If you stand quietly in the countryside, on a night with no moon and no stars, in pitch blackness, you begin to sense a secret activity at work. You hear the drip of moisture from twigs; the sudden shriek of a shrew as an owl silently swoops down; the barking of a fox, the rustle of a hedgehog among dead leaves. And you sense the sap rising in trees, bushes and shrubs. As Henry Vaughan, the Welsh poet, wrote, ‘There is in God, some say, a deep but dazzling darkness’.
And there is another lesson the night teaches us: that it is always followed by dawn. As a friend of mine once wrote, ‘At midnight noon is born’.
For fourteen years, at the Bleddfa Centre in Wales, I used to lead a Christmas meditation. Some 40 people would be seated on a circle of hay bales around a circle of evergreen and 100 unlit candles, and in the centre an image of a naked newborn baby.
It would begin in darkness and the one candle would be lit, and we would be aware of how its fragile flame drew us to it, like a beacon. Then the other 99 candles were lit in turn and we saw how much more powerful the light became as the flames were multiplied. And so we too, in our daily practice of silence, keep the flame burning steadily, entering the darkness and allowing it to do its own work inside us.