"In a Star-Filled Night", an Advent retreat, took place at Rolling Ridge in early December. This short sharing draws on experiences, poetry, and conversations from that retreat.
Winter has arrived early and hard to our small mountain. Most years it is mid-January before we see snow. We've had three snow storms already, a stretch of bitter cold, and sleet and freezing rain in the forecast. The several inches of snow on the ground has crusted over, crunching underfoot as we walk to check on the sheep or close in the chickens. The trees are bare and black against a pewter sky. The dark comes early.
Perhaps it's this gray, chill atmosphere that has me thinking perversely about mortality in this season so filled with light and the celebration of a birth. More likely it is the reality of growing older and the illnesses and waning life of friends and loved ones. The other day, someone walking this land came upon a fallen tree, an oak that had lain on the forest floor for years. It was rotted, bark decimated, the wood almost unrecognizable, lumpy, gnarled. He noted that within this contained loamy landscape of the fallen tree, whole colonies were thriving: fungi, insects, thousands of microscopic creatures. But say what you will about plants and tiny animals feeding there and the great circle of life and so on, that tree was dead, dead, dead and will never again stand tall toward the sky, sap surging up and down its veins.
This season of solstice and Christmas is a threshold time, poised between dark and light. The earth takes a momentary pause, balanced, as if taking a breath, before beginning to tilt back toward the sun. It's as if everything hangs in the balance. Into this breathtaking space the early Christians placed the birth of the Holy. In her poem "Walking Home from Oak-Head", Mary Oliver calls this threshold "this nameless, indivisible place, this world, which is falling apart now, which is white and wild, which is faithful beyond all our expressions of faith, our deepest prayers."
This is very, very sacred space; it's the place, where as Rumi puts it "two worlds touch." It is also deeply human and profoundly personal, because we all reach thresholds, which only we alone may cross.
This evening I walked home from community supper, which was at Scot and Linda's house, across the field. Crunch, crunch went my boots. The air was clear and cold, the almost full moon casting shadows over the snow, of the trees and softly baa-ing sheep. In the further reaches of sky, away from the moon, stars pricked the velvety dark. Orion danced and placed his arrow in his bow. An owl called insistently from the veiled woods.
I don't know much, at Christmas or any other time. But I do believe it is possible to walk through this world with eyes wide open, relishing the cold, the crunchy, precipitate snow, the snuffling sheep; and cherishing the ones who travel with us: our brothers, sisters, spouses, partners, sons, daughters, grandchildren, friends; to be wedded to amazement (quoting Mary again); and to love (risking everything); and so finally to fall through every threshold full to bursting with it all.
May you and all you love have a most blessed and star-filled holy season.