I sat down to write about Advent, but this burst out instead. That’s the thing with Advent. Hope gives you a little nudge and your heart rips wide open. This piece is about the northern lights, and about missing home. But it’s also about the deep soul places longing to be filled. Advent give us permission to live in the tension of our unfulfilled longings, while pointing toward their Source.
I dreamt about you the night of the last solar flare.
I knew others were staying up late, getting up early, searching the skies in hopes of their first glimpse of your magic. I was too tired to keep watch for the slim chance of reuniting with an old flame. While others chased elusive pale streaks in the southeast, I tucked in and slept snug. I had years of northern memories to satisfy. But did they, still?
For I dreamt of you.
You called me, and I simply walked out the door of my dream into your presence again. Your fire spread over the valley where the autumn moons rise full and golden. But there was no moon to compete with your beauty. You came in green, like an old friend, and I didn’t need to jump up and down or try to capture you in camera frame. I stood on the porch and knew you, in the deep place of being that grew with your touch through decades of winters past. And you grew in the sky until I all I could see was aurora.
It was February, 2020 when I last saw the northern lights with my waking eyes. February, 2020, when the world seemed to spin a little straighter on its axis, when I flew across the country and thought it odd to see a few people at Toronto Pearson Airport in masks.
It had been a long day of winter driving, straight north from Edmonton, with my sister at the wheel and her two little boys in the back seat. We needed to make the fifteen hour trip in one day in order to surprise my older sister the next morning on her 40th birthday. It was near 10:00 pm when we left Hay River, after stopping for gas and a bathroom break, and to buy a box of cinnamon buns at the Super A on the edge of town. With the time change, it already felt like 1:00 in the morning. We were both tired, the roads were snow covered, and we still had three hours to go. My job was not to drive (it had been too long since I had driven standard), or navigate (for we were well acquainted with this singular road), but to keep us awake. With heavy eyes we pulled out of town, hoping the boys would sleep the rest of the way.
As we left Hay River behind and turned onto Highway 5, my heart rose in my chest and stopped my breath. The night sky had opened, and out poured the northern lights in glorious, swirling green. They spilled across our view like ink on fire, unrolling across black parchment.
“Welcome,” they whispered. “Welcome home.”
I had no trouble keeping my eyes open then. I pressed my face toward the windshield, then turned to look out the side windows. We were surrounded. They threw the tips of spruce and jack pine into relief, backlighting the boreal forest on the left side of the road. They glowed and danced neon over the highway ahead. I had not seen the aurora in this brilliance in at least a decade or more.
They lit up a dormant place in my soul, the place that comes alive when I cross the 60th parallel and find my northern bearings. I could feel the pull, reorienting me to a strong sense of belonging.
They accompanied us all the way home that night, fading only when we reached Fort Smith. They had done their job – keeping us both awake, and reawakening me to the magnetism of this land, turning the needle of my heart home.
When I woke from the dream, I was still living in two worlds. Had I indeed gone out to the porch that night and seen the northern lights? The possibility floats through my mind for a moment and then disappears, as chronos time takes over, as my body remembers it has not risen from beneath these covers. But, oh, part of me is still in the sky. I have seen them! They came.
I know God speaks in dreams. Sometimes he dances.
The dream haunts me as I go about my November days. I see pictures online of stunning displays all over Canada, and from my hometown. If I could be anywhere in the world during a geomagnetic storm, it would be there, tipped north on the 60th parallel, feet in the snow of the high riverbank.
There is an ache as these lights retreat. The space in my soul contracts, and finally collapses. Nothing else will fill it. But I carry the emptiness with me.
There are other lights, here on this floating cradle of sandstone, and so I am not left in utter darkness. These lights cheer me as I wake and live, flickering in candles, shimmering on the salty waves, glowing with love given and received.
And yet I am waiting, always waiting for your return.
Sometimes I climb into those black holes of your absence deep within, looking for leftover sparks. I am waiting for the silent rush of coloured fire, for the next cold night you take my breath away. I am waiting for the needle to jump and spin, pulling me into the storm’s wild dance. I am waiting for you to bring me home.