Christmas in July

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. ~ John 1:5

Ro and I started walking shortly after the break of dawn. The air was cool and fresh, a new day was rising. We walked briskly through high alpine tundra covered in blue, yellow, and purple wildflowers, each with a story to tell. We stopped at a stream and filled our Nalgene bottles with enough water to hydrate us throughout the day’s journey.

After climbing and descending a couple of small passes, we worked our way up a steep rock hewed ridge. We took in the cloudless sky and breathed in the warmth of the rising sun. “It was a good day to have a good day,” as Michael Franti sings. Around a bend in the trail, we saw our first people of the morning. A wife and her husband were drinking hot coffee while sitting on a flat rock on the upward slope of the trail.

“Coffee? Out here?” I asked. “Can you make me a mocha?”  “No, but we can give you a cup of coffee with a little sugar if you’d like.” “Thank you, but I’m alright.” “Are you sure?” they asked. “Yeah.”

The lady said, “It’s going to rain today.” “It rains nearly every day,” I said, while looking up at the clear sky. “True, but today there’s a 93% to 95% chance of rain and it’s supposed to POUR. I mean pour, several inches.” “Oh man,” I said. “We’ve been drenched so many times out here. At least our tent is dry today. Thanks for the info. You all have a good day.” “We will. Good talkin’ to you.” Off Ro and I went into the wild blue, knowing what we would probably endure later in the afternoon.

The trail dipped below tree line, and we walked “through the woods and forest glades.” The sun played hide-and-go seek with the shadows of old pine. Hour after hour we walked with just an occasional cloud trotting across the sky. “Maybe that lady got the weather report wrong,” I told Ro. “You never know what’s going to happen up here,” said Ro.

The trail took us up where heaven and earth become one, magical liminal space. As we began to circumvent a small alpine lake, dark ominous clouds rushed over the rocky peaks towering above the lake. “Here we go Ro. It’s 3:00 P.M. What do you want to do?” Darkness closed in, white caps formed on the lake, and the temperature dropped. “Let’s set up the tent,” Ro said. “Those clouds look really mean.”

Within thirty minutes we were safely inside our four by seven-foot canvas cell. The sky opened and the rain came. The angry wind whipped and popped our tent. “I hope our tent stays up. It’s going to be a long night,” I said. Ro took out his used copy of Annie Proulx short stories which we picked up for a dollar at a thrift store in Buena Vista. I fell asleep.

When I woke up the storm was still seizing our tent, and now total darkness clamped its ugly head on us. I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face. I thought my and Ro’s body weight were the only thing that kept the torrential wind from picking us up, tent and all, and depositing us over the nearby ridge.  I prayed, “Peace be still” but the wind ignored my pleas.

I found my watch and prayed again, “Please let it be early morning.” At least the light will return. It was only 10:15 P.M. “The night is just starting,” I thought. “It’s going to be a long dark night.”

I have always had an unhealthy fear of darkness, literally and figuratively. As a kid especially, I liked to have a night light on. I always thought creatures, who wanted to terrorize me, would appear in the night. I memorized the path from my bedroom to my parents’ bedroom. I can’t count the number of times I laid awake, scared to move, and then I made a mad dash to my parents’ bed. Fortunately, there was always room for me in their inn.

The trail was different though. There was no place to go or hide. Darkness closed in every night.

What is our relationship with darkness?

“Most people do not know what they mean by darkness except they want to stay out of it. Just say the word and associations begin to flow: night, nightmare, ghost, graveyard, cave, bat, vampire, death, devil, evil, criminal, danger, doubt, depression, loss, and fear,” writes Barbara Brown Taylor. “Fear is the main thing. Almost everyone is afraid of being afraid.”

Laying in that thin tent, with the rain pounding unmercifully, wondering if the wind would slice our tent open or carry us away, the darkness had a hold on me. I moved in and out of sleep and woke again to silence and the never-ending darkness.

I unzipped our tent and went outside to relieve myself. Thankful for the stillness. When I looked up, I saw the most magnificent display of endless twinkling stars. It was overwhelming. I saw and felt the “power thoughout the universe displayed.” This is familiar I thought. This must be Christmas in July.

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it” (John 1:5). I always thought the light replaced the darkness or vice-versa but that’s not necessarily so. The brilliant starlight moved within the darkness. They coexisted. Saint John of the Cross calls it a “luminous darkness.”

As we let go of our fears and grow slowly, we learn that lightness and darkness, sadness and joy, grief and peace, night and day, inner peace and outer conflict, and hope and despair move together quite often. God’s grace is present in the light and the darkness. “Fear not.”

May we receive the gifts of the light and realize, like seeds, we grow in the darkness.

Blessings and peace,