Monday, April 9, 2012

29 Hours in the Dark

The week before Ash Wednesday I came across the following article by Jennifer Fulwiler at the National Catholic Register, 8 Reasons to Turn Out the Lights. In the article, she gives reasons why turning off artificial lights one night a week during lent can be beneficial. I loved the idea, but there was one thing standing in my way: at 25, I'm still afraid of the dark...

As Holy Week drew closer, I revisited the idea of turning off the lights and after talking to a friend decided to go for it. We were talking about the idea of a longer period of darkness for the Triduum and came up with 3pm Friday to after the Easter Vigil. The symbolism of this choice is on multiple levels. The first is staying in darkness from Jesus' death to his resurrection (this could be extended if you attend an Easter morning mass). It also reminded me of Jesus in the tomb and in the underworld. The overarching theme being that while the Light of the world is not with us, my home has no light either.

Now to the practical aspects. Right away I knew I had a big decision to make: does "artificial light" include screens? For my first attempt I decided it did not and I'm glad I did. My phone and computer, even the TV, didn't really produce a significant amount of light and I don't think it prevented me from focusing appropriately. On the contrary, it enabled me to read some good articles about Good Friday and Holy Saturday.

Once all the decisions were made and I pulled out all the candles I could find, I headed off to the 3pm Good Friday service. I returned home close to 5 and it was pretty easy at first. My house has a good amount of windows and I could barely tell that I was purposely leaving the lights off. Around 7 however, it hit me suddenly. I was in a room with a lot of outside light and it wasn't until I walked into the living room that I realized just how dark it had become. I started lighting candles and was surprised how much it helped once my eyes got use to the new level of light. Spending the evening in the relative darkness was very peaceful and relaxing. I also went to bed crazy early because there didn't seem to be any point to staying up. So about 9:30 I came to my first big challenge, blowing out the candles in the living room and walking to my bedroom in the dark. I don't know what it was, but I surprisingly calm. Maybe the difference in light wasn't as shocking as it is with overhead lights, I'm not sure. As I blew out the candles and found myself in utter darkness, I wasn't running toward my room (like is sadly normal). I wasn't nervous at all in the darkness. When I was in my room, I read a little by candlelight, then extinguished the candle and went to sleep.

Saturday was a totally different experience, but also very interesting. I woke up early, since I had fallen asleep by 10, and it was already pretty light outside. I spent some of the morning hanging around the house, but by 11 I was outside working in the yard. I'm not one for yard work in general, but I just didn't see any point in staying indoors. I was amazed how productive I was. I cleaned up the yard, washed off the outdoor cushions and even bought and planted new flowers and plants. When 4:30 rolled around and it was time to get ready for dinner and mass I was exhausted.

The final challenge presented itself after I had showered and dressed for mass and it was not one I was prepared for. Even with 6 lit candles, as I stood in front of the bathroom mirror to fix my hair I could barely see myself. It was a definitely lesson in humility not to be able to make sure my hair and makeup were "perfect." My family came over and didn't complain about eating dinner in darkness, then we visited outside until it was time to leave for mass. Once the lights were turned on at the vigil, I appreciated the light more than I would have otherwise. And I especially appreciated it Saturday night when I came home. I also noticed that I wasn't as nervous in the dark Saturday or Sunday night.

The 29 hours I spent without artificial light had a strong effect on me and has encouraged me to incorporate smaller periods of darkness into my normal routine. It helped me to better appreciate the sun and the light it provides. It also helped me to recognize all the things artificial light enables me to do. And unlike fasting from things I do rarely, I was reminded of my fast as I walked into every room. Overall, it made me more aware of and dependent on God.

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