As someone who is sensitive to sunlight (especially its lack), and who lives in the Pacific Northwest where winter sunlight is rare, this time of year can be hard. My mood falls, I lose motivation and want to wrap up in a blanket and hide away until spring. Really, I long to escape the wet/cold/dark and rush right into the bright heat of summer—into the good and bright and busy times in life and ministry. But lately, I have a growing awareness of the gifts this late-winter season can bring. I’ve been cultivating opportunities to take advantage of the darkness, the weather, and the pre-Lent calm to reflect and reset.
In January I trekked to a high, snow-filled valley in the North Cascade mountains, leading a worship experience that included a time of wandering in nature. It was a rare clear and bright day, and the wonder of God showed up magnificently in a brightly lit mountain peak that glowed in the otherwise dim afternoon light.
Then, like a curtain drawing across a stage, a dense fog spread from behind me and enveloped the whole valley. The sun, no longer bright in the sky, was shrouded. Then the mountains themselves were pulled behind this dark curtain until they disappeared entirely. And yet, even in the new darkness, the light shone—it was not overcome!
This felt like an incredibly holy moment. I thought about the ways God has given me strength in those challenging times, how the presence of Jesus is sometimes most clear when life is the hardest…
– I pondered how the darkness can so often encourage an inward journey into those places we forget to visit when life is bright and full of activity…
-I thought about the seeds waiting to sprout beneath the thick blanket of snow, of the animals hibernating (some nearby!) awaiting spring, and of the time Jesus spent in the tomb…
-I thought too about the disciples during that “in the tomb” time, not sure what had happened to their ministry, whether Jesus would ever be present with them again, whether all hope was lost…
-I recalled Barbara Brown Taylor’s amazing book “Learning to Walk in the Dark”(which I highly recommend) in which she contrasts the “solar Christianity” of her youth that equates darkness with all that is evil and dangerous, to a more mature faith in her later years that realizes that the God for whom “night and day are both alike” is present and works in darkness too.
As the drama of light and dark played out right before my eyes, I realized both the light and the dark had something to teach me. I asked myself questions (that you might want to ask too):
- What does this dark time have to teach me?
- What do I miss when I move from light to light, from busy to busy, without taking the time to rest and reflect?
- What in my life and/or ministry needs to lie fallow for a season? What needs to die?
- What can I keep from this slower winter rhythm that might help in the busier times?
- What harm has been done in equating good and light, bad and dark? (Particularly in how I/we see and treat people with darker skin than I have?)
- How can I make the most of this season to rest, reflect, and prepare for what comes next?
- What habits and practices will keep me grounded and aware of God’s presence in both the light and the dark?
Rev. Erik Samuelson is a leadership and transformation coach who works with individuals, teams, congregations, judicatories, non-profits, and educational institutions. His expertise includes vocational discernment, spiritual formation, organizational innovation, leadership development, and alternative theological education.