Friday, December 21, is a momentous day. The Winter Solstice synchronizes exactly with the end of the 5,125 year cycle of the Mayan Calendar. We plan to make a special effort to observe this day. It’s a time to notice the changes outside and inside. In the northern hemisphere, the days of light are shorter, the darkness is longer, the weather is cold, the trees are bare, and snow is often on the ground. John Matthews, who has lectured widely on Celtic and Arthurian traditions, has written this lyrical passage about the Winter Solstice:
“The Solstice is a time of quietude, of firelight, and dreaming, when seeds germinate in the cold earth, and the cold notes of church bells mingle with the chimes of icicles. Rivers are stilled and the land lies waiting beneath a coverlet of snow. We watch the cold sunlight and the bright stars, maybe go for walks in the quiet land. . . . All around us the season seems to reach a standstill — a point of repose.”
As outside, so inside. Our spiritual practices for this day honor all that can be learned from the dark. We invite you to join us on this special day.
• “Hello darkness, my old friend, I’ve come to talk with you again,” Simon and Garfunkel sang in a popular song years ago. Before dawn or at dusk, greet the darkness and write in your journal, or share with a companion, some of your feelings about darkness.
• Reflect upon the positive side of darkness. This is an abbreviated excerpt of “A Celebration of Winter Solstice” from The Circle of Life by Joyce Rupp and Macrina Wiederkehr.
“There is a tendency to want to hurry from autumn to spring, to avoid the long dark days that winter brings. Many people do not like constant days bereft of light and months filled with colder temperatures. They struggle with the bleakness of land and the emptiness of trees. Their eyes and hearts seek color. Their spirits tire of tasting the endless gray skies. There is great rejoicing in the thought that light and warmth will soon be filling more and more of each new day.
“But winter darkness has a positive side to it. As we gather to celebrate the first turn from winter to spring, we are invited to recognize and honor the beauty in the often unwanted season of winter. Let us invite our hearts to be glad for the courage winter proclaims. Let us be grateful for the wisdom winter brings in teaching us about the need for withdrawal as an essential part of renewal. Let us also encourage our spirits as Earth prepares to come forth from this time of withdrawal into a season filled with light.
“The winter solstice celebrates the return of hope to our land as our planet experiences the first slow turn toward greater daylight. Soon we will welcome the return of the sun and the coming of springtime. As we do so, let us remember and embrace the positive, enriching aspects of winter’s darkness. Pause now to sit in silence in the darkness of this space. Let this space be a safe enclosure of creative gestation for you.”
• As you count your blessings, or say grace before the evening meal, give thanks for the darkness which is the yin to the yang of light. You might mention that darkness is a reminder of the mysteriousness of God.
• Look out into the darkness for a few minutes. Then read this poem aloud. It is by William John Fitzgerald from his book Blessings for the Fast Paced and Cyberspaced. Then look into the darkness for a while longer.
O God, black can be beautiful!
Let us be aware of black blessings:
Blessed be the black night that nurtures dreams.
Blessed be the black hole out of which creation sprang.
Blessed be the black cave of imagination that births creativity.
Blessed be dark wombs that cradle us.
Blessed be black loam that produces nourishing food for our bodies.
Blessed be black jazz that nourishes our souls.
Blessed be black energy that swirls into gracefulness.
Blessed be black coal that heats us.
Blessed be black boiling clouds hurling down lightning and cleansing rain.
Blessed be even our own darkness, our raw, undeveloped cave of shadows.
O God, help us to befriend black and not deny its power.
Help us not to cover over the dark with fear but to open to it with your grace and to be open to your life within the dark.
May we discover the blessings that lie deep within our holy dark so that we may freely affirm that
Black is beautiful indeed!
• Here is another poem to be read aloud to observe the Solstice. It’s by Joyce Rupp from The Circle of Life which she co-wrote with Macrina Wiederkehr.
This year I do not want
the dark to leave me.
I need its wrap
of silent stillness,
of long lasting embrace.
Too much light
has pulled me away
from the chamber
Let the dawns
let the sunsets
let the evenings
while I lean into
the abyss of my being.
Let me lie in the cave
of my soul,
for too much light
steals the source
Let me seek solace
in the empty places
of winter’s passage,
those vast dark nights
that never fail to shelter me.
• End this special once-a-year-day with this prayer by Edward Hays from Prayers for a Planetary Pilgrim.
A Winter Solstice Prayer
The dark shadow of space leans over us. . . . .
We are mindful that the darkness of greed, exploitation, and hatred
also lengthens its shadow over our small planet Earth.
As our ancestors feared death and evil and all the dark powers of winter,
we fear that the darkness of war, discrimination, and selfishness
may doom us and our planet to an eternal winter.
May we find hope in the lights we have kindled on this sacred night,
hope in one another and in all who form the web-work of peace and justice
that spans the world.
In the heart of every person on this Earth
burns the spark of luminous goodness;
in no heart is there total darkness.
May we who have celebrated this winter solstice,
by our lives and service, by our prayers and love,
call forth from one another the light and the love
that is hidden in every heart.