Finding light and life in the midst of January stillness and cold

My January column for the Catholic Free Press

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The long Christmas break (along with the mild weather) is over and reality comes back with a thud. The prospect of a long winter ahead is daunting especially with memories of the epic snowfall amounts of last year still haunting many of us.

I once anticipated January with dread. Winter can be dark, oppressive and confining: the arctic air and biting winds… the deep snows burying the landscape … ice covering the streets and sidewalks … darkness that greets us when we rise and meets us at the end of each work day.

January is a quiet month. Birds don’t come to the feeder; their songs no longer greet me in the morning. Crickets and locusts have gone silent at night.

January was a month without life.

outermost-houseThen I read Henry Beston’s classic, The Outermost House. Beston chronicles a year of his life spent in solitude in an isolated one bedroom cottage which he built and christened the Fo’castle. Built in 1925, the 20 ft. x 16 ft. cottage was located at the edge of Coast Guard Beach in Eastham (now part of the Cape Cod National Seashore). Named a National Literary Landmark in 1964, it was washed out to sea by the Blizzard of ’78.

Originally planning to spent two weeks at the cottage, Beston was so taken with the “beauty and mystery of this earth and outer sea … that [he] could not go.” During that year he wrote of the change of seasons and its effect upon his surroundings: the birds, animals, and insects; vegetation; the sand and the waves; the stars in the night sky. His prose is poetic, painting vivid pictures of color and texture. He describes the chaos and despair aroused by a devastating blizzard which nearly washed away his cottage, putting his life in peril. Yet even in the bleakest of settings, Beston’s writing inspires wonder and awe.

The Outermost House changed my perception of January because of Beston’s descriptions of arctic birds migrating down from the north, resting on the beach in the dead of winter. That description lifted me out of my own small circumstance and reminded me that life still goes on around me.

Brian Gratwicke Arctic tern, Flickr Creative Commons
Brian Gratwicke Arctic tern, Flickr Creative Commons

There was not only life, but light in the darkness: “Light came slowly into the world, coming not so much from the east as from some vague, general nowhere – a light that did not grow brighter but only increased in quantity.” It reminded me that by the end of January, the sky becomes pink again by the time I leave the office. The days are growing longer and the light, brighter.

January is not unlike time spent in the womb, waiting to be born. The caterpillar metamorphoses into a butterfly within the confines of the cocoon and breaks through into the sunlight. The baby, its delicate features forming nine months inside the dark, protective womb of its mother, emerges into the light at birth.

We just celebrated the coming of such a baby who brought his eternal Light into the world. His Light pierces the darkness and brings new life.

Ivan Saracino Christ's nativity, Flickr Creative Commons
Ivan Saracino Christ’s nativity, Flickr Creative Commons

So, rather than give in to the melancholy that can come with the conclusion of Christmas and the reality of winter, I seek instead to embrace this Light. It may be cold, snowy and dark outside but within, that Light will increase in brightness and quantity as I take advantage of the quiet of January to bask in it.

The arctic birds are returning to the Outer Cape. The days are growing longer. In the repose of January it is time to partake of the Light of Christ.

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Be a Light: Living Christmas through Advent by Father Steven LaBaire

father steven labaireI am pleased to present this guest post from Father Steven LaBaire, pastor of Holy Family Parish in Worcester, MA.

The Advent wreath, located on the right side of the sanctuary is a centuries-old Christian tradition.

Christine McIntosh Advent wreath completed, Flickr Creative Commons
Christine McIntosh Advent wreath completed, Flickr Creative Commons

The wreath itself is rich in symbolism: Evergreens signify undying life; life even amidst the barrenness of winter.

The circle of the wreath, which has no beginning and no end, symbolizes the eternity of God, and everlasting life found in Christ.

The four candles represent the four weeks of Advent.

Three candles are violet and one is rose. The violet candles represent the color of the sky before sunrise; a sign of hope and a new beginning.

The rose candle lit on the 3rd Sunday of Advent, signifies the joy that hope and a new beginning bring.

The progressive lighting of the candles expresses light overcoming darkness; the light of Christ conquering whatever is contrary to love, mercy and compassion.

Of course, the wreath is meant to signify what Christ calls us to do: Bring light to wherever there is darkness.

Darkness is not confined to San Bernadino, California or Paris, or to the hearts of those who would wish us or anyone harm.

All kinds of shadows and shades of darkness can be found around us:

  • In the home where a child is beaten by hands or by hurtful words;
  • In the office where injustices and dishonesty are overlooked in the name of profit;
  • In the loveless marriage where partners are deaf to the needs of the one they promised to love and cherish;
  • In the residence where the elderly waste away, abandoned by their families;
  • On the playing field sidelines where the push to win the game at all costs, crushes a child’s feelings;
  •  Among friends when an addiction is never addressed;
  •  In our mouths when we speak criticism without being willing to help in the solution;
  • In cyberspace when a 14 year feels as if her reputation has been destroyed;
  • In popular culture, when prayer is mocked and faith is labeled as a “weakness of the intellect.”
  • In that family, where the gay son has been disowned and told that he does not belong;
  • Or, in a parish, when numbers of people and the almighty dollar are more important than fidelity to what Christ taught.
martinak15 83/365 Light in the Darkness, Flickr Creative Commons
martinak15 83/365 Light in the Darkness, Flickr Creative Commons

None of us are strangers to shadows. We pass through them every day.

Advent beckons us to bring light to wherever there is darkness, whatever be the shade.

How are you being called to bring  “light” to someone, somewhere?

Pray for an increase of light. Pray for the nerve (and for the energy) to be that light.

Amen.
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Find Susan’s books here on AmazonPurchase Susan’s CD.