Monday, January 5, 2015

What happens when the days get dark

This past December, I participated in the Shifting Light Photo a Day spiritual practice, under which participants would receive a prompt of a single word each day, and some time during that day, take a photo of something the word brings to mind, and post the photo on the Shifting Light group page on Facebook. 

The practice helped bring me up out of my internal clouds at this darkest time of year.  I wrote this piece about my experience at the prompting of Rev. Cathy Rion-Starr of the Unitarian Society of Hartford, and shared it from the pulpit on January 4, 2015. 

Thoughts on the Shifting Light Practice

It’s hard to feel much enthusiasm for this time of year, as the landscape becomes drab and the days short and bleary. So I welcomed the Shifting Light practice as an opportunity to go out of my way to look for beauty in the natural world, and for that beauty to pull me out of the mildly depressed winter funk into which I might otherwise have descended.

Noticing the natural world is an ongoing absorption of mine, and photos of the sky, my garden, sand ripples, sun on water and paths in the woods crowd my electronic photo library and inform my work as a fiber artist.  But noticing the natural world is, well, natural, in a place of natural
beauty, like Cape Cod, 

or even my garden.

It’s much more of a challenge to extract and relish the beauty of nature once winter sets in, with its biting temperatures and bleak monochromatic palette.

And so I’m challenged to look for beauty at this time of year, and resentful that it is a challenge.

Especially so right now, in December of 2014, because my sister Jerol, who is the only remaining sister of the three I once had, fell down some stairs in the wee hours of November 15 and ended up with traumatic brain injuries from which she has yet to emerge into full consciousness.  I spend a lot of time worrying about her.  I also spend a lot of time driving to see her in the rehabilitation center where she’s currently a patient, which is in Lake Katrine, New York, two hours away.

The drive to Lake Katrine goes through some of Connecticut’s prettiest country, where the landscape tilts upward and melds into the gentle foothills of the Berkshire mountains of Massachusetts and the Catskill mountains of New York State. 

But this one particular day, as a compassionate friend made the trip with me, transporting me in her car for the four hours it took to get there and back, I was having none of it.  Bleak, bleak, bleak was all I saw in the endless road with its scenery of broken cornstalks and dark ponds.

It took my friend in the driver’s seat to get me to notice that the trees were covered with white lace that day, snow that had fallen overnight and had not yet melted in the daylight—rare enough, as the snow on the tiny twigs is always the first to melt.  It took my friend to point out the fairy landscape, all the more beautiful because of its evanescently transitory nature.  And so, for the rest of that drive, I gloried  in that beauty, and on the way back, as twilight turned the hills over the Hudson lavender and periwinkle, and a few stray flakes crossed the headlights, I reveled in it again.

The point for me is how much we stand to gain from others in our spiritual quests.  By nature, I’m a vertical worshiper—the spiritual uplift is a direct path from me to nature and the spirit of the universe.  Horizontal worship—drawing spiritual strength from others on the same plane—is less my style.  But when something like this happens, I recognize the power and potential of people in a group to shine one another’s spirits in such a way that they share in something outside, and larger than, themselves.

In my Catholic religion classes, I learned that Jesus said “I am the vine and you are the branches.”  By that he meant that we have an indwelling spirit as a commonality among us.  When I got to law school, a trial practice expert told my class of his belief that when jurors retreated into a jury room, a spirit made up of themselves, but larger, would arise among them, informing their debates.
Which, I think, are two different ways of talking about the value and strength of community.  And that’s part of the point of the Shifting Light practice: drawing strength from one another in these darkest days.

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