Reading:  Let Evening Come, Jane Kenyon

Let the light of late afternoon
shine through chinks in the barn, moving
up the bales as the sun moves down.

Let the cricket take up chafing
as a woman takes up her needles
and her yarn. Let evening come.

Let dew collect on the hoe abandoned
in long grass. Let the stars appear
and the moon disclose her silver horn.

Let the fox go back to its sandy den.
Let the wind die down. Let the shed
go black inside. Let evening come.

To the bottle in the ditch, to the scoop
in the oats, to air in the lung
let evening come.

Let it come, as it will, and don’t
be afraid. God does not leave us
comfortless, so let evening come.

“Prepare the Way”

As I read and re-read Jane Kenyon’s poem this week I chuckled to myself because there’s that word “LET” again. A few weeks ago we looked to Kei Miller’s poem “The Book of Genesis,” where he uses that word over and over again to help us all imagine what life would be if it was the only word we knew. “Let.” It’s one of those little words that really packs a punch.

For Kenyon, “Let Evening Come,” conjures up the same possibility–as the sun sets, and the light fades and nightfall descends let what needs to happen, happen. Stop fighting it. Let the day end. Let the evening begin. Let it all come. And don’t be afraid. This poem is both literal and symbolic–the literal cycles of nature, and the symbolic cycles of life and death or the living and dyings of life, many of which we experience all the time. For example: what we hold on to, what we are energized by, what we grieve, what we struggle to let go of. “Let Evening Come” wisely councils us to surrender to it all. To be present to it all. Maybe that’s what surrender really means: presence. And to not be afraid for God, Spirit, your Fellows, this precious Earth, will not leave us comfortless.

More specifically, “Let Evening Come” also invites us to consider what might happen if we give in to the mysterious, unexpected, often-unfamiliar blessing that is…night. Night! Actual night.

And this, my friends, is the season for it. The wondrous astronomical events in our midst are what has guided the myth and theology behind rituals and practices that have taken place around the world for hundreds of thousands of years. All of our ancient ancestors looked at the night sky and night fall for direction and for answers. Meaning.

Just to orient us a bit. Right now, the sun is a few weeks away from being the farthest south, closest to the southern hemisphere, on its north-south position. As earth orbits the sun in its tilted wobbling way, the amount of time we spend with the sun is waning. The shortest day and longest night, arrives on the 21st, or the winter solstice. I am so glad we will be having a service here that night to honor it.

Literally, we mere passengers on Earth, are shifting away from the Sun. Shifting away from the light.

It’s a remarkable thing to consider the global impact this shifting away time has had through millennia. If your belief centers around our interdependent web of human existence, you might consider stretching that web out across time. From the temple of Karnak in Egypt to the ancient Mayan ruins of Tulum, to the neolithic Newgrange in Ireland to Machu Picchu in Peru…And these are just a few structures still standing. How many more there were that are no longer! All these ancient ruins, astronomical structures, traced the route of the Earth alongside the Sun, with particular emphasis placed on these shorter days and the winter solstice.

I often marvel at the spiritual heft these people, my ancient people and yours, must have been inspired by and filled with. Can you imagine what it took to measure this? Trace these planetary and lunar movements? And then to build these sacred sites by hand with such passion and precision? And I do wonder if some of that spiritual heft and inspiration had to do with being in the dark, literally, for a lot of the time. It might explain why so many of our sacred texts across religions often place the greatest of visions and mystic experiences at night.

I wonder. That’s our theme next month: Wonder. So, I’m preparing the way here.

The fact is that for most of us modern folk, we could probably count how many times we have known, really known, complete darkness. I am being literal right now.

Our planet is so over lit that if you looked at a satellite image of earth today, you would see that most of its surface is covered by artificial light. Very few of us have seen the Milky Way in all its glory, or ever seen what the night sky really looks and feels like if it weren’t for all the artificial lights. Statistics show that more than 60% of the people on the planet, and 99% in the US and Europe, exist under a yellowy artificially lit-up sky.

This explains why that heavy, thick kind of darkness that only some of us have experienced, most certainly only in the deep wilds of nature, is so unfamiliar to us.

