A Short Sermon Offered by Rev. Tim Kutzmark 
Sunday, December 18, 2011 • Unitarian Universalist Church Of Reading

Celebrate the Winter Solstice and explore the ongoing dance between light and dark.  What will nature and the cycle of the seasons tell us about our light and shadow-filled lives?

A Short Sermon Offered by Rev. Tim Kutzmark 
Sunday, December 18, 2011 • Unitarian Universalist Church Of Reading

The Morning Reading

“Darkness” by David Whyte

When your eyes are tired
the world is tired also.

When your vision has gone
no part of the world can find you.

Time to go into the dark
where the night has eyes
to recognize its own.

There you can be sure
you are not beyond love.

The dark will be your womb tonight.

The night will give you a horizon
further than you can see.

You must learn one thing.
The world was made to be free in.

Give up all the other worlds
except the one to which you belong.

Sometimes it takes darkness and
the sweet confinement of your aloneness
to learn

anything or anyone
that does not bring you alive
is too small for you.

The Sermon
“Faith in Nights”

It feels like we have been walking carefully, cautiously, for a least an hour, making our way down a dim, slick, sloping tunnel.  Each footstep is treacherous, yet oddly invigorating.  The truth is we’d only been moving forward for about fifteen minutes, but it seems so much longer.  The dark can do that.  It alters our perspective, or sense of time and the reality we cling too.  We are in New Mexico, hiking from the sun scorched surface of the desert, through the yawning mouth of a limestone cave, and down, down, the narrow passageway—wet, slippery, reminiscent of a birth canal.  “We’re returning to the Earth Mother,” I think.

Twenty-minutes later, without any warning, the confining passageway opens spectacularly into a capacious cavern: wide, high.  Our flashlight beams dance, fragmenting the dark.  Glimpses of stalagmites—grey, brown, tan—growing up from the floor, bony fingers desperately reaching toward the light of our lanterns.  Stalactites, long, dripping and eerie, stretch down to touch us.

“We’re going to turn off our lights.”  The voice of our guide cuts through our marveling.  One-by-one, flashlights, then helmet lamps, snap off.  I hesitate when I realize my lamp is the last.  Something in me resists, something primal fears what I will feel from the dark.  I switch off the light. 

For the first time in my life I experience true, complete and utter darkness.  And I feel so alive.

“One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light but by making the darkness conscious," comments Carl Jung.  Ranier Maria Rilke writes: “Darkness pulls in everything . . . shapes and fires, animals and myself,
 how easily it gathers them . . . a great energy . . . moving near me.”  “The dark will be your womb tonight, muses poet David Whyte.  As a friend of mine who is sight-impaired tells me, “When the eyes do not see, our other senses come alive.”

In our Western world, darkness has taken on the connotation of something to be avoided.  Ever since European colonialism created a false structure of racial superiority, the dark, the brown, the black became something to be controlled, something to be enslaved.  Dark people were ‘less than’—they could be treated as beasts, their valuable lands could be appropriated by those who were lighter, whiter.  Today, the use of ‘dark’ as a negative is so commonplace we don’t think about it.  If someone struggles with depression, they are said to have “dark moods.” If someone wishes to hurt someone, they are said to have “dark intentions.”  St. John of the Cross wrote of the pain-filled “Dark Night of the Soul.”  The opening lines of Michael Jackson’s Thriller sings: “It’s close to midnight and something evil's lurking in the dark.” “The Dark Lord of Sith” is evil personified in the Star Wars movies and “The Dark Lord of Mordor” is the principle antagonist in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.  Harry Potter battles He Who Must Not Be Named, the “Dark Lord Voldemort.”  Animal shelters report that black-colored dogs are adopted at a much lower rate than tan colored ones, meaning that dark dogs are more frequently euthanized then their light counterparts.   In our season of solstice: we hang lights on our trees and put candles in our windows.  We’ve been taught to fear the dark.  Poet Susan Cooper captures this well, writing:

So the shortest day came . . .
And everywhere down the centuries
of the snow-white world

Came people singing, dancing,

To drive the dark away.

This is a far cry from the psychological insight of Ranier Maria Rilke who proclaims:

You darkness, that I come from,
I love you more than all the fires

that fence in the world . . .
I have faith in nights.

Darkness that I come from, I love you, I have faith in nights.  As Rilke says, we do, in fact, come from the dark.  In the womb, our first earthly home, we floated in a warm, watery darkness.  I used to serve as an on-call chaplain at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.  Late at night I would often be called into a birthing room to bless a baby as it left that inner darkness and took its first breaths.  Those nights were filled with life.  And so, as Rilke says, I have faith in nights. When a needed idea or insight arises after hours of tossing sleeplessly in my bed, I have faith in nights.  When, on those long, difficult nights, I follow the sound of my own breathing and suddenly sense an all-abiding presence of love and guidance, I have faith in nights.  When the simple, natural beauty of a frozen December twilight calls me into connection with something beyond myself, I have faith in nights.  When I step outside and see the full moon amidst the deep, dark winter sky; when I watch the grey skeletons of trees etch silhouettes in midnight shadows, I have faith in nights.  When I hear the distant barking of a watchful dog, the sound of the owl in the pine tree beyond the fence, or the quick cry of the rabbit as it falls prey to the red fox in the woods behind our shed, I have faith in nights. 

Gary Kowalski writes

Night has its own kind of beauty,
        different than the beauty of day.
Darkness is an invitation . . . to listen to the
        world in its stillness.
Darkness is the den of life in germination . . .
Darkness is the portal . . . that opens
        to . . .
the mystery of all time past and endless time
        to come.
At the center of our being
        There is light and there is darkness,
        The known and the unknown,
        The named and the nameless,
        The finite and the infinite

This Winter Solstice, let’s resist the urge to chase away the dark.  For a few minutes, let us turn off our flashlights, our helmet lamps, our lights festooned in the trees.  Let us resist the impulse to illuminate our night, whatever or wherever that night may be.  Let us blow out the candles and allow the darkness to be our womb tonight.  As I learned deep in that cave in New Mexico, “sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet confinement of our aloneness to learn anything or anyone that does not bring us alive is too small for us.” (David Whyte, adapted)

May it be so.  Blessed Be.  Amen.

© Copyright 2011 Rev. Tim Kutzmark 
All rights reserved.

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