for Winter Solstice

About the Solstice

The time in December when the ancients thought the “sun stood still” (which is the literal meaning of “solstice”; what we now date to between the 20th and 23rd of December) was determined by people living in the Northern Hemisphere. In the Southern Hemisphere, this is the longest day of the year, and far from cold and dark. The following prayer is appropriate for participants in the Northern Hemisphere; those in the South can use it next summer!


Though we know that the sun’s apparently-changed position each day is caused by the rotation of the Earth as it circles the Sun, most members of our species had no knowledge of this fact. As the days became shorter, people were often frightened.

Those who believed that the gods organized the travel of the sun might have initiated celebrations so the gods would return light to their days. When, in fact, the following days became both longer and lighter, people in ancient times rejoiced and created traditional ways to celebrate.

Some ancient rituals survive to the present day, but many religious groups celebrate the coming of light by adding their own religious significance. When Christians began to celebrate Christmas, those in the Western church felt it was appropriate to “convert” the pagan solstice celebrations in order to honor the Light of the World. Eventually the date in the West was established for December 25th. (The Eastern church chose January 6th.) Thus in the West the solstice always precedes Christmas, but they are related. The following solstice ritual is infused with Christian faith.

(The following prayer/ritual requires several pieces of paper to print. Anyone wishing an image-less copy that fits on one page, both sides, can email me ( and I’ll gladly send it.)

Winter Solstice Ritual: Celebrating Light

images-1Advance preparation: Arrange  a lovely candle centerpiece. Have a candle for each participant, hymns, and readers. Adapt this to suit your time frame, belief, etc. Begin with as little light as possible. Organize refreshments for the end.

Reader 1: On this longest night of the year, before the light overcomes the dark, sit in the dark and think about the importance of darkness. Bless mushrooms that grow in the dark and honeysuckle that sends its luscious scents into the night. Be grateful for the darkness that soothes us to sleep, the darkness that animals require for hibernation. 

Reader 2: Give thanks for sheltering dark places: the rich earth where seeds germinate, the caves that harbored our ancient ancestors (and where some of our sun gods were born), the cellars that keep us safe from tornadoes, the wombs that provide our first nourishment. Acknowledge the darkness of suffering, which can deepen our appreciation of life and strengthen our connection to one another. (Reading 1 and 2 from In Nature’s Honor: Myths and Rituals Celebrating the Earth, Patricia Montley, Skinner House, 2005)

Reflection time

Hymn: Any appropriate hymn such as “Long Is Our Winter” sung as a round, or spoken if melody is not known:
Long is our winter, dark is our night, O come, set us free, O Saving Light! (2X)
Come, set us free, O Saving Light! O come, dwell among us, O Saving Light!

Reader 3: Let us celebrate a cosmic feast. Let us praise God who dwells with us in our wondrous garden. Close your eyes and relax. Become aware of your breathing. (Pause.) Where did the atoms of oxygen come from? When did air begin?

Reader 4: In the beginning, there was silence. In the beginning, there was darkness. In the beginning, there was nothing . . . but in the silence, darkness, and nothingness, there was Love.

Reader 5: About 13.8 billion years ago, in the deep silence, there was suddenly a great explosion of energy. In this fiery moment, every particle now existing received its potential existence. The surface of the stars and the perspiration on our palms all originated in that graced instant.

Reader 6: About four and one-half billion years ago, upon the death of  supernovas, our Sun was born. Earth formed about half a billion years later.

Reader 7: Let us celebrate and honor the gift of fire. It mediates to us the fire of the UnknownSun, whose rays bathe each of us and almost every creature of Earth. Fire has held mystery since the first Flaring Forth.  The fire’s heat warms us. Fire has purified and made sacred. It symbolizes the presence and love of God and a passionate love of life, of others, of all creation.

All: May the power, warmth, passion, and mystery of fire be given us. May its radiance permeate deep within our spirit. 

Light the center candle. As ready, individuals light their candles from this center candle. When everyone has lit a candle, individuals read petitions. Add or subtract as wanted. After each, all respond: Let us give thanks.

~ For the original Flaring Forth, for the searing explosion that began all we know of the Universe, Let us give thanks.

