We are in the midst of dark times, my friends. It feels loud and threatening and invasive. This time around, the darkness seems to be rearing its head and popping up in the most unexpected of places (the merciless blisters caused by a virus I got last week, the theft of my friend’s car, the death of my former student, the slaughter of a concert hall in France, the destruction of a Christmas party in San Bernadino).
I gave myself a good two weeks to slump over (and stare at my blisters) while bathing in the reside of the sadness and fear caused by these varied and ridiculous attacks, and after awhile I got so freaking annoyed with myself. I sat in the dark and looked at the dark and thought about the dark and glorified the dark and it was terrible. And the darker I got, the more I felt them winning. Those living in the darkness want to infect us with the cancer of fear -- to stop us from being kind to one another and looking each other in the eye and holding the door because when we stop doing these things our collective immune system weakens and the cancer has more room to knock us down.
So f*ck that. I’ve decided that I’m not doing dark and afraid any more. I’m doing grateful and vulnerable and kind and brave. And even though it feels shaky right now and my success rate is at a bewildering 50%, I am trying anyway.
These past few weeks, brave has meant being gentle with myself after indulging in too many holiday left-overs; laughing at goofy Christmas movies and singing songs about joy. It has meant spending lovely time and conversation and money in a Muslim gift shop in San Francisco; smiling and talking to a large tattooed man with a nose hoop sitting next to me on an airplane.
And as I attempt to embody the light in this time of darkness, I can’t help but think of how Mary must have felt as she prepared for the birth of her son Jesus in a dark, dark time: a refugee herself, pregnant out of wedlock, poor, scared and about to give birth to the “Son of God” (whatever that could mean) -- she, no question, must have had to face her demons of fear in a very real way. But this woman is such a bad*ss embodiment of God’s love that despite such debilitating circumstances, she responded with an “Okay, God, here I am. I’ll help. Show me the way,” totally willing to trust what was happening to her as a part of a greater plan that would help all of humanity. Did she say “Damn it! This is really inconvenient for me right now, God. What the hell is wrong with you? Why me? Poor me? Me, me, me!"? Nope! She said "Okay." See what I mean? Bad*ss.
Mary demonstrates for us what it means to have no freaking clue what is coming (i.e. where she will give birth, where she will live, how she will raise the Son of God and discipline him and change his diapers and watch Him die on a cross) and having the courage to say yes anyway. Amidst the darkness, she is willing to look for, and listen to, and trust in the light that’s going to be born through her.
And the inspiring thing about Mary’s role in this story is that this whole “Jesus on Earth” phenomenon (God’s love in human flesh) couldn’t have HAPPENED without her: Jesus needed a womb and a placenta and breast milk in order to live among us. I mean, sure, I guess God could have dropped Him off via a stork on a cloud, but the story is so much better this way: God showing up in the most regular of forms: bloody and purple-y and wrinkley just like the rest of us. And just as God needs Mary for his plan to be complete, so too does He need us.
Mary challenges us this Christmas season to be in the midst of darkness and still be able to feel that God is here. She calls us to surrender completely to however God may wish to use each and every one of us during these times. She reminds us that God’s light CAN and WILL find its way to the darkness that we are facing on Earth, but that He needs our bodies to deliver that love. She urges us to feel the pressing need for our courage as individuals and as communities despite circumstances that look grim.
After watching President Obama’s address last night, I lay awake, eyes wide-open in bed, wondering what’s going to happen next and how we will ever find our way out of this mess. And suddenly, as if shaken from a nightmare, I felt the warmth of my sweet husband to my left, his big warm arm wrapped around my waist, the rhythm of his breathing like a lullaby against my chest. I heard the wispy snore of my sweet little mutt Gracie to my right, tucked next to my bedside. I became aware of the presence of that miracle that is my daughter in the next room, resting up for another day of discovering things like chickens, and trees, and new people at the grocery story. If I quieted myself enough, I could feel, right here, the presence of God amidst the darkness just waiting for me to notice Him. I think that this is what Advent is calling us to do: to sit here among the darkness and still feel God -- not the God of Care Bears and Tinkerbell -- but the all-pervasive God who is among us, living and working through us if only we have the courage, like Mary, to surrender our lives to birthing His goodness.
This Advent season, our yoga practice gives us the perfect medium through which we are able to sit still in these dark times and feel something Big and Loving among us. Our practice gives us the place to quietly wait in the darkness with deep faith that what’s Good will emerge righteous once again. Our practice, which will work to quiet our minds and steady bodies, will bring us to a place of alert attention where we wait in a silence that is pregnant with the Holy Spirit, to be shown how we can individually give birth to the light. Lao Tsu asks us if we have the patience to sit still until the water is clear and wait until the right action arises. Our winter yoga practice gives us the space and the opportunity to do just that. This Wednesday evening’s practice will embody these truths through a calming flow and some warm, heart-opening yin. Whether or not you can join us, I hope that you take time to feel God amidst the darkness wherever you are.
Yoga Teacher and Student, Speaker, Writer, Mother, Wife, Friend, Daughter, Sister, Human