The great mystery of life that we enjoy for all too a short a while, fascinates and intrigues us. We quantitatively mark our allotted time with days, weeks, months and years, aspects of Chronus— that mighty and ancient keeper of times and seasons and cycles that mark the passage of time. These we note and celebrate as day turns to night, and the seasons change from spring to summer and autumn to winter. Our great religious traditions add strata of meaning to these ongoing cycles, often as an overlay to the ancient practice of marking the change of seasons.
I have developed a personal celebration in keeping with the seasons but one that honors the mystery of life. After the Jewish festival of Sukkot, I plant, on my sunny kitchen window-sill, the seeds of the citron, that boldly yellow citrus fruit whose delightful perfume is both heady and sensual. Each day I lovingly attend the pot of dark earth, adding my love and good wishes as I water, waiting to observe the first signs of the quickening of those seeds to life. I take this annual opportunity to ponder the darkness, with its promise of life and new beginnings. The silence of that darkness seems to go on endlessly-— from my impatient, contemporary perspective. Living in a world of instant everything we are so used to immediate results. We get impatient when the internet does not open as soon as our fingers press the enter key, or if, heaven forbid, an email response takes more than a day to come back to us.
Nature’s time is very different and cannot be hurried by human folly. With my annual planting of these seeds, I am reminded to curtail my angst and learn the art of patience that our ancestors, like those who are still in touch with the natural cycles, understand so well. Each morning I search for that first tiny spark of green that will assure me that all is well, without my twenty-first century desire to scratch into the earth and check! Eventually I am rewarded and the day arrives when first one, then a few more shoots break the surface of the dark earth, which then seems to bubble with tiny, brave, joyful green stems, pushing through the dark night of their gestational solitude and silence, and into light, and life.
This annual commemoration of the life force is my personal reminder to honor the darkness in our lives that births all possibilities and potentials. It is my ritual to celebrate the less well-known marker of time that the ancient Greeks referred to as Kairos. This qualitative aspect of time may be less familiar to us but is an equally valid layer of our lives and awareness, the place of ‘once-upon-a-time and faraway’, where new ideas are born and all things possible. It is a realm that we can enter thru the imaginative process, perhaps most easily accessed in in times of silences and places of darkness.
Rabbi Larry Kushner says:
“Without the dark womb of sleep, there could be no sensation of light, emergence of consciousness, or place to which to return. In the darkness there is no arrangement of past and future, no self-reflection, no ego, no neurosis. . . all genuine creating must originate in the darkness. All transformation must commence during the night. . . you cannot predict what will happen in darkness.”
The complexity and reality of our lives are lived in both the darkness and the light— yet we have been taught to fear the darkness. We are taught to be discomforted when we cannot see where we are going; when we sense we have lost our ‘illusion’ of control. Control? Are we ever in control of anything— other than our own responses to the multi-layered reality of our ongoing questions, challenges and perplexities that confound us, and that are our lives?
When we find ourselves cocooned in the mystery of darkness, we can choose to be discomforted, or release the illusion of being charge and wait— wait for the sprouts of unimaginable change that will come. Life is not supposed to be totally understood, controlled, manipulated and without surprise. How ‘dull’ such an existence would be! The thrill and excitement of being alive comes from the ‘not knowing’, the continual possibility of the novel and the new, and the search for understanding and meaning. Not–knowing may bring uncertainly and confusion; such spiritual confusion, Krista Tippet reminds us, makes theologians of us all. We are forced to make sense of the universe through our own experiences, and to determine for ourselves, what the sacred, ultimate truths in life really are. A treat for those of us who are striving for authenticity and autonomy.