~ For the collapse and explosions of the supernovas that delivered to the Universe new elements that would “one day sparkle as life, as consciousness, as memories of beauty laced into genetic coding.” (The Universe Story, p. 61), Let us give thanks.

~ For the Sun that dominates our solar system and that makes life on Earth possible, Let us give thanks.sun_viewed_through_camera_lens

~ For the distance Earth stays from Sun, for Earth’s axis, for the gravitational spin assisted by our Moon, Let us give thanks.

~ For the many positive ways humans have harnessed the fire of the Sun to keep warm, to see, to grow food, to cook, and for those working to sustain healthful food and energy systems, Let us give thanks.

~ For our ancestors who, eons ago, celebrated the longest night of the year and the promise of brighter days, Let us give thanks.

~ For the birth of Jesus and the enlightenment he brought to the world, Let us give thanks.

~ For our Christian brothers and sisters preparing to celebrate Jesus’ birth, the Light of the World, Let us give thanks. 

~ For our brothers and sisters of other religious beliefs who will celebrate their special days this season, Let us give thanks.

~ For those living and dead who have enlighten the world [Pause to name them if desired.], Let us give thanks.

~ For being alive to celebrate this solstice, and for beloved friends and relatives whose memories warm our hearts, Let us give thanks. 

Add as desired.

Reflection time

Optional sharing: Why is “Light of the World” an appropriate title for Jesus?

Hymn: Any appropriate hymn or song.

Final reader: Today, day begins to take back the night. I wish you all the warmth of lengthening of days; light for heart, mind, soul, and body; radiant smiles given and received; and the dayspring to guide your feet onto paths of peace. (France White, SHCJ)

Extinguish candles. Socialize.


About Gift-Giving

With due respect to St. Francis, who originated the Christmas crib,100_0359 for this blog I shall alter the final word in his famous quote, making it read: “Preach the gospel at all times. If necessary, use gifts.”

We are probably already thinking about holiday gifts to give and perhaps even how to wrap them. As we do this, let’s remember a few things that will help us select gifts that “preach the gospel”:

  • everything in creation has a sacred history dating back billions of years,
  • divine Love is living and acting in every bit of it, and
  • thoughtless consumption of Earth’s gifts endangers all of us who depend upon them for physical, psychological, and spiritual health.

Reflecting on our interconnected place in Earth’s story and the values of simplicity, love of nature, and sustainable living that are exemplified in the Gospel, we can move from a culture of Buy! Buy! Buy! to one of more thoughtful, gospel-based choices.

Some basic considerations:

handmade  soap bars with lavender flowers, shallow DOFAll gift-giving decisions inevitably affect God’s people and the rest of creation — for better or for worse. Here are some questions to consider when deciding what to give:

  • What resources are being consumed?
  • Who has made the product and in what working conditions?
  • Are endangered species or habitats threatened or benefited?
  • Does making or using this product add to climate change?
  • How does the store from which I buy treat its employees, and how does it care for the environment?

Suggestions for giving presents that “preach the gospel”: 

  • Give something previously used by you or another. Homemade-Christmas-Gifts-012“White elephant” gift exchanges can be great fun, and can be woven into group rituals that participants will joyfully anticipate each year. Thrift shops and thrift websites might have just what you’d like to give.
  • Give used books with an inscription of what the book meant to you and why you chose it for this recipient. These can be passed on repeatedly, gaining in meaning with each inscription. Alternately, purchase books from a local independent bookstore (if you are fortunate enough to have one). Magazine subscriptions to worth-while publications might also be appreciated.
  • HomemadeGifts_Labels Give something you’ve made: cookies, cards, clothes, scarves, art, poetry, music . . . . Or, you might buy things from friends or at craft fairs. Some parishes hold holiday sales that include work by local artists.
  • Give a gift of time. Especially older, handicapped, or very busy people imagesmight appreciate a service gift: a concert with an instrument you play well, an offer to help with a future party, a back rub, an offer to help with the computer, or a promise that the garbage will be regularly taken out! Perhaps a pack of “Just Ask” coupons. . . .
  • Give gifts to friends that also gift Earth: plants you have nurtured; organic, fair trade coffee, tea, or chocolate; glass water bottles that will replace plastic ones; CFL or LED light bulbs; art, music, videos that help others better appreciate divine life within creation; donations to Heifer International, Arbor Day Foundation, Rain Forest Rescue, or other organizations that help create sustainability and self-reliance. Items from Ten Thousand Villages won’t be cheap, but will assure you that people and planet have benefited from your purchase.
  • Give experiences: tickets to concerts, plays, classes, or other events the person would enjoy. If needed, include offer of transport.

