Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Watching the Light

Kathy Staudt

“Midwinter spring is its own season/ Sempiternal, though sodden toward sundown.” I think of these words, from the opening of TS Eliot’s poem “Little Gidding,” every year in Epiphany. They are especially alive for me this week, when I am teaching a class on Eliot’s Four Quartets at Virginia Seminary. Eliot’s words name the season sometimes called the “January thaw,” when we sometimes glimpse spring in a brief warm spell, but he is also naming a season of life, a spiritual awakening to the mystery of grace at a dark time, in mid-life, a season that is “sempiternal,” partaking both of our time and of God’s time, “time out of time.”

And so I am looking at the light. Every January, here in the mid-Atlantic, the light begins to shift toward spring quite noticeably, just around the feast of the Epiphany. I begin to notice the sunrises are brighter, and the days a little longer. Esther de Waal, who used to come to the Cathedral College as resident fellow in January and February, once pointed out to me that Washington DC is in the same latitude as Italy, and the light here is the same light that painters from northern climates have sought out when they headed south to the Mediterranean. During this past week, even with some bitter cold and patches of snow here and there, the daylight has been brighter than it was in December, and I notice the sparkling, crystalline light that plays off the browns and greys of bare branches at midday, turning them bronze and silver. I notice that at 5PM, when it used to be dark for my drive home from Alexandria, there is now another hour of waning, often beautifully colored sunlight. And I stay and take a walk around the seminary grounds before I hit the beltway. 

“Midwinter spring is its own season/ sempiternal…” Especially this year, when the Epiphany season will be so short, I am making a practice of watching for the light, welcoming each sparkling winter morning as a moment of “time out of time,” and receiving the mystery of God’s light, shining into the world around me and inviting new life. 

Kathy Staudt is a member of Our Saviour, Hillandale and an adjunct faculty member at Virginia Theological Seminary and Wesley Theological Seminary. How do you experience light this time of year? Share your stories and thoughts on Facebook.