A Winter Solstice Reflection in 2020

A Winter Solstice Reflection in 2020 December 20, 2020

Denton CUUPS provided the Sunday Service for the Denton UU Fellowship this morning. I provided part of the reflection.


Humans are social animals.

Our closest genetic relatives – the chimpanzees – live in extended family groups of as few as twenty or as many as a hundred individuals. Humans evolved living in similar sized groups. Then we discovered the benefits of coordinated cooperation on a large scale and civilization began. You know the rest of that story.

Much of American culture celebrates the myth of rugged individualism: the lone frontiersman, the single family homestead, and such. Our own Unitarian hero Henry David Thoreau famously spent two years two months and two days living alone in a cabin in the woods beside Walden Pond, contemplating the virtues of self-reliance. History often fails to mention that Thoreau built his cabin on land owned by Ralph Waldo Emerson and was close enough that he often had dinner with the Emerson family. And his mother did his laundry.

None of that invalidates Thoreau’s work, especially his diligent and passionate work for the abolition of slavery. But it emphasizes the fact that we are social animals who need each other.

If anyone had any doubts about that – or if they simply failed to recognize it – this year has made it abundantly clear. I’ve learned that while I’m an introvert, I’m an introvert who needs some human contact.

We’ve done what we had to do, to keep ourselves and our loved ones alive and well. And we’ll keep doing it as long as necessary. That doesn’t make it any easier.

Technology helps. As much as some of us are suffering from Zoom fatigue, it still allows us see and hear each other and to interact in real time. But technology isn’t the only way we can gather together. We can also gather together in spirit.

The word “religion” comes to us from the Latin word religare, meaning “to bind together.” It shares a root word with “ligament” – the tissues that connect our bones and give our bodies a sturdy framework. While some of us are uncomfortable calling Unitarian Universalism a religion, there is something here that binds us together. Not creeds or beliefs, but values – especially the inherent worth and dignity of every person, and especially respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

We are also bound together by our actions, both our tangible actions working for peace and justice in the wider world, and our ceremonial actions like lighting a chalice before every service. When we light our chalice on Sunday mornings, we are joining together with UUs around the country and around the world.

As UUs we celebrate many holidays, including the Winter Solstice, which is likely humanity’s oldest holy day. The astronomical solstice is tomorrow morning at 4:02 AM, but the exact moment isn’t important. What’s important is that tonight is Solstice night, and tomorrow is Solstice morning.

Tonight is the longest night. When we see the sun rise tomorrow morning, we will join together in spirit with people around the world who are doing the same thing, and with our ancestors who observed the Solstice for hundreds and thousands of years. The light, which has been declining for the past six months, will now start to increase. The days will grow longer, and although the worst of Winter is yet to come, Spring is on its way.

Is this the longest night of the Covid-19 pandemic? Does the emergence of a vaccine signal the beginning of the end? It’s too early to say.

What we can say is that our bonds have held. Our shared values, our common practices, our commitment to each other – these bonds have been challenged this year in ways we could not imagine… until we were confronted by them. They have held, because we have done and we are doing the things necessary to keep us together in this era of social distancing.

I look forward to the day when our Sunday Services take place in Miller Hall again. I look forward to the day when our CUUPS celebrations of the solstices and equinoxes and other holy days take place in person. But until that day, we will keep doing what we need to do to stay safe and to stay together. We will light our chalices. We will check in on each other.

And tomorrow morning, we will celebrate the Winter Solstice sunrise.

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