There's no better reminder that we're tethered to the wheel of life: the longest night, followed by the return of the sun, the larger order we are part of, a cycle of change and renewal.
As Phillip Moffitt writes, "There is no new dawn without the night; their seeming separateness disguises a unity that reflects the unity of life, an unfathomable dance of opposites. This paradox is the very essence of what it is to be alive—joy and pain, sickness and health, light and dark, wonder and fear."
This year, as last, I'm celebrating the winter solstice with a three-part invocation built off Moffat's words:
- In honor of all the dark times within us and all who now suffer in pain, with sickness, in fear.
- In honor of the light within each of us, our capacity to feel, anticipate, and generate joy, health, and wonder.
- In honor of our great teacher, Mother Nature, who shows us how to hold it all, joy and pain, sickness and health, light and dark, wonder and fear, in one continuous cycle of being.
I offered this twice yesterday: first in a class I led on Winter Rituals at Portland Nursery, then at a Death Cafe I hosted at our grand Central Library. At the Nursery we shared stories of winter traditions from our families and explored a bit of the old world origins of the holiday customs that persist today in their commercialized and Christianized guises. After we'd each decorated a candle wreath we admired each other's creations and blessed each other with this simple chant:
May the dark days of winter nourish you well. May the light of your candle illuminate your connection to the great wheel of life.
This morning I slept through the dawning of the shortest day of the year; I slept as long as I needed. I rose and lit the candle in the center of my solstice wreath, the candles on my mantle, the colored bulbs on my Christmas tree. I'm savoring the cozy home I'm so fortunate to have as 50 mph winds tumble the world outside my windows.
In honor of the great wheel of life and all we remember during these dark days, some images from the Holten Canadian War Cemetery in the Netherlands, where each Christmas Eve 300 school children light candles and place them on each grave at dusk. The graveyard holds the bones and the stories of 1,394 servicemen who died in the final days of WWII as Canadian troops advanced into northern Germany.
As the cemetery web site says of this annual candle-lighting ceremony: "It is hoped that the youth will learn this lesson; war must be prevented, freedom is not to be taken for granted and every effort must be made to maintain peace and democracy.
"It is difficult for children who have not experienced war to understand what it means for their country to be occupied, what it is to live in terror or the horror of a concentration camp. The soldiers who are buried in Holten gave their lives for our freedom, that we can now live peacefully in a democratic society. By telling and retelling the story, we pay respect to those who gave their lives and hope that the children (the responsible adults of the next generation) will keep the light of freedom burning."
Peace be with you all, in darkness and in light.