Winter (Rev. Tom VandeStadt)
Winter coincides with the church’s season of Advent. So does darkness. As winter deepens, darkness comes earlier and stays longer. That’s why we light candles in Advent, because of the dark.
This year’s Advent began with a lament: “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down.” Laments are dark. Not so much sad as bitter. Grief shot through with anger. Frustration fuming from the human heart. It was appropriate to begin this year’s Advent with a lament. There’s much to lament. This winter is particularly dark.
Just before we lit the candle of Hope, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee voted to move Kathleen Hartnett White’s nomination forward to a full Senate vote. White works with the Koch brothers-funded, pro-fossil fuel advocacy group, Texas Public Policy Foundation. She opposes regulating carbon dioxide emissions and argues that carbon emissions pose no threat to human well-being. If the Senate approves her nomination, she’ll become Donald Trump’s top advisor on environmental policy as head of the Council on Environmental Quality. I lament the Trump regime’s self-serving dismissal of the global scientific consensus on carbon emissions and climate change.
And the suffering it’s causing. As we approached the Sunday of Joy, I watched the video of the starving polar bear. Emaciated, weak and sick, the bear’s suffering is heart-wrenching. Yes, it ripped my heart out. Then there’s the news of fossil fuel drilling and extraction in the Arctic, thinning ice receding at an alarming rate, and native people losing their habitats.
I need that light of Hope and Joy, now more than ever.
One danger Advent poses is that I’ll focus on the dark and won’t see the light. Lamenting, I’ll descend into darkness myself, which is never good for me or those around me. When I let the dark put me in a dark mood, I just spread more darkness. I have to be mindful of the light, and how to stay lit.
The two other candles we light during Advent are Love and Peace. What I love doing during the winter months is going for walks at sunset with my dog. I time our outings to catch the deep red glow in the western sky and the onset of evening’s chill. I’m reminded that encroaching darkness sometimes brings beauty instead of lament. And every now and then, I get the ultimate treat while walking—snow! Snow’s a rarity in central Texas, so my dog and I seek it out by going to northern New Mexico early or late each winter to catch the first or last snow of the season.
I love walking through winter’s falling snow. The sight of being contained by zillions of windswept flakes, the frozen sting on my face, the white blanket covering the trees and ground, the way snow muffles sound. Snow fall creates a magical atmosphere. I grew up in Connecticut, lived for years in Boston, then Buffalo and Syracuse. I know all about snow and ice, bone-aching cold and the feeling of winter dragging on forever. I learned not to romanticize winter. Yet I’ve always loved, and still love, walking through falling snow. Never do I feel more at peace. It’s light unto my soul.
Experiencing peace by doing what I love outdoors on this earth helps sustain the light of hope and joy within me, even while I’m lamenting. The fossil fuel promoters are as aggressive as ever, seizing every opportunity to drill, extract and profit. Creatures all around the planet are suffering as a result. But there’s also light to behold and beauty to appreciate. People are resisting the madness and creating alternatives to it. The sky is beautiful, and so is the snow and the earth it falls upon. Let’s not avoid facing the darkness we must lament. But let’s not miss the light, or let the light go out within ourselves. May we discover what keeps us lit, and may the light empower us to redouble our efforts to end our need to lament.
This piece originally titled, "Advent's Darkness and Light." Rev. Tom VandeStadt is pastor at Congregational Church of Austin, UCC.