Christmas 2017 – Speaking some words to the close and holy darkness


We all have our rituals for Christmas: Jimmy Stewart in It’s a Wonderful Life, A Charlie Brown Christmas, or How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Since hearing it read as a child on the Max Ferguson Show on CBC Radio, my annual ritual is reading or listening to Dylan Thomas reading his story, A Child’s Christmas in Wales:


“One Christmas was so much like another, in those years around the sea-town corner now and out of all sound except the distant speaking of the voices I sometimes hear a moment before sleep, that I can never remember whether it snowed for six days and six nights when I was twelve or whether it snowed for twelve days and twelve nights when I was six.”

The final lines of the story are engraved in my memory.

“Looking through my bedroom window, out into the moonlight and the unending smoke-colored snow, I could see the lights in the windows of all the other houses on our hill and hear the music rising from them up the long, steady falling night. I turned the gas down. I got into bed. I said some words to the close and holy darkness, and then I slept.”

 Christmas! I think that some of our most special Christmas celebrations take place when we are still innocent. That’s why so many people will say that Christmas is all about children.

First of all, it is about the one child lying in the manger in Bethlehem. But wide-eyed children who are still innocent in their conceptions about life and the world probably most freely celebrate it without all kinds of unreal expectations.

Does our innocence start to disappear around the time that we discover the truth about Santa Claus? Is that when we are also discovering that the world and our lives are not quite what we believed when we started to formulate thoughts?

In the midst of his exercise on the Nativity of Jesus, St. Ignatius of Loyola has a point that illustrates just how much the innocent newborn in Bethlehem will have to face in life.


He invites us to see Mary and Joseph, “making the journey and laboring that our Lord might be born in extreme poverty, and that after many labors, after hunger, thirst, heat, and cold, after insults and outrages, He might die on the cross, and all this for me.”

Jesus starts life as any other innocent child. Like all loving parents, Mary ponders her child and wonders what he will become, how his life will unfold.

Jesus cannot undo all that leads to the cross. Likewise, we cannot just press the reset button and go back to the innocence of childhood. And those words we speak to “the close and holy darkness” change as we move away from childhood. The words shift from those of the innocent child to words of a self-aware person with deeper needs and cries.


It remains always essential to continue speaking to the close and holy, but also to listen to what we hear from it. In these days of Christmas, let’s take time to deepen that conversation.

So much else in these busy days will challenge the conversation – the non-stop Christmas music, the noise, the bustling around, the line-ups, the self-imposed expectations, the commitments for family, the office parties, and church commitments.

Let’s make time to speak to the close and holy darkness!

Philip Shano, SJ has many years of rich and varied experience working with Ignatian spirituality: teaching, writing and using it in his ministry. He resides in the Jesuit community in Pickering, Ontario.

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