The winter solstice marks the boundary of darkness. This far it may go, but no farther. This time of short days and long nights draws us indoors to be cozy and warm in our own houses, but also reminds us to lend a helping hand to those who lack the basics of food and warmth needed to survive the cold. Winter solstice, or Yule, is also a time for celebration, driven by a solar energy we seem to store within and unleash at this time of the year.
One of my most beloved winter solstice rituals is unpacking the ornaments for my Christmas tree. These small objects rekindle in me nostalgia for old certainties that next year will surely be better than this one and free from the worries that haunt me now. My own favorite ornaments are ethereal: angels, wizards, suns, moons, stars, and snowflakes. Winter solstice night is a portal to another world where the fairies dance. It is a pause for a sacred breath and a prayer that all will be well.
Although this season has its special delights for each of us, darkness weighs heavily upon the world this year. Our hearts break for the destruction of Aleppo and the brutal deaths of civilians and freedom fighters there. We collectively hold our breath to see what changes the new political administration in Washington will unleash. I recently moved to the site in Salem, MA where Parker Brothers once made board games including Monopoly. After I mastered the principles behind the game and could win, it lost its appeal for me. The new leadership in Washington doesn’t seem to share my distaste for amassing money and wielding power over others.
On the other hand, there is good news from Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota where Water Protectors have at least won a reprieve from the installation of a gas pipe line on their land. Charles Eisenstein writes that the Sioux elders have counseled a prayerful, non-violent resistance to law enforcement. While being arrested, one woman began singing a native prayer song and those around her joined in. Everyone, including the sheriff and other officers, was moved by the sacred cadences that touched some deep connection they shared with the land and each other. The arrests were made but police were made uncomfortable by their own actions. The song cut through the boundaries between good and bad, unlawful protestor and legal protector, and united everyone as human beings. Gandhi advocated non-violent protest as a way of calling forth the goodness in others and allowing them to shift out of their roles as oppressors.
As elders ourselves, perhaps we too are called to counsel prayerful and peaceful resistance to the injustices of the world and to the leaders who use hate and fear to divide people and turn them against one another. In Lt. General Michael Flynn’s book The Field of Fight, he argues that we must understand the tactics and beliefs of radical Islamists to defeat them because they are evil. Although hardly unique to Flynn, I find this point of view chilling. Good and evil live side by side in each of us. It is not possible to destroy evil with violence. White Buffalo Calf Woman came to the Sioux, teaching them to teach the pathways to peace. Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus, the Prince of Peace. Let our own actions of peaceful resistance, cooperation, and solidarity be inspired by the spiritual teachings that admonish us to love one another and treat others as we want to be treated ourselves.
May the fires of love burn bright in our hearts to light our way in this season of darkness. We are all in this together for better or worse. “One planet is turning on its path around the sun” (Charlie Murphy). Let us sing carols that unite us and raise awareness of our shared humanity.
Winter Solstice Ritual
Take a walk out doors in the woods, by the sea, or in a park. Bring your full attention to the natural world through which you move. Notice how the land is preparing for winter. Notice the sights, sounds, smells, and sensations of the season. What wildlife do you see or hear? What wisdom seeps into your heart as you walk in silence? Return home, and if possible kindle a fire, or at least light a candle. Look into the flame and see there an image, a dream, a wish, to warm you through the cold of winter and well into the new year.
This light house on Winter Island in Salem, MA is decked out for the season.