Someone terribly unnerved wrote about this picture, trying to figure me out with my reference to the dark road: "Are you making a political statement?" First of all, it's good to be unnerved by the picture. Images of any kind that don't elicit a felt response are pretty useless. The people who create TV commercials know this.
And maybe the image is un-nerving because we've probably all been in a car on a desolate night like this. But as Advent begins, what I'm saying with the photo is: Name this; it's an interior place.
You know, we can sit in church for a hundred years, listen to hundreds of sermons, light the candles, watch the vestments change color, hear the readings and liturgical prayers go around and round and still never go inside, which is where true religion takes place. I don't know about you, but I wasn't given Christianity as a spiritual way - a way of exterior religious observance - but not an inner spiritual path. But we grow with God's help and those we meet along the way.
How can I celebrate Christmas, the Feast of Light, if I don't first identify my own personal darkness? And while some darkness is sin, pray we realize that's by no means all it is. We don't know where the dark road in the photo is going, do we? Is there some part of my life that feels like that?
This road is slippery and narrow. Does that touch some inner place? I'd be thinking, "O God, please don't let me break down here." Does that resonate within me? How un-settling this darkness is. Can I identify in my life the inner place that feels so desperate for light or for an experience of safe arrival?
Friends, this is the spiritual life. And if Advent, in these darkest days before the solstice, doesn't take me to these inner places where I need the Child to be born who is called LIGHT - then I'm just roasting chestnuts and jingling bells.
We might interrupt our regular prayer routine for at time and sit with this photo and get to naming some of it:
- the loneliness perhaps,
- the fear of what lies ahead in my life,
- where I'm feeling closed in,
- where I'm unnerved or feeling desperate,
- the terror of a breakdown.
- where I'm kind of slipping and sliding,
- where interiorly I know I could go over the edge,
- an inner place where I'm gripping the wheel,
- maybe the dark road is the road of resentment,
- or the lonely road of my personal discontent.
Many people never look there, keeping religion all external. Look out the window these dark days and what do you see? You see yourself reflected in the dark glass! These are metaphors for sure. But metaphor doesn't mean something's not real. Metaphor means it's MOST real - it's what's going on with me personally. I get it! This is where the Christmas Child wants to be born again. Now I can make my prayer: perhaps the best prayer I've ever prayed.