Monday, December 16, 2013

Winter Solstice part 2

I’d like to continue on the theme of the upcoming solstice. The solstice this year occurs next Saturday Dec. 21, 12:11 PM EST. This is one of the four critical turning points of the Great Round with its complement in the Summer solstice and the two equinoxes in Spring and Autumn. 

Moving toward this cosmic marker, the light is becoming less and darkness is increasing, gathering us together for the longest night, tucking us in, and readying us for the quiet display of its majesty. Once we are enclosed by this dark mother, in appreciation, we can then begin noticing the birthing of light as  days begin ticking their way toward greater radiance. But if not for this Great Darkness, this cosmic matrix, the stars could not be seen and we would not experience light. Darkness is the necessary ground for the possibility of any discussion about light.

Solstice is a holy day that is natural and cosmic. The cultural holidays; Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanza are human invention preferring membership in a group. Though solstice is honored by only a few, it shares its bounty with all, no membership required. It does not exclude on the basis of caste, class, creed, color, age, gender, or species. All beings are welcomed to the awareness of darkness in their lives.

In our increasingly manic, growth oriented, and light focused culture, we seem to devote great energy toward eliminating darkness, silence, and death from our lives. We deny death, trying to hide it away from view by placing dying people in hospital and hospice away from the bustle of life where they might be seen, away from the home. We apply cosmetics to our recently dead, wanting them to appear only asleep in their final rest. 

We eschew the quiet, leaving our televisions and radios constantly on, making noise to keep silence at bay. I find that I can’t even go to a sporting event without music blasting out in between the action. We find ourselves keeping our phones attached to us to keep the conversations going or information flowing, avoiding silence and solitude at all cost.

We light up our cities and towns causing light pollution, obliterating the night sky. We illuminate our homes to chase the darkness away from our lives, keeping nightlights and security lights burning to ward off whatever shadows may be lurking that we’d prefer not to meet.

In our family, in addition to the beauty of Christmas honoring the birth of the Light of the World out of darkness for Christians, we've always celebrated the winter solstice. We generally have many lights (votive, candle, incandescent) lit in the room in which we gather then slowly extinguish each light and doing readings about darkness (we have even sung solstice carols on occasion). When the light has been removed, we sit in darkness for a few minutes and each share the value of the dark in our lives. Then we slowly return illumination to the room, relight the tree, and open one gift. In gratitude, we may even make a toast to darkness as that which contains, holds, and brings forth light. It is a simple ritual to honor that element to which our culture pays so little positive attention.

Let me close with Rilke’s words about the dark…..

You darkness, that I come from,
I love you more than all the fires
that fence in the world,
for the fire makes
a circle of light for everyone,
and then no one outside learns of you. But the darkness pulls in everything:
shapes and fires, animals and myself,
how easily it gathers them! —
powers and people —
and it is possible a great energy
is moving near me.
I have faith in nights.

Wishing you a meaningful solstice and a merry Christmas!
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Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Winter Solstice

            This is the season in which we celebrate the Winter Solstice, the longest night. That time of the year when we can observe the power and necessity of darkness in our lives. Though I am not comfortable with this matter of darkness, I recognize that it comprises a significant portion of my life and to attempt to ignore it, to make it go away, to keep it in the background is to deny its existence and by extension, deny a part of my own existence. Our culture seems to try to ignore this darkness, calling it the shortest day, by focusing attention on light and the birth of the Sun or the Son (Christians) during this time of the year.

            I am not at ease in the dark, on the shadowy paths which twist and wind in my life. Darkness is an unknown where things are unlit and ill defined. It is where security is at a minimum and risk and uncertainty rule. I prefer the sense of knowing who I am, of seeing with clarity, of being in control by manipulating a well-lit environment. Who likes to be left in the dark about matters? I am a creature who faces the light but in so doing I see nothing behind or beyond the spotlight of my narrowed awareness. I miss so much in my unwillingness to trust the dark. If I truly believe that creation is blessing, then darkness as an integral part of creation contains blessing within itself.

            I am reminded that I am the fruit of an encounter that quite likely occurred in the soft darkness of a winter’s eve, reminded that I am sprung from the darkness of a loving womb. I am reminded that in the darkness I can sleep and be renewed from the labors of the day. I am reminded that when I am bleeding, I bandage my wound, cloaking it in darkness in order that the healing process may begin, and that injured creatures retire to dark out of the way places to allow nature to work. I am reminded that the seed begins it germinative activity in the darkness of the fecund earth.

            The dark contains as the womb contains, holding mystery, numinous in its depth. It is a matrix, maternal, holding billions of stars in its vastness. It is imbued with the power for transformation, filled with potential, shape shifting the contents of life, bringing forth anew that which has hardened and dried under the glare and heat of a bright consciousness.

            Darkness is half of creation ebbing and flowing in an eternal dance with light. T.S. Eliot wrote,

I said to my soul be still, and let
the dark come upon you
which shall be the darkness of god.
As, in a theatre,
the lights are extinguished for the scene to be changed.
With a hollow rumble of wings
with a movement of darkness on darkness...
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
So the darkness shall be the light and the stillness the dancing.

            When I am in rhythm with this cosmic dancing then I flow with reality, rather than distorting or denying it. Without this Holy Dark, there can be no creativity because there is no gestation leading to birth. 

            Additionally, if everything in my life must be exposed to the light of thorough scrutiny, then I am less able to express tolerance for things which cannot be understood in the clear light of consciousness. Uncertainty, anomaly, mystery, vagaries, even slow growth brings anxiety. When I try to force the bloom of my life with excessive light, I lose the ability to savor life itself. Forced blossoms are never quite as fragrant as the ones slow grown on the vine.   

            Being attached to light, I am only half a person. To reclaim wholeness, darkness needs a new honoring. We must allow ourselves to be in the dark about things. The Kentucky poet, Wendell Berry writes,

To go in the dark with a light is to
know the light.
To know the dark, go dark.
Go without sight, and find that the
dark, too, blooms and sings, and is
traveled by dark feet and dark wings.

            I hope we can all find time to celebrate this Holy Darkness.

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