"Sure and Certain Hope"
- At the Desert Retreat House -
Yesterday one of my Facebook friends told me that she was having a hard time finding any sense of hope in this Christmas season. The outcome of the presidential election has caused her to despair over her future and the future of the country. I suppose that there may be plenty of people who have lost hope, not necessarily because of an election, but because they find themselves in a dead-end place in their lives.
I am reminded of a line from Dante’s famous poem, The Divine Comedy. Over the “entranceway to hell” is this inscription:
Abandon all hope, ye who enter here
I actually find this to be extremely insightful - when we lose hope we place yourself in a living hell.
As I went to sleep last night I was thinking about my hopeless friend from Facebook and wondering about all those people who may be going to sleep that night having lost all hope. I suppose last night was a good occasion to think about hopelessness because it was the longest night of the year, the beginning of the winter season here in the Western hemisphere. On top of all that, it was one of the bleakest nights I ever remember experiencing out here in the desert. It was cold and damp, it had rained most of the day and was supposed to rain all night (very unusual for this desert).
When I woke up this morning it was still raining but I had this sudden flash of insight that, during those long dark hours of the night, something cosmic had happened. The planets and stars had shifted and the sun will now begin its return to rule over the skies. From now on the daylight hours will be longer than the hours of night.
Winter does not signal the beginning of the darkness but rather a return of the light.
I have always found it interesting that people of every race religion, tribe and culture throughout history have always celebrated the Winter Solstice with some type of festival of light - the prehistoric rituals at Stonehenge, the various “Light Festivals” of ancient Persia, Asia, Greece and Rome, the Hebrew feast of Hanukkah, the festival of Kwanza, and yes of course “Christmas. There seems to be something deeply inherent in our human condition that calls us to gather together with other human beings to celebrate the cosmic happening of the planetary shift on the Winter Solstice.
Some anthropologists have suggested that people gather for Solstice festivals as a protection against the darkness of the darkest night of the year - I have another take on it. I think humans gather to celebrate the Solstice not to hide from the darkness of winter but to celebrate the victory of the light.
As I lay in bed this morning it struck me that the return of the “light” is an almost-perfect icon of what hope is all about. The “light” returns because that’s just how the world works. We can ignore the light or we we can sit in darkness and hide from the light, but no matter what we do or think or say, the light comes back.
Deep in my heart I believe that love is stronger than hate and ultimately justice will prevail on this earth. Even in the bleakest and darkest times of life, love doesn’t die and in the end love will win the day. This is why I have have hope, a sure and certain hope.
I am reminded of a line from a poem by W.H. Auden:
Defenseless under the night
our world in stupor lies;
Yet dotted everywhere
ironic points of light
flash out wherever the Just
exchange their messages.
Yesterday, when we all went to sleep on that longest night of the year it may have seemed like a pretty bleak time to lots of people who have lost hope in their lives. But in the midst of it all, the power of Love was abiding among us, a Love that will never let us go. Today the light returns, the just exchange their messages and ironic points of light flash out as people act with kindness and compassion, as reconciliation happens and as injuries are forgiven. People of goodwill all have the final say.
The ancient Celts offered one another a beautiful Solstice Blessing - I pray this blessing on us all:
May all your winter places be kissed by light!