Dark days, early mornings and the opportunity to reflect on this season of Advent go together.
We are all being told we need more exercise so every morning – well, strictly speaking, almost every morning – I take a short walk before I go to work. At present, it is still night when I go out and it seems to be getting darker and darker because we are a week off the shortest day of the year. Today the cloud cover was very thick and without starlight or moonlight I couldn’t see the path at my feet until my eyes adjusted to the different densities of black, grey and silver, where overnight rain had gathered in puddles. Once in front of the Abbey, however, the sharp profiles of the winter trees stood out against the sky, black upon grey-black. A bird sloped soundlessly across the path and hid itself from me stealthily. A plane droned high above and I wondered whether the passengers were enjoying a beautiful sunrise above the clouds or were caught up in the mist.
What is so amazing on these winter walks is not just what you see but what you don’t hear. Everything is silent. As I already mentioned, one might see a bird: I often do. But they are silent and hop about close to the ground as if safer there. Every now and then there may be an owl’s hoot or my feet on the gravel may alarm some ducks or coots, but for the most part I walk through a deep and profound silence. Mister Eckhart said, “There is nothing so much like God as silence,” and on these morning walks I feel he is absolutely right. The silence is not empty but denotes presence. It is full of….?
And the change comes as you walk. On a totally overcast day like today, you realise that as you have been walking, blackness has become different shades of grey. Looking towards the east, you see bank upon bank, slice upon slice: hoary, ashen, steely, silvery, griseous, slate, pearl greys. Despite the overcast sky, light comes. As you look, as you walk, you know that everything you see belongs to you; that no one is seeing what you are seeing from your unique physical position on this day and at this moment. This is God’s gift to you – and, of course, not just to you but to every person wherever they are who are looking upon this miracle from their unique angle.
And then the birds begin to sing.
It is a profound moment. The day may be overcast. There may not be any sunshine today, but the light will come and we will walk in the light, even if it is not the full light from a cloudless sky. And the time of waiting in the night is not wasted. On the contrary, it is precious, for we find we are not alone in the dark. There is a presence there with us in the silence, also waiting, biding his time, inviting us and full of grace.