February From the Minister

Just this week, I was reading about Finland, and I learned a couple things. First of all, Visit Finland has a funny slogan: “Silence please.” As it turns out, they had hired a marketing team, which encouraged them to lean into a celebration of some of the things that they’re known for … the stillness, the silence in nature, and the quiet hush that falls on people who have traveled there to view the Northern Lights, aka “Aurora Borealis.”

I also learned that parts of Finland—like Alaska—are north of the Arctic Circle, which means they experience at least one day of “midnight sun” and at least one day of “polar night.” Midnight sun means that the sun never goes below the horizon, and polar night is the opposite—the sun never comes above the horizon. And then I read the following sentences: “In Finnish Lapland, the sun sets in late November and generally does not rise until mid-January. This can last as long as 50 days in northern Finland.” Wait … what!? 50 days of darkness. And I thought our winters were hard.

Our monthly theme is Awakening—the practice of letting in light, which would have a different shade of meaning in a Finnish context. But here in Mahtomedi, it still has a lot of resonance and possible meaning for us. And in our darker months, letting in light becomes more important.

I have a regular practice in the winter months of buying an amaryllis bulb around the winter solstice and then placing it in some prominent spot in my house. I also have a regular practice of fully forgetting about my house plants, and I sometimes walk right by them without actually noticing that they are there. Just last month, I was standing in the checkout line at my local co-op, and you know how stores often put just the perfect thing in a rack next to the checkout to invite you to buy a little more. Well, they got me, because right there staring at me was a small amaryllis bulb kit, which even included a small pot and some soil.

Obviously, I bought it, took it home and planted the bulb and then promptly forgot that I had planted it. 40 days later, this bulb that was still sitting on my kitchen counter had a green shoot about 10 inches tall, and the beautiful ruby red petals of the still-folded flower were just barely peeking out. I turned to my housemate and said, “Wow! This plant is very beautiful. It looks like it might be an amaryllis. Did you buy this?” She looked at me with incredulity and reminded me that I was the one who bought it, brought it home and planted it. It was a good reminder that it is important to know yourself well, and that sometimes it makes good sense to buy Future You an amaryllis bulb, which will feel like a gift from someone else—even if that person is just Former You.

I also learned that the word amaryllis derives from the Greek word amarysso, which means “to sparkle,” and I couldn’t agree more. It has a similar sparkle to the twinkling emerald green lights of the Aurora Borealis, and these are just some of the many ways that the twinkling of lights can bring us joy and life and beauty in these dark months.

For you, what are the places where you find light and sparkle? And how do you open yourself up to receive the light? Essayist Elain Scarry states that the basic impulse underlying education is the willingness continually to revise one’s own location in order to place oneself in the path of beauty. Let’s be a community that places ourselves on that path of beauty. Let’s be a community that shines light on the injustices of our world. And let’s be a community that seeks continual awakening.

–Rev. Jack Gaede