For going on a week, the clouds obscured the sun. It’s raining now. The weatherman promises the drizzle and gray will stay all day. I remember my freshman year in college, for over a month, the sun made only brief appearances. The sky remained cloudy, overcast and damp for day upon day and week upon week. The odd thing is, I don’t remember because it was an extraordinary event. I grew up in Michigan; clouds and humidity are the norm. I remember it, because my friend from Denver pointed out that the weather was crappy. She was used to clear blue skies for days on end and never knew continuous overcast like this. I, on the other hand, only knew Michigan weather so her observations struck me and stuck with me. Now, after living in sunny Iowa for over 20 years, I understand her dismay at the absence of the sun.
As I said, we haven’t seen the sun much in the last week. The fog and mist cover the landscape and just as the earth gets blanketed in a haze, so my mind gets murky as well. Driving to work last week in a thick soup of condensation, I realized that traveling in fog is not only disconcerting because it’s difficult to see ahead of you, but it’s unnerving because your peripheral vision is impaired as well. As I drove on the familiar path, a car came up from a side road and surprised me. Then a dog ventured out of a ditch. On a sunny day, neither of these things would have even registered, but in the midst of the heavy fog, they became potential dangers. In the fog, everything closes in and your world becomes a tiny sphere around you. Sound, light, motion and depth perception distorted, it proves difficult to function normally. Out of protection for what danger may be lurking just beyond the edge of your field of view, you become hyper-aware and vigilant.
Sounds a bit like survival when life feels hard doesn’t it? Whether we’re struggling with depression, anxiety, grief, post-traumatic stress, finances or simply day-to-day living, if we’re hurting, we live out of the pain. We go into a self-protection mode. Experiences and our interpretations of them become distorted and we’re not sure what’s true. We’ve forgotten what it’s like to live in the sun. Low-hanging, thick air envelops us and sometimes we’re paralyzed, afraid of the unknown to the left and the right and unable to clearly see the path ahead.
It’s unnerving. It’s also no way to live.
My favorite Christmas carol is O Come, O Come Emmanuel. I don’t know if you pay attention to Advent or not, but I do. In the church calendar year, Advent is the time leading up to Christ’s birth. It’s a time to reflect and prepare for celebration. This third week of Advent, the theme is “Gaudete” or Rejoice. The refrain of O Come, O Come is “Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee o Israel”. But it’s not the refrain that makes this song my favorite, it’s this verse:
O come, Thou Dayspring, from on high, And cheer us by Thy drawing nigh; Disperse the gloomy clouds of night, And death’s dark shadows put to flight. Rejoice ! Rejoice ! Emmanuel Shall come to thee, O Israel.
On those dark, cloudy days when the view is obscured and perception is skewed, I think of the Dayspring, the Morning star, the Light of the world and I have hope. When I worry about what’s to the left and the right and I can’t see ahead, I remember these words…
“Nevertheless, that time of darkness and despair will not go on forever. The land of Zebulun and Naphtali will be humbled, but there will be a time in the future when Galilee of the Gentiles, which lies along the road that runs between the Jordan and the sea, will be filled with glory.
The people who walk in darkness will see a great light. For those who live in a land of deep darkness, a light will shine.” Isaiah 9:1,2
“…we have even greater confidence in the message proclaimed by the prophets. You must pay close attention to what they wrote, for their words are like a lamp shining in a dark place—until the Day dawns, and Christ the Morning Star shines in your hearts.” II Peter 1:19
“Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied, saying.. Because of the tender mercy of our God, Whereby the Dayspring from on high shall visit us, To shine upon them that sit in darkness and the shadow of death; To guide our feet into the way of peace.” Luke 1: 67,78,79
“Jesus spoke to the people once more and said, ‘I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.’” John 8:12
It’s my hope and prayer, that today, amid the shopping and baking and programs and sporting events and parties, if your view seems gray, you’ll reach out in hope to the True source of Light. Here’s a beautiful Latin version of O come, O come Emmanuel: