The naming, which is knowing.

Rainer Maria Rilke was about my age when he wrote my favorite book of poetry, The Book of Hours.  The winter always finds me reading this collection of Rilke’s gorgeous, haunting poems.  Perhaps it is something about their richness and their starkness that reminds me of the weeks after Christmas, when I’m supposed to be so hopeful but instead tend to feel so lost.  Rilke lived in a time of anxiety, the Great War central to his existence and writing, and he struggled with the difficulty of communing with the ineffable in such a time of catastrophe, horror, and disbelief.  I love him for it – he teaches me to see God in places I would never otherwise look.

  This week I have had so many things on my mind and in my heart, I just couldn’t force myself to write.  I tried, over and over, to sit at the computer and hack out something, but each one failed rather dismally.  I realized yesterday evening that part of the reason was that I am once again sliding into my yearly waiting-for-springtime blue period.  When I was younger, I tended to love this time of year… it gave me an excuse to disappear into mountains of books for a season, crawling out of my literary cave after a little hibernation, into the green light of things growing and breezes changing course.  As I’ve gotten older, this period between Christmas and Lent has been a time of learning, learning how to manage my own moods and needs.  I got dogs.  I learned to exercise regularly and sleep.  There are special UV lights to buy, even.  Seminary hasn’t been very good for me in this way.  During the last three winters, I’ve forgotten how to lean into this season, what I’ve always thought of as a waiting-time.  Instead, I’ve begun to look at the entire year as a waiting time, waiting for the semester to end, for the year to be complete, for graduation, for ordination, for life to be as it should be, whatever that might mean.  But I think perhaps God doesn’t appreciate that attitude.  There is a difference between trusting and waiting.

I grew up hearing stories from the Norse tradition, viking sagas and legends.  So many had to do with light, with light in the darkness.  Winters are long in Denmark, where my dad’s family comes from, and I wonder sometimes how my ancestors managed with months of darkness.  As I continue to struggle with patience, in the seasons changing in the world and in my own life, I’ve been thinking about them and their epic patience.  They didn’t just wait, they trusted.  Spring would come.  Ice would melt, days would lengthen, things would grow because that’s the way God made the world to move. 

And so, feeling this, I stumbled across Rilke’s words this morning, and they hurt me and healed me, together.

You see, I want a lot./ Maybe I want it all:/the darkness of each endless fall,/the shimmering light of each ascent.

So many are alive who don’t seem to care./Casual, easy they move in the world as though untouched.

But you take pleasure in the faces/of those who know they thirst./You cherish those/who grip you for survival.

You are not dead yet, it’s not too late/to open your depths by plunging into them/and drink in the life/that reveals itself quietly there. (I,14).

It is the darkness and the shimmering light together that are “all.”  One is not more than or better than the other.  They are seasons, and each is necessary, for perspective and clarity.  The darkness might even be there so that we have the opportunity to feel, to remember to care, to find deep within ourselves, in our truest parts, the need to grip God for survival.  The life is there, even under the snow and ice, even within the darkness.  It is quiet, but tremendously patient.  It is simply not its season, yet.  Yet.


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