season is not to chase away the darkness that we would hide, deny, and repress in ourselves and our current circumstances — but instead to embrace it.
Swiss psychologist Carl Jung concurred, allegedly saying “What you resist, persists. What you embrace, dissolves.”
The Messiah whose advent we first anticipated — Jesus of Nazareth — would grow from his nurture in Mary’s dark womb to being a counter-cultural figure with powerful guidance that bucked the prevailing wisdom of his day. While his own brother James eventually taught the more standard approach of ‘resist the devil and he will flee from you,’ Jesus advocated for embrace:
“Make friends with your Adversary quickly while you are together on the way, so that your opponent may not hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the officer, and you be thrown into prison.” (Matthew, 5:25)
“If you are meditating and a devil appears, make the devil meditate.”
Can we cease demonizing the darkness?
Can we hold our shadows close this Advent?
I’d like to try. And I’d like this effort to be practical. So I’ve teamed up with my friend and colleague Sydney Faith Rose — a gifted teacher, therapist, and facilitator — to give us an exercise we can work with, right now, to hold close what we might otherwise push away. She gave us a powerful DBT therapeutic tool, which we then modified and road-tested.
Sit down in a comfortable place. Think about something coming up in your life soon, something that you’re really not looking forward to:
- That upcoming holiday meal with estranged family.
- The work meeting.
- Another morning of waking up to your feelings of depression, or anxiety.
Now take a moment thinking about the ways you typically push away such unwelcome experiences — the ways you fight, flee, freeze or fawn. See if you can hold your usual responses with compassion; they’re the best tools you’ve known to use at the time.
And now, see if you can give yourself permission to try something different — at least, from the comfort of your own seat, in the safety of this imaginative foresight experiment.
Lengthen and deepen your exhale; bring a slight ‘Mona Lisa’ smile to your face — nothing over the top.
From the safety of your seat, welcome your spiritual support:
Stay with the presence of your spiritual support until you know they have your back. Feel their strength, power, and guidance right here with you.
Now return to the afflictive feeling or circumstance, the ‘shadow’ that you dread. Leaning into this feeling rather than away, see if you can ‘surf’ this urge rather than pushing it away or acting out around it.
Feel this urge’s energy in your body, notice it, and see if it can become food for you.
If your breath has become shorter or labored, see if you can gently lengthen and deepen it once again. Let that slight smile return to your face. Meditate with your devils.
There’s no right or wrong way to ‘do’ Urge Surfing. After spending several minutes in the depths of what you sometimes name as darkness, you can breathe through it and let the entire experience go.
Conclude this time with a three-fold naming of gratitude, in your own quiet words:
- Gratitude for your Spiritual Support
- Gratitude for yourself in all your many facets
- Gratitude for your shadows, who are also your teachers.
Did you try Urge Surfing? How was it for you?
What would this next season of your life be like if you embraced more than you pushed away? Would you like to join me in practicing Urge Surfing for several minutes a day this Advent, from now ’till December 24th?
If you intend to join me and care to share, please share below. And as you notice anything shifting, in your inner or outer worlds, feel free to leave a comment here if you want to encourage others!
This season has its burdens — there’s no use sugar-coating it. But I’m convinced that these burdens are an invitation to go deeper into re-connection, whole-making, and soul-making.
This Advent, we can wait attentively together, as our own being and perhaps new worlds emerge.
PS: Right now, Sydney Faith Rose (who co-created the above exercise) is offering a free class with the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, which she’s certified with. If you’ve ever wanted to learn — for yourself or potential clients — the unique ways you’re nourished, the IIN might be perfect for you. You can check out their program overview here.