Cracked darkness

It's already ten days since midwinter: the northern hemisphere's day of shortest light and longest darkness; the winter solstice, when the sun reaches its lowest possible height, barely rising before setting only a few hours later. Since then it has begun its slow journey back up, the hours of daylight imperceptibly lengthening, a minute or so each day. But just as there is often a final, sudden burst of flame and sparks from a dying fire, so in these in-between, semi-normal days, linking Christmas with New Year, we are often cloaked in a deeper, post-midwinter darkness.

Sometimes this comes as a comforting, hibernation-inducing blanket; at others as dull greyness and an absence of light. Being off work I can get up later: but however late I struggle into wakefulness it's still nocturnally dark, and I gaze in bleary disbelief at my clock, convinced it must have developed a fault and speeded up overnight. How else to explain this absence of light at what is officially morning? Meanwhile, if the day is dull and sunless, as it is today, dusk seems to fall and lights go on well before mid-afternoon.

And thus, shrouded in winter's gloom, I look back on the old and prepare to greet the new year. This year especially, this seems a very appropriate state in which to end 2017, in which it feels as though our world has been overshadowed by a deep, dangerous darkness. Bad news invariably dominates and makes the headlines, and we need to strain to find the chinks of light; to remind ourselves of the occasions of goodness and humanity, generosity and courage, which have shone through, often as a response to violence and hatred. There is a crack in everything, sang Leonard Cohen, That's how the light gets in... and time and again, the light has shone, not in spite of the darkness, but because of it.

And I am reminded, too, that for St John of the Cross, darkness was a place of disorientation and confusion, yes, but only because it was a place of transformative power and encounter with God. Here, in this 'dark night' filled with unknowing, searing emptiness and searching - a night which can only be inhabited and embraced in faith and trust - God, though unseen and un-felt, is ever present. Here too, in this transforming, God-veiling darkness, grace and growth and new life unexpectedly await.

Maybe this isn't such a bad way to step into a new year: in literal and metaphorical darkness, in unknowing and searching, but filled with faith and trust. And there is the hope, there must be the hope, that I will see those cracks in everything, which allow in the light of goodness.

May those cracks be visible to all of us, and in them, may there be clarity for how we can respond. And in the darkness may grace, new life and growth continue to meet us, unexpectedly, and may we never forget that God, unseen or not, is ever and abundantly present.

Happy New Year, everyone, and blessings on your 2018