I have long wanted to write something nice and inspiring to mark the beginning of my holy time, the dark days leading up to the solstice. Yet, both in my own particular life and the world around me, I wonder about the promised return of the light. All I have to offer today is a candle.
For most of us, there will be a time in our lives when we ask ourselves why we are here, and what our relationship to the surrounding world entails. Some of us are drawn to these questions naturally, and spend their lives seeking and pondering possible answers. Others literally run into these questions unwillingly. A lion on their path forces them to consider everything anew. The only ones who are exempt from asking them, albeit in this life, are the ones whose lives are too short, too feeble or end very abruptly. I am ashamed to say I envy them at times.
For the truly intellectually honest, there can never be a definite answer. Some of us might choose a faith, or a faith chooses us. Yet as we live and grow, so the answers live and grow in richness and depth. The viewpoint from one of the branches of the adult tree has little in common with that of the vigorous seedling. And then there are those that want to seek forever, and in this constant change find their temporary fulfilment. Even those among us, who deny the possibility of an ulterior meaning in the universe, are faced with these questions. What have they meant in the here and now for others, their kin, this temporary society at large? Asking these questions is universally human. In our times, we often ask them by ourselves, if and when faced with them. In the past, there were designated times for communities to rejoice and mourn, to abstain and to be inebriated in the visible and the invisible world. There is no proper or improper way to set aside time for contemplation. But to do so at a certain time of the year, when the surrounding world aids us in our withdrawal, enriches our silence. We are enveloped in the December darkness, shielded in the sleeping woods. A purely intellectual exercise becomes an experience, in unison with the natural world. It used to be my way, at least.
Conventional religion and tradition offers us the illusion of permanence and durability. It is an attractive haven. It lights up the dark forests, its tiny candles create a floodlight in the darkest night of winter. It makes the shadows of our lives intelligible and endows them with meaning. Tall branches that seem coincidental in their rugged and involuntary growth, change into pointing fingers, signs that lead the way. They are what we want them to be. The snow seems silver, our path is illuminated by this one Light, going in a certain direction to a makeshift abode.
But what use are these settlements to those, who are destined to be seekers forever? It is comfortable and tempting to stay here. The outside world is interpreted for us by the impressions of earlier seekers, like paintings on the wall. They are our windows on life by proxy. The sturdy doors keep us safe from the suspected wolves and bears. The wood that surrounds us, was once alive, but has been shaved and painted, neatly divided into straightforward planks. The companionship might be restricted, but at least we can rely on it as long as we are within the confines of these walls.
Somehow the walls are crumbling. Are we going to stay the night, in this place that has now become strange to us? The conversation has become stale within the confines of these walls. The wind of doubt blows through the cracks of this building. We can allow ourselves to be lulled asleep to the mindless mumble of the dying conversation. Or we can choose to shed the lethargy and let the darkness in, see the night in all its splendour without a prism to guide us.
For night it is. The smoke of our offerings to become whole again, has cloaked the world. The cabins turn on each other, but we have yet to face the wrath of the Lord of the Woods and the Lady of the Waters. It is building slowly as we fight among ourselves.
I have long left the Christian cabin, yet I plough on through the dark with a word for this time of year: the Advent. I want to carry on, and be led by the Light. I would love to return to my inner grove, and return to my business as a seeker. The inner world will not let me in this year. The woods are not sleeping, as they are supposed to do. They are dying and want to be left alone. Why should they aid me in my existential quest, when they have been colonised and exploited? I plead with them on behalf of my children, but they are not impressed. What about their children? The Advent is growing darker every year and my tiny candles seem to make no difference at all. The fighting of the other cabins is creeping closer and closer to my home. The echos of the gunfire are heard in my everyday life now.
So I stay put. I seek no further. I will try to grow some roots and make do with what I find in the hedgerow between the grove and the city. Only the truly radical can hope to regrow the tree of life. My candle is lit for the bold and not so bold among you, for all of you who hear the woods wail.