Suggestions of what to avoid: 

(Note: These are ideals to work towards, not meant to incite guilt!)

  • PlasticBagInTreeByLauren Avoid buying — or putting products in — anything made of plastic! (Plastic particles form with other debris into large swirling glutinous accumulation zones that comprise as much as 40 percent of the planet’s ocean surface — roughly 25 percent of the entire earth!)
  • Avoid buying wrapping paper that came from non-sustainable sources. Stretch your creativity to find wrap/cloth and ribbon/string  that can be used again.
  • Avoid anything that will contribute to climate change by excessive fossil fuel use.

 Avoid anything that Anti-ivory trade demonstartion, London 13 Februarymight have come from endangered species or from trafficked laborers.

One More Thing

However you celebrate the Incarnation in the Christmas story, remember also to celebrate the indwelling of Divine Love from the very beginning of the Cosmos. Many books, both for children and adults, tell the Universe Story in a way that makes clear to believers that, as Thomas Berry has written, these “are two aspects of a single wisdom … integral parts of a single story.”

images-1Berry continues with insights relevant to our need to reduce consumerism and planet destruction: “What is happening in our times is not just another historical transition or simply another cultural change. The devastation of the planet that we are bringing about is negating some hundreds of millions, even billions, of years of past development on Earth …” What is happening now “is the most profound change that has taken place during the past five thousand years.”

How we give gifts this season will not only preach the gospel. It will contribute, positively or negatively, to that profound change.

Please add in Comments your suggestions for gospel-based gift-giving, and thanks!

May your holidays bring blessings to you and the entire world!

November Remembrance Days

November 30th: International Remembrance Day for Lost Species.

Since posting my June blog about extinctions and my July blog with a 18_King-Protea-1Hgrieving prayer, I have learned that a date has been chosen for this remembrance. In 2011, a group of artists from Feral Theatre and the Life Cairn Project in the UK established November 30th as International Remembrance Day for Lost Species.

Thomas Berry reminds us that “to wantonly destroy a living species is to silence forever a divine voice. Our primary need for the various life forms of the planet is a psychic, rather than a physical, need.” How important it is to remember those lost voices!

November 11th: Veterans Day 

Another important remembrance date falls November 11th, when we remember those who have 121111-F-UQ244-100served in wars. The day differs from Memorial Day in that it celebrates the living veterans, but the connections between war and species extinctions are inescapable.

Effects of war — ruined soil, poisoned water, toxins in the atmosphere – contribute not only to human death and sorrow, but also to the destruction of ecosystems and to climate change, both of which cause extinction of species. And every life form, including human, is negatively affected. “Nothing is itself without everything else.” (Thomas Berry)

Before and After Connections

Preparation for war by such means as building and stockpiling poverty-wmdnuclear weapons seriously damages Earth’s ecosystems. In addition, the inordinate expense of preparation for war-making absorbs (some would say wastes) funds that could be used for education in non-violent conflict resolution skills, for stopping the causes of conflict, for the needs of poor and neglected humans and other life forms, and for increasing renewable energy sources. The after-effects of war continue the damage: too many troops and their relatives and friends are disrupted by the toxins, injuries, and the trauma they have suffered.

Connections Named by the U.S. Military

The U.S military has called climate change “an immediate threat to our national security.” The Pentagon’s March 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review — a standard-bearing report for military strategy, security threats and defense spending — reads in part: “The pressures caused by climate change will influence resource competition while placing additional burdens on economies, societies, and governance institutions around the world. These effects are threat multipliers that will aggravate stressors abroad such as poverty, environmental degradation, political instability, and social tensions — conditions that can enable terrorist activity and other forms of violence.”

Local community gets clean water thanks to BHGThe report gives Syria as an unfortunate example. The country suffered an extreme and unusually long drought between 2006 and 2011. Three-fourths of farmers suffered total crop losses, and President Bashar al-Assad mismanaged water resources, ultimately displacing 1.5 million  Syrians. Many believe that these circumstances, understood by scientists to be partially the result of climate change, contributed to the country’s civil war.

