The Winter Solstice arrives next Sunday, the last Sunday in Advent. Outside, the season’s first real snowfall is winding down. The world is wrapped in white, a shield from the intense cold of the last week.
This morning I wrote letters responding to two young people who have experienced violence. Each had written me about the lasting effects of that violence, wondering how they might go ahead with their lives in the face of immense darkness. They are dear people, their hearts filled with goodness and caring.
Their notes reminded me of my own struggles with violence and hatred. As I have written before, I was raised by parents who had survived the Depression and racial and class violence. Their solution to these challenges was to be invisible and to encourage us kids to be the same. Yet they also longed for us to be successful and visible. Such conflict ! Then, at age 8, I contracted Bulbar Polio. My parents suddenly were highly visible, and no doubt the objects of considerable fear. After all, Polio was almost as threatening as the Communist Menace or Wold War III. I think it is impossible for folks who did not live through the Polio epidemics to imagine the terror that was loosed in the world.
My parents were overwhelmed by my devastating illness, as was I. They sent my young sister to live with relatives; she was exiled from home for almost a year. My mother, I believe, quit her job to take care of me, and my father came home at lunch every day to help me with the excruciatingly painful exercises I had to complete daily. It could not have been easy for any of us. The violence that was our family life abated for a while, only to return magnified when a parent was scared. Little did I know that I would face immense bullying and other violence as I tried to make my hobbling way through the world. Even though I made friends, a suffocating loneliness descended over my life, returning periodically over the years. As an elder coping with the late effects of Polio, the loneliness remains a presence and a threat. As I meander the world on crutches, violence often seems uncomfortably close.
Now, of course, there are other threats looming in our collective dream: climate change, Fukushima, rogue nuclear weapons, others we have not named yet. Perhaps, as I learned this past spring in India, the largest threat is the simple fact of economic inequality. In India the gulf between haves and have-nots is immense and widening (not unlike here, yet different), creating large-scale, and everyday, violence that threatens to overtake the country. One of the ways that violence appears is in the form of Black Magic. Simply being acknowledged for one’s skill or work can render one a target, and there are many practitioners who will place a curse for a fee. This is little different from some parts of Siberia or Indian country. The very threat of curse is stifling, and curses can be devastating or lethal.
As we approach Christmas we are reminded that the Light will return. Jesus taught us to, even in the face of black magic, simply undue the curse. We are reminded that those who wished to curse and whoever placed the curse are also people struggling to make lives in the world. He instructed us to avoid throwing stones, to resist the urge to inflict “justice” on others. Yet, how are we to do this when so many place the acquisition of wealth and prestige above the imperative to reduce suffering? I do not pretend to know; we can only each do our best.
The Dark is rising. Yet, soon the Light will begin a slow return, limiting the reach of Darkness. Culture and Psyche are made of the same stuff as sun and dark matter; they contain darkness and light, and are innately rooted, as Jung suggested, in Nature. Our lives are Nature, and whatever happens to us is Nature. We cannot escape Nature, although we may deny our profound embeddedness in it. Even the experience of Polio, irregardless of the meanings we hang on it, is Nature.
Let us remember that underneath the cultural trappings of the season there is an ancient, essential truth. How we chose to walk our path through life reflects both our personal, and the greater, Nature, the ground from which all experience arises. Prophesy from many traditions tells us that we are in difficult times. Yet prophesy also reminds us we are literally and seamlessly connected to one another and All That Is. May we remember this, now and in all seasons, and may that awareness guide our thoughts and actions. Together, may we find our way home.