Balancing darkness and light

Posted: Friday, September 26, 2008

Having just moved to Juneau on July 1 from Hawaii, I had no real expectations for the weather other than the obvious that it would be a "big change."

Long-time residents have been apologizing and admitting that this summer's rain, colder temperatures and darkness have bothered even them. One of my friends who had lived in Fairbanks was more concerned for me about the long summer days than the long winter nights.

My only previous visit to Juneau was brief in the first of last April just after the Spring Equinox. Living near the equator for six years, I did become accustomed to very little change in the almost equal time of dark and light. While my spiritual practices all encourage accepting what is, it has been with deep gratitude that I celebrated this Autumn Equinox.

For many years, I have officially honored the turning of the seasons as a way that God blesses us and teaches us about the path of the soul. Like the parables in our scriptures, there are endless lessons for spiritual growth in what St. Augustine called "God's revelation in The Book of Nature."

We have times of childlike acceptance of God's presence and foundation like the ease of harvest-time. We all face challenging times of loss, death, letting go and waiting like in winter. Fortunately, we also experience time of new life, rebirth and renewal, as in spring. And then, like in summer, that new life grows forth into fruits we live out and can share with others.

Seasons may be subtle in other places I have lived: Hawaii, Northern California, south Texas. I've heard jokes about the seasons in Alaska being green, brown and white. Here there are obvious changes that are crucial to the people, the animals around us and the economy.

Our community just celebrated a festival of salmon, stores celebrate sales as tourism slows and some businesses will close. Jews celebrate a harvest festival called Sukkoth. Muslims celebrate Ramadan in the fall. Last Sunday was my first Sunday morning the sun shone in our sanctuary. We celebrated the equinox and considered the gifts of balance of dark and light.

While there are several scriptures that speak of God's presence being like a mystery and honoring the gift of the dark, most of us in Western society use the image of light to speak of the good and truly spiritual things.

Admittedly, it is challenging to put spiritual matters into words, but this association of light as "good," and dark as "bad" has enforced many ethnic prejudices and sexism. Such dualism also reinforces other imbalances in our Western culture: Go it alone, tough it out and not show our needs.

I've grown up with those values, and at times they have served me well. But there are times when rampant individualism leaves people isolated and lonely. It can also limit our abilities for healthy family relationships, undefended love in partnerships, friendships and true community.

A drive to appear as if we "have it all together" can keep us from being open to learning. Our entertainment-driven and protestant work-ethic society pushes us to fill every moment with go, go, go. We have little space for receptivity, waiting, cooperation, stillness, silence and mystery.

Nature is one of my greatest teachers. As we enter the fall and move into the darkness, we have an opportunity to explore the gifts of darkness like seeds waiting in the soil, like a fallow field or a possible new life gestating in a womb.

We are also a part of nature. We are created with wisdom of our own body-spirits as a great resource. I'll be sharing one of my favorite practices this Saturday, an Interplay introduction class from 10 a.m. to noon at Aldersgate for an opportunity to integrate heart, mind, body and soul. For information, call 523-2914.

• Judy Shook is interim pastor at Aldersgate United Methodist Church.

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