The Department of Defense’s Climate Change Adaptation Roadmap, October 2014, calls climate change a “threat multiplier” with the potential to increase the impact of numerous security concerns.  The U.S.military has named a goal of using 25% renewable energy by 2025.

Extinctions, Climate Change, and War

It stands to reason that ruined ecosystems resulting from war, its preparations, and its aftermath all contribute to the extinction of species that depend on those ecosystems. And, let us not forget, humans are a species!

Megan Hollingsworth (Ex-tinc-tion wit-ness) has a blog entry that makes connections between Nov. 11th and Nov. 30th:

Since my summer blogs about species’ extinctions, news has worsened. The October 17, 2014 TIME magazine quotes CBS News as stating the following: The world’s wildlife is disappearing far more rapidly than previously understood. The populations of 3,000 species, including mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fish, have fallen 52 percent, on average, since 1970. Many causes contribute to these losses. War is definitely one of them.

November Remembrance Days

November 11th: I hope that when we reverently remember the men and women who have served in battle, we will also remember the damage done to species, ecosystems, and climate by wars.

November 30th: In turn, I hope that when we reverently grieve the loss3Life-Cairn-at-SunriseQuote-1080x600 of increasing numbers of species and their ruined habitats, we will also remember the millions of humans whose lives, homes, and livelihoods have been lost or depleted as a result of war and the resulting ecosystem destruction and species extinctions.

Let us also remember that each species and each ecosystem has taken billions of years to evolve. With Teilhard de Chardin, we believe that “… the inner Reality … is the support common to all substances … .” The inner Reality living and acting in all creation also empowers us to participate in the on-going evolution of life and spirit. Those of us who “allow ourselves to feel our pain” for extinct species may wish to use the following updated grieving prayer. You are free to adapt it in any way. For a copy of just the four-sided prayer, click here: ExtinctionGrievingPrayer.11.4.14

Extinction Grieving Prayer
(Use two candles; prepare suggested (or other) music and video. Directions are starred.)

Call to Prayer                                                             sparrow-dusky_seaside_sparrow-from-wikipedia

 . . .today, the dusky seaside sparrow
became extinct. It may never be as famous
as the pterodactyl [tera daktel] or the dodo,
but the last one died today . . . .

An excerpt from “Science” by Alison Hawthorne Deming

What you call resources, we call our relatives. Source unknown.

* Light the first candle. It honors all the species that have gone extinct
in our lifetimes.

All: Great Giver of Life, we pause to remember our place at the beginning of the Sixth Great Extinction on Planet Earth. For 13.8 billion years creation has been groaning: bringing to birth, becoming more complex, more organized, more conscious. The other great extinctions during the past 450 million years happened by forces beyond anyone’s control. Now, for the first time, our species is ruining whole ecosystems, aborting entire groups of interdependent species.

Litany of Affirmation

imagesWe affirm the Sacred Mystery that caused and continues Creation.

We affirm the 13.8 billion years of our Universe.

We affirm the billions of galaxies, each with its billions of solar systems and stars.

We affirm the multiple transformations during the 4.5 billion years of Mother Earth’s life so far, and the relentless evolution towards potentially ever-greater consciousness in the future.

We affirm the millions of species that have inhabited our planet in beautifully-webbed communities: microorganisms, plants, fish, birds, mammals . . . .

We affirm that we came from Earth and exist, like all species, in a communion of subjects.

We acknowledge that we play a part in violating this communion by our carelessness, ignorance, and indifference. Forgive us our part in the death of ecosystems and the resulting extinction of creatures in whom we believe divinity lives and acts.

Litany of Grief

We grieve humans’ lack of awareness of, and concern about, the destruction of interdependent communities that have taken billions of years to develop.

We grieve the climate disaster that is extinguishing habitats and the multiple species within them.

We grieve the more than one-in-four flowering plants, the one-in-five mammals, the nearly one-in-three amphibians, and the one-in-eight birds that are vulnerable to being wiped out compleimg_18-tmtely. (International Union for the Conservation of Nature)

We grieve the Golden Toad (pictured here), native to Costa Rica. It has not been seen since 1989, when a single male was found, the last of its species.

