Festivals for the Dark

11-06-2018 | Lindsay

Those who bring the Friends of Silence Letter to you every month live at Rolling Ridge and are connected with the Study Retreat Community.  This piece is adapted from a reflection and community report given at the opening of the Rolling Ridge Study Retreat Annual Meeting and Fall Festival.

... Autumn is a variegated season, known for its mystery and ever-changing pallet. It's a season of vibrant golden and green beauty here on the Ridge, punctuated in scarlet; a season of sweet potatoes in the garden and crackling fires in our woodstoves. It is also the season of oncoming darkness and chilling temperatures. We are nestled in a span of days when the intricacy and poignancy of this season is marked by holidays in several spiritual traditions: days that invite us to reflect on rhythms and seasons, light weaving with dark, contentment with sorrow, harvest with letting go, abundance with loss. This is the cadence of the season, though lately the darkness is out-pacing everything else, in culture, nation, world as well as nature. Things feel off-balance.

The work we do to care for Rolling Ridge and one another offers a kind of anchor in the pitching dark, maybe even an antidote to the disequilibrium. There is the maintenance of machinery, buildings and trails, mowing, garden, wood harvest; the teaching of children, administration, retreat programming, homemaking and hospitality...Some of us took major roles in the extraordinary efforts of the Rolling Ridge Foundation to care for this sacred land and return it to balance and reciprocity among all its inhabitants. In keeping with those efforts to restore harmony with the Earth and its energies, the Study Retreat Community fulfilled a long-held wish to bring solar energy to our buildings. Thanks to the generosity of many wider community members and friends, and to the support of our Board, we raised funds and installed solar panels on the roofs of two of our dwellings. The sun's energy thus harvested will benefit the entire community. These are our endeavors, small and large, to stay upright and do some good in a troubled world.

I can also report that this past weekend the Rolling Ridge residential community gathered with family and friends to celebrate what has become an annual event, a creative mash-up of a few of the autumn holidays: Halloween, Day of the Dead and the lesser-known Samhain, the earthy, Gaelic festival marking the end of the bright harvest season and the beginning of the wintry dark of the year. Our lively celebration is the unique creation of this particular iteration of the Rolling Ridge community, arising out of a wish for our children and grandchildren to have fun, to create an event with personal and cultural meaning for our families, and to touch into the invisible but tenacious connections with all the living beings of the forest around us and with our ancestors and loved ones who have gone before. There was drumming, pizza, crafts, poetry, costumes, an altar, storytelling, dancing, feasting, play, and prayer.

This is when what we do in our lives reaches beyond the effort to find balance and accomplish good work and stretches into hope. During these intentional, festive days, we can deepen relationships with one another and with the living Earth and awaken to unseen realities that secretly sustain the world. We can open into the realm of the soul with its wondrous capacity for imagination, understanding, and joy. Then it may be possible to touch into all that is Holy and good and eternal.

Lore has it that long ago when Henry and Mary Cushing Niles were establishing the Rolling Ridge Foundation in this place, wise, spiritual people they trusted told them that the land had deep capacities for healing. A warm autumn day in the forest, the slanted sunlight filtering through russet leaves, squirrels a-chatter, and the breeze kissing the tips of newly revealed branches feels like a confirmation of this assessment. But the wise ones were not speaking only of the beauty of Rolling Ridge. They were aware of something else. It turns out that we are stewards of a liminal, permeable place where people can find their way through thresholds and thinned veils to inward landscapes as vibrant and significant as the scarlet trees and lichened stones around them.

When the dark times come around again and threaten to overwhelm us, it may be that we only have to remember that we are connected to a place infused with the breath of God, an animate land whose wild inhabitants and holy energies draw us through the imagination of the Earth into a vast and timeless communion of belonging. As David Whyte writes in his poem "Sweet Darkness", there we can be sure we are not beyond love. Coming together in times like these, for meeting, ceremony, work, and play is a way to remember.

Welcome to festivals and to this autumn season, with its light and shadows, its mystery and possibilities and hope. Welcome to festivals for the dark.