“Kicking at the Darkness…”

Our guest blogger is Stephen A. Nelson, a Canadian freelance writer and photographer, now living in the wilds of Jasper.  He has worked in media for more than 25 years – including 8 years as an editor, producer and broadcaster in Taiwan. His most  recent project “True Alberta Adventures: The Official Alberta Vacation Guide.” We invited Stephen to share his thoughts about this holiday time of the year – Christmas


 Music expresses that which cannot be put into words and which cannot remain silent”   Victor Hugo

“Am I the ONLY one on the planet not in the mood for Christmas this year? It is hurtling at me way too fast.”

My friend’s Facebook status said it all: Christmas, for most of us, comes far too quickly and much too soon. The stores have barely put away their Hallowe’en decorations before they’ve started their Christmas sales.

It’s even worse for our American cousins, for whom Thanksgiving and Christmas are just one long holiday season of indulgence and gluttony. Or, to put it another way, “two holidays with exactly the same meal.”

Even in the Great White North, Christmas shopping often seems like a month-long ordeal of spending money we don’t have… on things we can’t afford… to give to people we don’t much like. Sometimes, the only thing worse than being with your family at Christmas is not being with your family at Christmas. When we hear “There’s no place like home for the holidays” we say “Thank God!”

Of course, there does seem to be more good will at this time of year. People are trying to be nice. They want to be generous. They want “peace on Earth.” But even at the best of times, Yuletide comes to us as something of a mixed blessing. Or, as Bruce Cockburn might say “One day you’re waiting for the sky to fall/The next you’re dazzled by the beauty of it all.”

The book’s release at Christmas (2011), a time when we celebrate light in the darkness, hope in the midst of despair, the spiritual among the secular – is very timely. And it reminds us again of Bruce’s uncanny ability to speak to our spiritual nature without being too “religious.”

More recently,  Cockburn has worked on his memoir, Rumours of Glory, released from HarperCollins. This memoir features lyrics to dozens of songs including the stories behind them.

His songs remind us that, yes, there are those coldest nights of the year when we’re “sitting here alone and sleepless” and “trying to keep the latent depression from crystallizing.” And yet – even in dangerous times – our spirits are still “open to the thrust of grace.” And even when we are desperately alone, it’s still possible for somebody to touch us “like a bolt from the blue” and make us feel alive and whole again.

Of course, it’s quite in vogue these days to say that there’s no such thing as “the thrust of grace”; belief in gods or spirits or angels is mere fantasy that flies in the face of reason and science; there are no mysteries and no miracles – merely coincidences.

“You can’t tell me there is no mystery/It’s everywhere I turn,” Bruce replies.

Some say the universe created itself out of nothing, according to the laws of physics, and didn’t require God to “light the blue touch paper and set the universe going.” God is a fairy tale for those who are afraid of the dark.

Bruce, on the other hand, sings to the Lord of The Starfields and prays “O love that fires the sun, keep me burning.” To the Universe Maker he sings “Heaven and earth are full of your light.”

He reminds us that each of us can be a light in the darkness.  Of course, if there is one Bruce Cockburn song that sums up our hopes, fears and expectations at this time of year, it has to be this one. I sometimes imagine that this was the song once sung by shepherds and Wise Men on their way to Bethlehem:

Working and waiting for the night to come…
Somewhere out there is a place that’s cool
Where peace and balance are the rule
Working toward a future like some kind of mystic jewel
And waiting for a miracle

Stephen A. Nelson has  a master’s degree in Theological Studies from Lutheran Theological Seminary at the University of Saskatchewan. In his spare time, he plays old rock ‘n’ roll at the local jam nights, sings in church, and enjoys his Jasper mountain paradise.  Write Stephen Nelson at  or

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3 replies »

  1. Stephen, thanks so much for this post. Not just because it gave a nice plug for my book, but also because of the wonderful way that you engage Cockburn to help shed some Advent light in the darkness. I’m almost tempted to just read your piece tonight at the book launch and concert here in Toronto. But I think I’ll need to read something that I wrote instead. Thanks again.

    Brian Walsh


  2. Brian – Congratulations on your event that recently took place at the Hugh’s Room in Toronto where you celebrated the launch of “Kicking at the Darkness: Bruce Cockburn and the Christian Imagination.” Kudos to you as well for your generosity for the giving of profits from this event to Parkdale Neighbourhood Church (

    Brian J. Walsh (PhD, McGill University) is the bestselling author or coauthor of several books, including The Transforming Vision, Truth Is Stranger Than It Used to Be, and Colossians Remixed. He is a chaplain at the University of Toronto and an adjunct professor of theology of culture at Wycliffe College in Toronto, Ontario.