We have entered the cold, cloudy, dim period here in the Pacific Northwest. With the season come various festivals, both religious and secular, based in a longing for the return of the light. As a born-and-raised Florida Man, I crave direct sunlight and can relate to this yearning. However, this season I am trying to not just survive the darkness but also appreciate its sacred splendor.
A few weeks ago, for my 40th birthday, a friend gave me an original poem with this remarkable stanza: “In the darkest moments, seize the night.” The imperative, “seize the night,” is the obvious complement to the famous exhortation passed down from Ancient Greece: “carpe diem” — translated into English as “seize the day!” That philosophy was the mantra of my youth, and it encouraged me to fling myself into new experiences, embracing the fullness of my days with an attitude of active exploration rather than passive surrender.
Carpe diem has an optimistic character that fueled my already sanguine perspective on life. This rosy attitude matched my theology at the time, which fixated on the pure goodness of God, the pervasiveness of love in the universe and the sacred beauty of every human being. But as I have aged, my Panglossian view has given way to a more contoured assessment. I once wrote off suffering, grief and emptiness as aberrations to be overcome through sheer force of love, but now I see them as inherent — even necessary — parts of life. Where I once had a purely solar spirituality, I have begun to discover the dazzling depths of lunar spirituality.
Carpe noctem, or “seize the night,” may simply conjure up images of a nocturnal party scene. I admit, it does sound a bit like a Gloria Estefan song. But, for me, the phrase encourages me to trudge into the forbidden forests of the soul and use the light of the moon to explore places of repression, hurt and tenderness in my heart and in the human spirit, more generally. These terrifying territories, where institutional religion and superficial spirituality alike fear to tread, have a beauty in them and are full of lessons. Entering these places can break down our egos, bring us into solidarity with others and enable us to heal from wounds that otherwise simply fester. Carl Jung called this kind of exploration “shadow work.” Where once I saw the shadow as a non-entity, defined by lacking light, I now see it as a sacred substance in and of itself.
There is a subtle danger in acknowledging the value of the darkness and twisting it to meet the ends of a purely solar spirituality. Some theologians argue that what is painful is actually “for the best” or “part of God’s perfect plan” in some way. I am not saying that. Rather, I am making the case that a purely bright world has no depth to it; darkness and shadow turns a flat sketch into a three-dimensional depiction. To live fully and wholly, we must accept and explore the whole of life and our human experience. May those struggling this season be granted the courage to seize the day and to seize the night.
Read more of the Dec. 14-20, 2022 issue.