As the days grow shorter and autumn hues give way to winter greys in the Northern Hemisphere, this coming Sunday marks the beginning of a season of yearning that many Jesus-followers call Advent.
Long ago Mary began her long journey to Jerusalem with Joseph to oblige their state’s census while growing the life of Emmanuel (God-with-us) within her.
Now, we attend to life’s obligations while carrying hoped-for Divine deep within us, culminating in our collective celebration of the Christmas season.
But how do we move from life’s hidden gestation to birth?
Can we enter this season without spiritually disassociating?
Keep reading for a guided audio mediation exploring the promise of integration, leaving nothing out.
Oftentimes, Advent is framed as a contest between ‘daybreak’ and ‘darkness,’ resisting the night to usher in the light. But Drs. Wil Gafney and Alexander John Shaia remind us that 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.
And Alexander John concurs:
Here is a cosmic and biological truth — all new and fresh energy comes from the depths of a darkness we might call holy.
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, was moved to observe:
“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 would teach 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)
The early 20th-century esoteric Christian teacher G.I. Gurdjieff summarized this subversive path of embrace succinctly:
“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 both practical and beautiful. So I’ve teamed up with my dear friend and colleague Jennifer Helminski — a gifted poet, scholar, and preacher — to give us a guided meditation we can immerse ourselves in, right now, to sense and cherish what we might otherwise push away.
Jennifer invites us into the grand story of Incarnation — imaginally placing ourselves in the energies of Mother and Child, Scene and Subject. Please give yourself a few minutes to unite the Divine Darkness and Holy Light within yourself in this rich Advent meditation:
Did you try the Divine Darkness meditation? 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 engaging this meditation regularly 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.
About Our Guided Meditation Contributor: Jennifer Helminski (she/her) is an author, poet, artist, and preacher who has a burning heart for ecological advocacy, sensual exploration, and spiritual renewal. Across her multifaceted vocation, she has recently co-authored federally-funded climate change research, assessed and advocated for the protection of our waters, led congregational chant, composed multimedia eco-chapel gatherings, and facilitated faith-community grief circles.
Jennifer has deep roots across the Abrahamic family of faiths, including Roman Catholicism, Mevlevi Sufism, and open-source Judaism. She is currently training in the ways of interfaith, ecological, and psychedelic chaplaincy.
Jennifer is a Master of Divinity candidate at Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York, where she co-authored Union’s Declaration of Climate Emergency and a 10-year Climate Mobilization Action Plan for the surrounding community.
In her writing, painting, poetry, and preaching, Jennifer explores the intersection of ecology, love, and Spirit, helping all beings find belonging in this fertile and joyful tapestry. You can subscribe to her upcoming Substack newsletter, The Pomegranate & The Rose, here.
Also: Jennifer is in urgent need of medical care and could use our support. Please check out her GoFundMe to learn more about her important work and to contribute!
Note: An earlier version of this reflection was published on Nov 30, 2021.
Thank you for this. I live in the north, and in this season of short days I’m taking – and enjoying – more walks after dark. It feels a little like an undiscovered country or another dimension.
This concept of “fawning” caught my attention, I hadn’t heard that before – you said, “Now take a moment thinking about the ways you typically push away such unwelcome experiences — the ways you fight, flee, freeze or fawn.” Can you elaborate? I think I recognize that behavior but I’m curious to hear more.
Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness.
Hi Vera, thanks for commenting. It’s true — we can find a verse to support nearly everything. For instance:
“I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things.” Isaiah 45:7
Clearly, context matters. In my experience, far too many Christians are scared of ‘darkness,’ inner and outer, and bury it rather than giving it lovingly to God. I want to see the latter happen more.
I hope you’re having a good week.
Mike I’m delighted to discover your site and this post. As one who acknowledges his addictive personality type – seeking acceptance in al the wrong places, rather than accepting my ‘okayness’ in the eyes of the divine presence we call God, I’m familiar with ‘urge surfing’. I find the book you co authored with Fr Richie so encouraging and I’m seeking to make my ‘unconditional acceptance and invitation to join the dance’ real in my life. I’d be pleased to join in this practice as space permits this advent. En Christo – Stephen