The fact is we are hooked on light. This is a result of industrial civilization where electricity has kept our factories and workplaces, streetlights, porches, stadiums, construction sites, and businesses lit up 24/7. Many of us have become so dependent on it that complete darkness might even feel unnerving. For most it also feels tiring. How many of us bemoan the time change, where night comes earlier, as feeling like an energy-suck? This makes sense. We have adapted as human beings to energy as being akin to light.

But. Our biosphere isn’t meant to be illuminated at all hours. The natural rhythms of day and night and the changing light is embedded in the biological makeup of all life, and we are, alongside all of Earth’s living things, equally dependent on darkness for health, as we are on light. Seeds can’t germinate without the absence of light in the soil; the caterpillar is cocooned in darkness so that it can metamorphosize; composting requires a protection of soil or a dark container to do its wonderful work of alchemy; we were cultivated and brought into being in a dark womb for nine months. Just a few examples of the life-giving power and energy that is darkness.

This new phenomenon of light dependance is troubling to me. I do wonder what our spirits have lost in this. Consider this: in 1925 only half the homes in the US had dependable access to electricity. 100 years ago. And how about this: humans lived on planet Earth for 600,000 years before discovering how to make fire. 600,000 years.

It’s not difficult to see why time spent in the dark was once so very meaningful. A lot of time was spent in it! In its full potential, night is a great balancer. Without the cacophony of lights and fluorescents, it offers us a daily reprieve. A slowing down, a silencing, more rest, and more sleep. Sometimes I find the shorter days to be wholly inconvenient–it slows down all the things I need to get done. Sometimes I complain that it makes me feel more tired, earlier. But what if that’s the point? Maybe it’s natures great, Divine, prophetic memo to us: and it arrives every single day and most of us just keep sending it to the junk folder, I certainly do. Ignoring that there is something vital and healing for us in the dark.

And here we are. In what many call the season of light, but which I call the season of darkness. Blessed, divine, healing darkness. The kind we need. We are waiting for the light. Sure. We are preparing for it. But we are not crossing off days to get to it. We are, rather, opening windows and doors to it, like our advent calendar. We don’t light these Advent candles to blot out the darkness, we light them to remind us of what is possible in it.

I would say that this preparing-the-way-time mostly has to do with readying our hearts and souls for the blessing that is evening, and the great wisdom that waits for us in it. And paradoxically, we are made better able to see the light, to know the light, when we have come to know the wonders of the dark. Now I am speaking in metaphors. And maybe this feels wildly abstract to you–hang in there. We are going to stay with this all month. And I encourage you to do the same–stay with it for yourselves. As seekers. For this is the spiritual invitation of the season: Judeo-Christian and Pagan symbolism, metaphor and myth speaks to the heart of what it means to be human in this big, big universe: germinating, metamorphosizing, gestating, being alchemists digging deeper into the literal and symbolic imbalance and balance that is this season of changing light and darkness. And taking all of this in and applying it to every facet of your life. That is the spiritual invitation of the season my friends.

And so my question to you this morning is this: what preparations do you need to put in place to make this seeking so? This digging deeper possible? Let us not mindlessly go through this month just skimming the surface. Let us not do that. What might you need to let in or let go of, to make the wonders of early evening just that: Wondrous? Wonderful? Meaningful? To let evening come? And to not be afraid?

I hope you will take those questions with you.

Let’s listen to Jane Kenyon’s beautiful words again:

Let Evening Come

Let the light of late afternoon
shine through chinks in the barn, moving
up the bales as the sun moves down.

Let the cricket take up chafing
as a woman takes up her needles
and her yarn. Let evening come.

Let dew collect on the hoe abandoned
in long grass. Let the stars appear
and the moon disclose her silver horn.

Let the fox go back to its sandy den.
Let the wind die down. Let the shed
go black inside. Let evening come.

To the bottle in the ditch, to the scoop
in the oats, to air in the lung
let evening come.

Let it come, as it will, and don’t
be afraid. God does not leave us
comfortless, so let evening come.

May it be so.

Won’t you join me in song now? In your teal hymnal, When Our Heart is in a Holy Place, #1008

Reverend Sophia Lyons
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Rev. Sophia is committed to radical welcome and spreading the good news that is our bold Unitarian Universalist faith. Some of her areas of interest include interfaith partnerships, addictions ministry, spiritual direction, and working towards collective liberation for all. Rev. Sophia aspires to live her life and fulfill her ministry guided by spiritual seeking, big love, and the seven principles of Unitarian Universalism.