“If I say, ‘Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me – even the darkness will not be dark to You; the night will shine like full day, for darkness is as light to You.” Psalm 139:11 – 12
In my birth work as a doula, I spend a lot of time waiting in the dark. Often, as labor progresses and intensity ramps up, the lights are dimmed down to manage all the stimulation. And we journey on towards delivery. At times, if rest is achievable, the lights are turned off entirely and I prompt mama and partner to sleep as much as possible. I usually keep at least one eye open in the dark to maintain my role as support. As I sit in the dark with sleeping parents, I feel a sense of privilege to be present in that space, waiting and watching. I relish these moments. For one, in the midst of heightened emotions and physical strain, I am glad to see that expectant parents can rest. But in those moments when rest is not permitted and endurance beckons, I am sensitive to ensure that no un-necessary over-stimulation such as light, sound etc. interferes with the mama’s focus to press on. Darkness seems to reveal a “holding space”. Indeed, there seems to be something about darkness that warrants waiting – that insists on it. There is a kind of perseverance that does not exist in the light.
I mean, didn’t we all start out this way? The origin of our lives was spent waiting in the womb, waiting in the dark, preparing to be born into light. First, babies, once convinced safety was only found in the darkened space of mother’s belly, seem to instinctually long to be scooped up into arms and be held after the umbilical chord is cut. Babies need to be held in a way that reinforces safety is reality. Infants become toddlers and this thing, the absence of light, that once felt so safe in the womb, can turn into the presence of something threatening. Children in their cribs and beds at night, wait in the dark and even cry out for a nigh light or any glimpse of reassurance that the darkness will not persist.
There is a meta-narrative in all of this, as I endure another winter. The winter solstice debuts a kind of darkness that is, at first glance a looming weight of waiting; but then, in a more revealing perspective, it possesses a radiance of hope. Winter suggests the sun has disappeared, but then bit by bit light is increasing – bit by bit revealing a new world of spring and harvest. Waiting for the sun to rise despite cold temperatures will not be in vain. Each sunrise offers a promise of more and more hope until blossoms burst forth in the warmth of spring and summer.
The changing seasons reflected in the significant presence of sun and moon has long been meaningful to me. Nature has that way of saying things for me – turning my attention to something so much more vast than I can comprehend. As a Christian, I believe Jesus offers a very specific message in his birth, life, death and resurrection. The early Christians were meticulously intentional in their attempts to formally select a holy day to celebrate Jesus’ birth. They sought to allow nature and history to holistically emphasize the spiritual practice that we call Christmas. Anthropologist and theologian, Alexander Shaia summed it up so succinctly in a podcast discussion entitled “Radiance Within the Darkness, facilitated by The Deconstructionists Podcast. He shared:
“Christmas is an earthly feast acknowledging both god’s incarnation through nature and the incarnation of Jesus. At Christmas, those two incarnations are absolutely intertwined. The core experience of the two is during the darkness of winter. The outer moments of darkness during December (in the Northern Hemisphere) are teaching us the spiritual practices for our inner moments of darkness during April, July and so on…. These two incarnations must agree with each other – they amplify and magnify each other so that the birth of Jesus Christ is not just a theological concept but an embodied physical experience…. We know in our spiritual practice that the place of new radiance is found in the deepest dark. This is the great story that is proclaimed at the winter solstice. The winter solstice is the time that dark has reached its greatest depth and its right at that moment that the reversal happens, the new radiance begins. Its more than appropriate, its perfect that the Christmas story be celebrated at the winter solstice. It teaches us that it is only by our courage and grace to go into the deepest dark ness is where the fresh radiance is born.”
In my postpartum work as a doula, I provide overnight support for new parents. My job is to care for newborns throughout the night to allow parents much needed sleep and sanity refreshment. I sit in the dark, waiting and watching. I oversee that baby sleeps and is soothed when restless. I help feed the baby either by bringing to mama or feeding the baby via bottle and then managing all the follow up details – burping, diapering, swaddling and helping to settle baby back to sleep. My moments spent with these little ones in the wee hours of the morning are so precious to me. Indeed, there is something sacred about it. I have referred to witnessing a baby’s birth as a “thin place” but I also refer to these overnight times spent with babies in the dark as another thin place as well. I feel an intimate connection with God as I hold these itty-bitty bundles of humanness and as I peak at them while they wiggle in their sleep. Their vulnerability is palpable and I take my role very seriously to ensure both their safety and serenity. So often, with babies positioned in my arms as they feed or fall to sleep, I stare at them in wonderment – this was God incarnate once. God’s vulnerability to ensure our safety and serenity is not overlooked by me in these midnight moments. I shift my perspective to how God sees us in our humanity, holding us in a way that reassures hope during the darkest moments of our lives. I try to connect with babies via as many senses as possible. I hum a rhythmic tune to help them trust my presence and sleep efficiently. It is so hard not to kiss them, but I try to maintain my professional role as best I can! As I sing softly, rock or sway them and maintain calm for them, there is a sweetness I experience that I cannot really explain when I feel their tiny bodies relax and begin to deeply sleep. I recall an Old Testament declaration from the prophet Zephaniah, “The Lord is with you…the Lord will rejoice over you with singing” (Zephaniah 3:17). I imagine God doing this for me, for all of us, as I hold every baby I work with; and I am comforted with a kind of peace that is deeper than words, bigger than any darkness that surrounds me.
Another Christmas has passed and the groundhog saw his shadow yesterday, which means six more weeks of winter. But the cold shadowy reality I or anyone feels these days isn’t without hope. Jesus’ birth bore both a cosmic relevance and historical significance over two thousand years ago. While on earth, Jesus declared, “I am the Light of the world” (John 8:12). After his ascension back to heaven, the reality of night still occurs literally and figuratively. Every day it comes and goes in various forms and functions. We continue to wait amid this ebb and flow of darkness until Jesus returns again and once and for all eliminates darkness. I long for this day and wish it would come soon – just as every birthing mother longs for her arduous labor to end and then strives to soothe her crying baby. Amid this longing, the fact remains, Jesus’ incarnation provided a Light that is in me now and can shine or simply smolder within me to prevent the darkness from consuming me. God is the best parent there is, Mother and Father, to hold me and reassure me that dawn is coming and each day following the winter solstice will shine a little bit brighter and a little bit brighter and a little bit brighter…. This ever-increasing brightness begs me to enjoy each day a little bit more and a little bit more and a little bit more. Every extra second of light each new day with Jesus decreases the need to simply persevere but rather increases the awareness that life is meant to be a delight found in the holding space of God.
- Google image; illustrator unknown
- The Sweetness of Holding Space for Another; by Lynn Hauks
- Diary of A Baby: What Your Child Sees, Feels and Experiences; by Daniel Stern
- Radiance Within the Darkness; Dr. Alexander Shaia via The Deconstructionists Podcast