I’ve written before about how I slept with a bedside lamp on (not just a nightlight) until I was 11 years old. As a child, I was prone to having nightmares about things I had read about or watched on TV. I saw shadowed ghosts in the hallway outside my bedroom. I saw frightening figures in the knotty patterns of the 1970s paneling in my bedroom. My Raggedy Ann bedside lamp felt like my only protector from what lurked in the dark. And under her 40-watt beacon, I was able to sleep.
But when I was about 11, I started having trouble sleeping (even more than usual). This went on for a while, but I wasn’t sure why I woke up frequently in the night or had trouble sleeping in the first place. Finally, one night, I reached my hand over to the thin, pointy button just inside the dusty white lampshade and switched it off. I was enveloped by darkness, but I was no longer afraid. I slept.
I’m not sure what exactly changed. Maybe in all those nights of being afraid of shadowy figures, I learned to treat them not as fearful strangers, but as nighttime companions. Or maybe I was finally familiar enough with the shapes on the walls that my perception of them transformed into what they already were — the interwoven grays and blacks of knotty panelling. Perhaps I could feel darkness — and the sleep that accompanied it — as a place of comfort and rest.
I wonder if we can feel the darkness of pandemic and social unrest not as scary and bleak, but as a dark, blank backdrop for the simple, persistent light of hope.
Just think of the story of Jesus’ birth itself — a baby boy born to very young, Hebrew parents forced to travel during the last days of Mary’s pregnancy for a census mandated by their Roman occupiers. Soon after Jesus’ birth (in Matthew’s account), they are forced to go into hiding in Egypt, because agents of those same occupiers are threatening to kill him because he is predicted to be the next Hebrew king. Like my Raggedy Ann lamp, the infant Jesus is a tiny light of hope shining bright amidst the shadowy figures of oppression, violence and occupation.
In the times in which we live, it might seem impossible to feel hope. The good news: We can practice hope even when we can’t feel it. Hope is marked by Christians when we light the first of four Advent candles in the Advent wreath in the weeks before Christmas. Even if you don’t feel it, you can still light the candle anyway. The dark backdrop to Hope’s single candle allows us to simultaneously rest in the dark and train our senses to the bright, warm, flickering, persistent light.
Turn off some of the lights with me and join my 30-minute Mindful Advent practice each Sunday at 8 p.m. ET prior to Christmas. (Candles optional.) These practices are held via Zoom and are free, but please register to get the link.
I am also helping you usher in 2021 on New Year’s Eve 1-3 p.m. ET with my Releasing 2020 Yoga/Meditation event.Early Bird pricing saves $15 and continues only through Dec. 4. Register now!