The Dawning of the Light
In the northern hemisphere we are plunged into growing darkness as the winter solstice approaches. What if we didn’t know the outcome? What if we didn’t know the sun would soon reach a limit and gradually begin to shine a minute or two longer each day? Our strings of fairy lights would not be just decoration, but instructions to tell nature what to do.
That worry of unknowing is how many of us face the death of a loved one or our own death. We are uncertain of what, if anything, lies beyond our last earth-bound breath. Facing this concern becomes more urgent as the darkness quickens within us and the lengthening night matches our lengthening years with more and more behind and an unknown, but undoubtedly fewer, number to come. The winter solstice is the hinge which swings the door away from the dark and toward the light. How do we illuminate our own path forward?
When I was a child, I loved to sing “Oh Little Town of Bethlehem” being convinced that when we reached Christmas Eve “The hopes and fears of all the years” would meet and be banished. I was inevitably disappointed. Nevertheless, it was my favorite holiday, not only because we opened presents, but because the world got very quiet, and we celebrated a baby being born. Years later when I gave birth to my first child, I imagined that the clock had been re-set, and I could give this child the perfect life I never had. Someone in the universe must have had a good laugh at that one.
But despite the odds, I do want a perfect life! It’s hard sometimes to be satisfied, much less grateful, for the imperfect one I have. Gratitude is difficult because I tend to take the good things I have for granted and to focus my time worrying about my troubles. I imagine gathering them all up, putting them into a box, which I then take into a field and burn. Purged of woe, I will count my blessings and dance in happiness—but at the deepest level, life doesn’t work that way. To find true contentment one must get beyond attachment to both life’s blessings and failures. I’m beginning to suspect that gratitude is best expressed by the simple act of accepting life as it is. Each holiday season brings a new variation on our personal reality. It is a blessing to accept the good along with the bad, the finite along with the infinite.
Our life in this world is filled with challenges, doubts, fears, and longings, but deep in the life of our soul, peace resides. The innermost part of us rests beyond sorrow, frustration and loss, or happiness, success, and abundance. These are temporal and always turning into their opposites and back again. Accepting what is, not bemoaning our fate, or seeking to be more impressive than we are helps us find the still, calm point in the center of life’s fluctuating tides.
Many at this season celebrate the birth of a savior, and we do need saving—from ourselves! Ego proud, we are knocked down again and again. But the message conveyed by the Christian mystery, and I suspect by the Eleusinian one before it, as well as the Egyptian Book of the Dead in which the goddess Maat weighs the heart of the deceased against a feather, is that the heavy passions and preferences of our egos do not survive death, but our soul-strong selves do in some ineffable way.
In her poem “No Coward Soul Is Mine” Emily Bronte writes, “Oh, God within my breast…Undying Life…There is not room for Death…Since Thou art Being and Breath/ And what thou art may never be destroyed.” This is the life that burns bright sustaining our inner fire through all our days on earth and beyond. This is the undying solstice light that glows within each of us and is ours to share.
There are special moments, and for me Christmas Eve is one of them, in which the human and divine intersect and for a few moments co-exist in our consciousness. The holy child is emblematic of the divine becoming manifest in creation and shining through it. This is the most sacred moment in the human heart when the pregnant dark gives birth to the light of hope.
Warm solstice blessings,
Facing the New Year
The first task in Psyche’s journey in the myth of Eros and Psyche is to sort through a huge pile of beans. Here is a sorting task that takes new-year-resolution making to a new level. Make three lists: 1) things I cannot do; 2) things I do not need to do; and, 3) things I must do because they are my “destiny and deepest desire.” Create space in your life for the items on the third list by eliminating futile efforts to do things on the first two. Having found your place in the dance of life embrace it with joy. (Adapted from Richard Rohr, Falling Upward, 166.)