In the dark times
Will there also be singing?
Yes, there will also be singing
About the dark times.
~ Bertolt Brecht
Even the splotches of rusty orange and russet punctuating the lacework of bare branches have turned now to brown leaf-carpet. They were what remained of one of the more brilliant autumns we have seen on this mountain, a season resplendent in scarlet and gold, back-dropped in azure blue skies and graced with crisp, invigorating air. I wandered gratefully in the splendor, but images and news from other places intruded and captured me: a wounded and unquiet Earth, a world of injustice, people and creatures in peril; global reports of climate catastrophe; testimony to abuse of power and high betrayal. These are the dark times, the dark edge we walk.
The edge of autumn often harbors mist, particularly in the morning, in the creek valleys and mountain hollows. One recent morning the persimmon by the old smokehouse was outlined before a filmy scrim of gray silhouettes. Droplets glistened, tiny diamonds on the maple’s bare branches. Nuthatch, titmouse, chickadee, finch appeared and disappeared at the feeder that hung from the hackberry branch. For a time, the whole place was shrouded in what could not quite be discerned, what might possibly have been emerging, what remained unknown.
In The Mist-Filled Path, Frank MacEowen writes, “Mist is a beautiful natural power. This old spirit is an ambassador of the in-between. Not entirely water, not entirely air, the mist is a unique dancing marriage of these two elements. …when the mist descends upon us, the veil that ordinarily separates the unseen world from the visible world is drawn back, fostering a fluency of movement between the two worlds….”
Across the field, in a house in the mist, is a baby girl born only days earlier into this wondrous, mysterious world, the newest member of our small band. Her birth was precipitous and wild, and will surely make it into the annals of this community. On the afternoon of her birth, her parents chose to detour to the local ER, since making it to the birthing center in time suddenly seemed out of reach. And so this is how she arrived: Her intrepid mother, having just stepped off the intake weight scale in the hospital ER corridor, all at once bent, crouched, and caught her. Trembling, astonished, she stood up and brought the new one to her heart as (I imagine) the nurses and doctors came on the run.
Mist is a threshold phenomenon. Sometimes one crosses the threshold swiftly, trailing clouds of glory and falling into the waiting, loving hands of a new life. More often, I suspect, one lingers, wondering, scanning the veiled horizon. John O’Donohue writes, “You are in this time of the interim where everything seems withheld. The path you took to get here has washed out. The way forward is concealed from you…”
On a threshold, we are suspended between what we think we know and worlds we cannot see; it is the clouded now before what comes next, the numinous reminder that there are more surprises and possibilities saturating the world than we can perceive.
This seems to be the task of the times: Feeling our way through the mystery.
Meanwhile, in the day world, in the pale light and brisk air of late autumn, we gather in the Meditation Shelter for a time of speaking, singing and dancing our gratitude on Thanksgiving Day: grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, children, grandchildren in a small circle before the blazing woodstove fire. Extended family gatherings are such tender times; memories, hopes, heartaches, joys form a subterranean territory between us we feel but do not see. Our time in the Shelter begins by acknowledging this richness in all its eternal complexity, “when we look upon the faces around us we see that the cycles of life continue.”
The children have brought renderings of the gifts of the Earth to whom we send honor and thanks: a container of water from the spring-fed creek, moss and green remnants of bamboo in a soil-filled bowl, a hawk feather, a small soft toy fox and a much larger bright neon pink and green plush snake, a tin foil mobile of the sun, the moon, and the stars. We are deeply grateful for being part of the beautiful dance of reciprocity and re-creation, and “for all the love that is still around us,” though we have not forgotten about the dark.
In turns out this warm and glowing Shelter is also a misty place where boundaries between dualities, between any of it, are diffuse, “fostering a fluency of movement”: intensity and joy, grief and love, despair and gratitude, terror and beauty—all of it flowing. And yes, there is singing on this threshold where worlds meet, there is singing in the dark times.