Beloved American poet Mary Oliver once wrote, “Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this too, was a gift.”
Darkness has prevailed in the Western hemisphere; autumn mourns the loss the sun whom no doubt returns triumphant in spring. Where once temples illumined, now there may only enough oil for one night of eight. Others too have readied themselves for a long journey at the mid hour of night. That story goes: wise men saw a star in the east and followed. Just as it was likely a long journey into night for those men – a journey toward deliverance from yet again another battle – and a long journey for even the sun, it was also a journey for a woman who would move in the night fearing persecution as she traversed the darkness seeking shelter.
Like it or not, darkness is here, delivered with “good tidings” and, yes, even “comfort and joy.” This is because darkness can be a fertile place, a healing place from which we can go forth to reengage the world. Spiritual teacher Joan Halifax enumerates the gifts of darkness: “inquiry and listening, nonviolence and non-duality, patience and concentration, connectedness and intimacy, authenticity and stillness, understanding and compassion, and seeing beyond language and intuition. In the fruitful darkness there is silent medicine.”
Darkness provides a silence away from the discursive mind and away from the actions that prevent us from knowing the womb of experience and the exploration of sacred connection. What might it be like to give permission toward the silence and to deepen into the fruitful darkness and allow other gifts to open? Here is what is said in the intimate Simple Gifts reminiscent of Shaker hymns:
‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free,
‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gained,
To bow and to bend we shan’t be ashamed,
To turn, turn will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning we come ’round right.
No longer ashamed? To love and delight? In a circle, with justice and freedom for all people?
In the book of Isaiah, g*d says, “I will give you the treasures of darkness, and riches hidden in secret places.” When we have received those treasures, those hidden riches, it is time to begin the journey back to the light, back … to joy.
Before we can step into the miracle of joy, we have to embrace the darkness to know the joy. It is here in the refuge of darkness that we are allowed to accept all of the uncertainty that exists in our world. This shadow has always been with us and is the tipping point toward grace and abundance. It is through its power that we are able to open our minds, hearts, and hands to the complete treasures of the fruitful darkness. Through it, we can emerge strengthened, renewed, unencumbered, and blessed with joy.
The joy that comes when the sun returns, unwavering, triumphant, warm, and full of bounty, is the Solstice story of prosperity. It is the same joy found when “just enough” becomes the miracle that transcends into more than enough – the Hanukkah story of faith. It is the same joy that comes during the long walk toward that bright shining star – the Christmas story of love divine. And, it is the same joy that we discover when we open our hearts to those in need, seeking refuge.
Greek novelist Nikos Kazantzakis reminds us, “The real meaning of enlightenment is to gaze with undimmed eyes on all darkness.” As this season moves from the height of darkness, inching closer back toward a time of light, may we receive the gifts of darkness. And when we do emerge in brighter days, let us remember that so much depends on sharing joy.
 Oliver, Mary. New and Selected Poems, p. 138
 Halifax, Joan. The Fruitful Darkness, p. 27
 Bracket, Joseph. “Simple Gifts” (1848)
 Isaiah 45:3
 Rossetti, Christina G. Select Poems Christina G. Rossetti. p. 89
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