Day One: Blowing out the Light

I watched as the boys blew out the first candle of the Advent wreath tonight. Isn't it strange, blowing the light out, when we are always seeking it?

But then I began to think about how it's necessary to blow the light out sometimes -- that sometimes, we must endure a time of darkness before we can actually find the light. That is, darkness can lead to light.

An Advent tradition in our house over the past many years has been for all of the family to gather in a child's bedroom each night before bed. In a huddled circle, all fifty of our toes touching, our hearts constrict a bit with anticipation. We tingle inside. We giggle. We get ready to turn out the lights. A Paulist Priest I know, Father Frank, used to guide the young people's retreats I attended back in college days. He spoke about our experience of coming on retreat, about getting quiet within and experiencing what he called "the fear of the holy." By this he meant there is a place in us that actually tends to recoil from the light, sometimes -- because the light requires things of us: courage to look inward and see what we see, not what we wish we saw; it requires faith to journey on into the unknown, unchartered territories of our soul. And we don't always feel ready for something that great.

So in the cozy bedrooms of our children, we ready ourselves, best we can; we feel a little fear of the holy beauty that will surround us any moment, and then we turn out all the lights and sit in solid darkness. We talk about the dark state of our beings without any God-light. And then we're quiet. We feel the unknown. We experience the foreign but intriguing dark. And only after a few moments of squirming in the dark do we light our candle and begin to sing:

O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

We sing with all of our hearts. We sing off-key, every one of us. And I always can't help but cry a little for the thick joy of it all, watching my children's candle-lit faces and earnest eyes as we sing together in the dark.

*Enya does a beautiful version of the song on her album, And Winter Came. I highly recommend it.

**Don't forget to leave a little light below, should you feel inspired. I tried to fix the comments so they are accessible to everyone.


Anonymous said...


Amstr said...

What a lovely tradition! We've had a hectic December, and we're all in need of some special togetherness (and, as always, a sense of the forbidding darkness and the joy of light). We may steal your idea.