This is a guest post by Sarah Otto.
At 2:44 this morning in the northern hemisphere we celebrated the Winter Solstice, when the North Pole is tilted the farthest away from the sun and we enter into the longest night—or the shortest day—of the year. And this year, at that time, I was awake in bed as the final days of pregnancy leave me uncomfortably restless. Nine months of singular excitement has turned into final days of discomfort, as well as fears and anxieties that had not hit me before.
I have come to appreciate the passing of time by the turning of the earth around the sun rather than the turning of the calendar year. My husband and I were married on the Summer Solstice. We took full advantage of the boundless light that day—our ceremony was in the morning followed by an early afternoon reception. The light was so perfectly metaphoric for the day full of hope and promise we shared as we ate and drank and danced and loved throughout it all.
The Darkness and the Light
And now, two and a half years later we wait for our first child on the longest night of the year. And the birth of a child, of course, brings an abundance of hope and promise for us, as well. But in the darkness of the night I’m also keenly aware that as we bring our daughter into the world we will introduce her to a world of joy but also pain; we will give her life but also the inevitability of facing her own death one day at a time. And I know that my sleepless nights are far from over as I take on the role of helping her navigate this journey of life and worry about her well-being and happiness. Love, inevitably, brings pain.
And thanks be to God that responsibility won’t fall on me alone. My husband who slumbers next to me this night, less affected by the physical discomforts and roller coaster of emotions in these final prenatal days, is a rock I can count on. But even if I did not have his steady partnership, on this Winter Solstice, four nights away from the dark and lonely night when Christ came into the world and will come again, I recognize how fitting it is that we celebrate the Incarnation at this time of year. How desperately we need light in the midst of darkness. How desperately we need hope in the midst of our fear and anxiety.
Love calls us to places that scare
2016 has been quite a year, for me personally, in the lives of my friends and family, and certainly in the political climate of our nation and world. Many people I love this year have dealt with sleepless nights in the wake of heartbreak, death, failure, and fear. And as a minister by both training and call, I find myself both capable and drawn to accompany people in their darkness. Yet 2016 proved a daunting challenge for doing so, particularly this fall in the wake of an election that left our country so blatantly polarized. My heart was so full of emotion as fear and anger and sadness gripped the lives of those I love, those left feeling even more vulnerable on the margins of society. And though I felt (I felt deeply), I did not know how to act. It’s easy to make excuses. I told myself it was because I’m a minister in the Church and have to walk a fine line. I told myself that prophetic action may not be my calling. But love calls us to places that scare us and I didn’t follow through with that. I did not know how to speak up. And I felt so worthless, powerless, as a result.
But to those of you who hurt this year—to those of you still hurting in these long nights of darkness: I lie awake with you. And I stay awake in restless solidarity, longing to bring a purpose to the messy emotions felt most deeply in the dark.
As my husband and I embark on a radically new journey as parents, as we turn another page in the calendar year, as the earth begins its journey back toward the sun, we are promised light. And light has a terror of its own, for it can burn and blind and expose the horrors of our sin and brokenness. Having grown up in a desert I am well aware of that. But in the midst of darkness it can also be so gentle and soothing—the flicker of a flame, the glimmer of the stars, the gentle glow of the sun at the horizon. And four nights away from the light of Christ entering the world I am grateful for its gentle reassurance that I am not alone. Oh holy night. Oh blessed night. I hold out hope that the growing light will bring courage in my new vocation as a mother, will bring a prophetic voice to the emotions in my heart, will bring a warmth to a cold and divided world. I know that’s a lot to hope for—but we’re called to hope against hope, as St Paul tells us. And in the darkness that’s all we have.
So, happy Winter Solstice. And may whatever darkness that entered your heart this year be soon met with the gentle, reassuring light of Christ.
Sarah Otto grew up in the desert of Phoenix, Arizona. She earned her Masters of Divinity at the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry and is currently the director of the Newman Catholic Center in Chico, CA where she lives with her husband Andy.