I was raised Catholic and lost my faith at fifteen. I spent an uncomfortable year exploring other forms of Christianity and Buddhism without finding a good fit. One day as I walked down the road puzzling mightily on the foundational truths of the universe, I looked up at the sun, and it struck me with a blaze of light. There! I said to myself. There is a universal principle worth worshiping!
I was crushed to discover this was not an original thought.
School had prepared me with the understanding that the sun is a mighty engine burning hydrogen, unimaginably vast and hot and billions of years old.
Surfing the university library I discovered the names and faces of the sun refracting through the world’s religions are many and varied. The Greeks called the sun Helios and the god Apollo, male, while the moon which reflects the sun’s light is female. Hmph, I thought. I went searching for the female sun and found her. The Indo-European dawn goddess Awsos becomes the Hindu goddess Ushas and the Greek goddess Eos. There are golden aspects of Aphrodite. Ancient Semitic names for the sun are both male, Shamash, and female, Shamsu.
The Egyptian/Kemetic sun god is Ra, and Horus the hawk, and Re-Horakhty combining Ra and Horus. But the Kemetic sun is not so much a singular deity as a force threaded through the life of deity, as if all can partake of this sacred source. Ra wears the solar disk as a crown, and Horus, but so do Isis and Hathor. When Akhenaten searched for a single principle to represent the divine he settled on the disk of the sun, the Aten.
Shinto redirected my attention to the physical reality of our need for the sun. For Shinto the sun is Amaterasu-omikami, the (female) kami or sacred spirit whose unceasing outpouring makes all life on earth possible, to whom we owe our very being.
It seems to me now that these are all facets of the truth. The ancient and yet still young sun burns unimaginably hot, ceaselessly radiating life-giving light, sustaining the organic web in which we live. We can call any name, imagine any face that brings us closer to understanding our true relationship with the ultimate sustenance of our physical and spiritual being.
Today I give thanks to the sun. Hail to thee, giver of life, who nurtures me and uplifts me. I see you in the leaves of the trees, the birds and the animals who greet you every dawn, the flowers turning to follow you along the course of the day. I offer you my profound gratitude and thanks for all your gifts, those I see and understand, and those mysteries which I do not know but which transform me nonetheless. Hail to thee on the longest day.