We grieve the Pyreneanibex1-tm Ibex (pictured here). The last of this species naturally born was a female, Celia, who died in 2000.

We grieve the St. Helena Olive, a small spreading tree, the last of which perished in 2003 primarily due to deforestation and invasive plants.images-1

We grieve all our extinct brother and sister species, the amphibians, fish, birds, mammals, plants and trees, and their diminished habitats.

We grieve the humans whose sustenance and livelihoods are threatened by this disruption in the food web.

We grieve the deaths of ecological martyrs: Sister Dorothy Stang, Dian Fossey, Chico Mendes, and the over 900 other activists slain since 2004. (Global Witness)

* Add as you wish.

* Listen to and/or Sing: While listening to or singing this song, note the interconnections: war, bees, climate, soil. ”Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” Kingston Trio:

* Quiet reflection, followed by discussion

* Extinguish first candle. Light second candle. It represents all threatened species and our desire to protect them. 

* Watch “How Wolves Change Rivers” (4:33 min.):images-2 

Litany of Gratitude and Hope 

We are grateful that 90% of species under the protection of the Endangered Species Act (U.S.) are recovering at the rate specified by their federal recovery plan.

0611.Rugendo_in_bukima.150We are grateful that British oil company Soco International agreed (June 2014) to suspend exploration in a national park in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), home to half the world’s critically endangered mountain gorillas (pictured here) and thousands of other species. We thank the over 750,000 people who signed a petition to stop the oil drilling.

We are grateful that the Zoological Society of London released its list of birds most at risk of extinction based on evolutionary distinctness and global endangerment (EDGE) in April 2014. This information will help conservationists decide where efforts should focus first.

We are grateful that the population of the California Least Tern (pictured here)californialeasttern_flickrcommons_USFWS-Pacific-Southwest-Region, listed as endangered in 1970, grew from 225 recorded then to 6,568 recorded in 2010.

We are grateful for all of the habitats that have been saved so the interdependent species within them can escape extinction.

We are grateful for the many people throughout the world who dedicate their time and efforts to keeping habitats and species alive so they can give praise to their creator by their distinct lineages, attributes, and contributions to the web of life.

* Add as you wish.

Action Suggestions

Let us not leave in our wake a swath of destruction and death which will affect our own lives and those of future generations.  Pope Francis

To save species, we must save ecosystems.  To save ecosystems, we must reduce climate change, pollution, poaching, invasive species, and over-consumption. Mentally check the list that follows for actions that you already take. There might be something there that you would also want to do.

* Read quietly:

Consciously deepen appreciation of the glory of creation, its long story, the place of Divine Mystery in it, and humans’ dependence upon it.                                     Pray for the healing of creation.

Reduce all energy use.                                                     Transition to renewable energy sources.

Encourage institutions to invest in renewable energy and to divest from fossil fuels.

Drive less and/or reduce gas use by not exceeding 60 mph on the highways (and by other ways).

Avoid produce, meat, and poultry from factory farms.                           Buy recycled products.

Reduce use of plastic.         Carry water in a thermos (not bottled water).                  Buy local.

Avoid genetically modified foods (GMOs).       Lobby for laws to protect habitats and species.

Include Earth-care concerns when choosing legislators.

Join (or cooperate with) a group working to conserve, restore, and protect habitats and species.

~ ~ ~
Einstein said: Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge points to all that is. Imagination points to all that could be.

* Listen to and/or sing John Lennon’s 1971 peace classic Imagine”:

Share: Why might he have included “no heaven” and “no religion”? What kind of Earth “could be”? How can we contribute to co-creating it? Is there something this group could do?

Sending Forth

imagesAll: Great Giver of Life, we come from, and we dwell in, the magnificent world in which you live and act. Our species is causing extinctions; our species can prevent them. Let us not be thwarted by the immensity of the challenge, for the Power working within us can do more than we could ask or imagine. May the flame of this candle continue burning in our hearts, reminding us to help our threatened relatives.        * Extinguish second candle.

Enlighten us to find you in all Creation; empower us to treat it accordingly. Through Jesus Christ, whose respect for Earth inspires us to live as he did. Amen.

* Share a blessing of hope with one another. Celebrate possibilities!


Terri MacKenzie, SHCJ