Leonard Cohen, tenant of the Tower of Song, born with the gift of a golden voice wanted it even darker on his last album. Darkness is keenly felt by many, particularly at this time of year when the darkness reinforces experiences of isolation and grief. The fairy lights that bedeck so many houses is an act of defiance against the darkness. Nowadays these artificial lights double up as Halloween and Christmas lights, intended to brighten our winter days and to jolly up the darkness.
But there is a sense in which we need it to be darker. Advent is a season to be rescued from the light-hearted. It is a time of year to get serious about the darkness that is part of our lives in our relationships, in our despair, in our anxiety, in our jealousy. It is a time to get real about the suffering so many endure, the millions forced from their homes, the many who suffer the consequences of economic austerity.
Those for whom this is too serious, those who are afraid of the dark, do us no favours when they say “lighten up”. Their merriment is like the fairy lights which don’t diminish the darkness but only pollute the night sky. We need it darker to realise that we are not all sweetness and light wherever, whatever and whoever we are.
Vincent van Gogh lived through some dark times. He wrote to his brother Theo: “I am so angry with myself because I cannot do what I should like to do, and at such a moment one feels as if one were lying bound hand and foot at the bottom of a deep dark well, utterly helpless”. Like Leonard, Vincent did dark. And yet, in another letter to Theo, he wrote:
“It is true that I am often in the greatest misery, but still there is within me a calm, pure harmony and music. In the poorest huts, in the dirtiest corner, I see drawings and pictures. And with irresistible force my mind is drawn towards these things. Believe me that sometimes I laugh heartily because people suspect me of all kinds of malignity and absurdity, of which not a hair of my head is guilty — I, who am really no one but a friend of nature, of study, of work, and especially of people.”
In his darkness he saw the most beautiful stars, some of which he painted and gifted to us. (Do see Loving Vincent if you get the chance.)
In ancient times the stars were guides to the wise and inspiration to the faithful. These days it’s Cowell-made stars that draw us. Stellar constellations are lost on most of us, mainly because we can no longer see them. The light in which we trust is artificial. We need it darker for a time.
PS You may be interested in Jenny Bridgman’s Advent blog exploring Dark Spaces