One of the things I find hardest to do in my daily life is to get out of bed in the morning. Well, to be more precise, I find it hard to get out of bed at 6.30 a..m., after I've snoozed the alarm three times already and checked my emails still snuggled in the duvet, in a vain bid to convince myself that this constitutes valid work and therefore compensates for not having got up. At this time of year, getting out of bed comes even less naturally to me than in the summer months when at least it feels that by hefting my frame down the stairs and groggily putting the kettle on (the first task of the day and the one that makes all others possible and puts me in mind of this movie) I am joining in with the rest of the created order.
The thing I have noticed in my half-awake state first thing in the morning, though, is that it's getting lighter. The winter solstice has been and gone, and every now and then I find myself realising that this time last week, as I did this task or drove or walked to this place, it was a bit darker. This evening I drove to Evening Prayer in dusky shadows, something I can't remember having done since some time around Remembrance Sunday. When I was in Thailand some years ago, I was astounded by how quickly the sun set; one moment it was light, and I could still read the 'No elephants on the beach' sign: the next, it was dark. Here, the sun sets, and rises, almost imperceptibly, edging its way so slowly, and with such grace that it is only when we turn away, and then turn back again that we realise how far it has gone. (Anyone with any knowledge of astronomy, or science in general, may like to take that sentence in its intended poetic sense and disregard its obvious inaccuracy.) Light and darkness are definitive to our lives; I sometimes wonder what it'd be like to live without electric lighting for a whole year, so as to experience the ebb and flow of light and shade as the seasons gently turn. (Of course, this is highly unlikely ever to happen.)
Religious thought, Christian and otherwise, is, quire literally, drawn to these themes of light and shade, not only to mark the seasonal variety of the world of which we are part, but also to, if you will, shed light on our own lives and their times of brilliance and dazzling light, storm and deep darkness, and all the myriad shades in between. In the church year, we are still in Epiphany ('upon the light') Season, and will be until Candlemas, that beautiful but often ignored festival of lights in which we remember the boy Jesus in the Temple, and the portentous meeting of young and old as the elderly prophets Simeon and Anna speak curious words to, and of, the young child and His mother. For the moment, as we pray morning and evening through the subtly but surely shifting light and shade of late winter, we say to ourselves and to one another,'Arise, shine. Your light has come. The glory of the Lord has risen upon you. A light to lighten the Gentiles, and to be the glory of thy people Israel.'
So in our lives; in my own life, and in my ministry with people who are ill, bereaved or simply struggling with the tough stuff that life can involve despite our best efforts sometimes, the sunrise may feel slow and long overdue ('Morning hasn't quite broken yet,' as my daughter put it on the way to the school bus today). But winter gives way to spring in such tiny gestures day by day that each one should be noticed and treasured. If we can look around us, look up from whatever we're doing every now and then and say to ourselves that it's not quite as dark as it was this time last week, or last month, maybe that's enough of a sign of the still distant springtime to give us hope that we, with all creation, can arise and shine, for our light has come.
Whether that thought helps me at 6.30 a.m. tomorrow, after I've snoozed the alarm three times and checked my emails twice, remains to be seen.