For the last three years at Trinity United Church, we have offered a Solstice service on December 21st. I have always thought of the Christmas story as a solstice story - light out of darkness, possibility out of dead ends, newness where nothing seems new, illumination in the midst of confusion - so the solstice and the Christmas story weave together in my mind.
And too, I am conscious of the fact that Christmas can be a dark time within, a time where we feel we are not measuring up to the imaginary fairytale of the season that descends upon us from the world of advertising. And there are those who are suffering or alone or grieving during the season - all things that are bad enough under normal circumstances without the further burden of forced gaiety. With this in mind, the following readings were offered at our 2018 Solstice Service. In the dark months ahead, they may offer consolation and places around which to congregate. The authors are all well known Christian mystics of sorts. May they lead you by the hand through the stillness of winter
John 0’Donahue was a Celtic poet, theologian, writer and philosopher from the 19th century. And one of his most endearing books is ‘To Bless the Space Between Us.’ One of the long held theologies in the Christian church has been the doctrine of original sin. O’Donahue offers us a doctrine of original blessing, which, in my view, is a much truer reading of the Christian Scriptures. And here he offers a blessing of courage for all those whose courage is failing. I offer it to you, on his behalf.
When the light around lessens
And your thoughts darken until
Your body feels fear turn
Cold as a stone inside,
When you find yourself bereft
Of any belief in yourself
And all you unknowingly
Leaned on has fallen,
When one voice commands
Your whole heart,
And it is raven dark,
Steady yourself and see
That it is your own thinking
That darkens your world.
Search and you will find
A diamond-thought of light,
Know that you are not alone,
And that this darkness has purpose;
Gradually it will school your eyes,
To find the one gift your life requires
Hidden within this night-corner.
Invoke the learning
Of every suffering
You have suffered.
Close your eyes.
Gather all the kindling
About your heart
To create one spark
That is all you need
To nourish the flame
That will cleanse the dark
Of its weight of festered fear.
A new confidence will come alive
To urge you towards higher ground
Where your imagination
will learn to engage difficulty
As its most rewarding threshold!
Sometimes, we need the dark for rest, as a place to stay, to grieve, to hold onto a safe place where we don’t have to do anything. When there is much going on inside, it is easier if the outside is quiet. The months of January and February offer us this - the dark, quietness of these months, the grey sky, the desire to be open in mind, and to stay quiet until the time for the great noise of spring bursts forth…..
Joyce Rupp, writer, and world renown spiritual director, addresses this need she has to stay in the dark, and away from the light…
This year I do not want
the dark to leave me.
I need its wrap
of silent stillness,
of long lasting embrace.
Too much light
has pulled me away
from the chamber
Let the dawns
let the sunsets
let the evenings
while I lean into
the abyss of my being.
Let me lie in the cave
of my soul,
for too much light
steals the source
Let me seek solace
in the empty places
of winter's passage,
those vast dark nights
that never fail to shelter me.
And here is the wonderful Rainer Maria Rilke’s contribution to the conversation. Always such a compassionate voice, Rilke offers this encouragement to one who has once again defended into a dark place, an old memory, a forgotten loss.
Sonnets to Orpheus II, 29 II
Quiet friend who has come so far,
feel how your breathing makes more space around you.
Let this darkness be a bell tower
and you the bell. As you ring,
what batters you becomes your strength.
Move back and forth into the change.
What is it like, such intensity of pain?
If the drink is bitter, turn yourself to wine.
In this uncontainable night,
be the mystery at the crossroads of your senses,
the meaning discovered there.
And if the world has ceased to hear you,
say to the silent earth: I flow.
To the rushing water, speak: I am.
May the darkness of winter offer you deep illumination
Rev. Dr. Candice Bist
Offering what I hope will be thoughtful additions to your spiritual journey, from my own musings, and the great array of teachers available to us through other blogs, videos, websites, music and art. May grace surround us all as we make our way forward through the astonishing mystery of life.