Night Fires: Thoughtful darkness, thoughtful light

Photo by Clarisse Meyer on Unsplash

One discovers the light in darkness, that is what darkness is for; but everything in our lives depends on how we bear the light. It is necessary, while in darkness, to know that there is a light somewhere. To know that, in oneself, waiting to be found, there is a light. What the light reveals is danger, and what it demands is faith.

James Baldwin

After the madness of Christmas has receded, this restful quiet time is often thought to herald the new year. Various clusters of folks and traditions celebrate and mark their New Year at different times. Myself, through the deep interiority and reflection of the dark time of the year, I don’t feel the earliest beginnings of new life until somewhere between Imbolc and the spring equinox.

For now, we have the dark. I’ve been comfortable with the dark. I keep its company often, one foot in the world of the sane; one foot in the world of the insane.  One in the world of the dead and dying, one in the living.  A dependable reciprocity, a flow, a movement transports me in and out, to and from.  Then the whole Trump phenomenon and its  tendrils wrapped themselves around so many of our values, our identities, our hope, our courage. Fear grew and grew some more.   Many elders feel hopeless; many of our younger brothers and sisters feel apathy.  I can’t speak for everyone, but I can say that many of us are feeling pretty fucked up. What to do to feel better?

Well, of course there are many things. Some good, some not so much. In this post, though, I want to speak to the reliable inspiration that I turn to every year and am never, ever disappointed: “Night Fires, the annual winter solstice play celebrating its thirty-fifth year. . . [is] a big shout of hope inside a passionate prayer for this beautiful, aching country of ours.”  (from this site)

The content–songs, poems, soliloquies, readings–changes each year but the theme remains contant:  leaving for a journey at the darkest time of the year and making your way through that darkness in order to find the light. I feel I can never do justice when I try to explain it. I just know that it is a profound generosity the spirit for the people who attend, year after year. I just know that it fills me with hope and courage and energy to apply the content I find–John Steinbeck, Naomi Shihab Nye, Bernice Johnson Reagon, Carlos Nakai, Langston Hughes, and more–many traditional Inuit, Aztec, PEI, Russion, Italian songs and poems and writings.

And the music? It all touched me deeply. But maybe the most surprising and energizing, one  a 1987 folk song from a band called Oysterband. I’m a folkie from way back & hadn’t heard of it. For me its strength lies in the shift of perspective it pulls off.

 So a big shout-out to Theatre Group LTD of Middlebury  VT and all of the holy that they conjure and gather and offer to the community. Gratitudes to  Marianne and Deborah, Abigail and Shaun, Annie, Lynn, and the entire community that blesses us every year with their wisdom and creativity.



Reflections on Nurses, Writing. Blogging 101, Day 4

I live in Vermont, home of the Bread and Puppet theater group, which shares magic, social and political commentary, and affordable art with its guests. One summer, the troop led us into a hushed red-pine forest. We sat on the ground at long, makeshift banquet tables laid with bright cloth and 582289a3d3123309b4a0d36b24c096b0coffee cans painted with flowers and arcane symbols. Our puppeteer-hosts served, in silence, chilled water from clay pitchers and chunks of homemade bread.

Like fresh bread and cool water, writing nourishes when it is shared.

I work as a nurse.  Nursing, too, is a practice that must be shared in order to exist. As a profession, or a calling, right livelihood, or just a paycheck,  by simple definition it cannot stand alone. The very mechanics of doing our jobs allow us to look through intimate windows opening briefly into others’ existences. Our jobs intersect with theirs at intrinsic turning points as they experience birth, life, and death.

That intersection is a crossroads where mysteries live, where events below the surface manifest in language we have become clumsy with. Nurses write to translate, to interpret.

The dichotomy between the technical and the personal asserts itself repeatedly in this profession. How do we maintain the pace required to provide dramatic, cutting edge interventions while preserving compassion and healing intention? That call to serve and to heal sparked the beginnings of the nursing profession—and eventually it sparked the creation of technology.

The ancient healers—magicians, witches, shamans—have been replaced. Today we survive infections and trauma that, before the arrival of modern medicine, were deadly. These improved outcomes are miracles and that come with various requirements. We must be technicians we well as nurses, often responding not to the person but to machines that measure and image the body’s mysterious inner workings. We are accountable to federal, state, and local regulations that assure safe, quality patient care. We seek an evidence-based practice. We have advanced practice and advanced degrees. I’m not suggesting that any of this is wrong. I am saying that often as nurses we have little time for providing the elements of care that called us to our profession in the first place. And I am saying that sometimes those same elements have been erased by a system that has embraced corporate culture and practices.

Yet time exists in layers, and so still there are the small, secret pockets where the legacy of healing emerges again and again.

And in those pockets, nurses are writing to survive that great split between science and magic. We are writing to avoid being destroyed by the heavy pendulum with its great momentum, swinging powerful and erratic between the polarities of what is possible in health care and what is possible in healing. For they are not always the same thing. Although our world so much needs both, there is an unfortunate and deep divide between the two. Nurses are among those who try to bridge that chasm, underscoring our profession’s commitment to interact with the person, not the disease.

Nurses use a process which includes assessment and documentation. There is this, too: we notice, observe, witness, map, and chronicle. It’s the pursuit of writers, yes, and it’s also what nurses do, from our own particular places in the universe.

Nursing happens. It doesn’t pretty things up. It is intimate with birth and blood, shit and insanity, illness and death. It’s built from primitive stuff, the humus of life, raw energy that demands acknowledgment.

Warm bread, shared, silent, in a summer forest in Vermont is one sort of offering. Another is giving voice to our experiences of life, through our words on the page.

These things are good medicine. We offer them up.

Night Fires

Night Fires

January often begins as a season of resolutions. By the end of the month, though, many of us have made them, broken them, and have gone back to our hedonistic, sloppy, flawed lives. Many of us have come to think of resolutions as shallow and have resolved not to even make them in the first place. Still, there must be something to the way that we are pulled to do things differently, to re-align ourselves:  when necessary; when we’re re-evaluating our lives; when we long for True North.

The language of ‘making resolutions’ feels different than the concept of ‘setting intentions,’ which includes the ingredient of reflection. How might we move toward a different, more constructive vision of engaging with ourselves and with the world?

Do you set intentions or make resolutions?  Does it make a difference to you?

Many of us are familiar with the practice of writing down the qualities and stories that we don’t want to bring with us into the new year.  Then we burn those scraps of paper, and the power of Fire weakens the connections we’ve established between our stories and any resulting unhappiness. Still, those same qualities and stories that we’ve released through fire actually began through pieces of our consciousness and intelligence. These were, and are still, good medicine. Fire releases their essences, making them available to us again, freeing up energy to weave into the present as part of changing, healing visions.

Which brings me to Night Fires. This is an annual, extraordinary  celebration of Winter Solstice that a local theater group presents.  Rooted in diverse and ancient traditions, it blends performance art, poetry, song, and story into a few hours of quiet, joyful, uplifting liturgy. When I speak of it to friends and folks who’ve never heard of it before, I never do it justice. Night Fires defies simple explanations, partly because so much of its magic happens on the inside, in layers. It unfolds.  This article captures part of it.

It’s visionary, exploratory. It traces the ancient paths of our ancestors, awakening and nourishing seeds of mysterious knowing in us.  It reminds us of what’s possible when we drop down into our deepened selves.  Night Fires reminds us of who we are and where we came from.

That’s what I want to carry forward.

May it be so.