Winter Solstice Prayer 2018

Winter Solstice Prayer 2018

Winter Solstice always occurs between the 20th and 23rd of December, the time when the ancients thought the “sun stood still” (which is the literal meaning of “solstice”). The date 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.

We know that the sun’s apparently-changed position each day is caused by the rotation of the Earth as it circles the Sun on a tilted axis. At the December Solstice, the Northern Hemisphere is leaning farther away from the sun than at any other time of the year.

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Earlier 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 rituals 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 Christmas date in the West was established for December 25th, and the solstice always precedes it. (The Eastern church chose January 6th.)

Winter Solstice Ritual 2017: Celebrating Light

Advance preparation: Prepare hymns, readers, and soy or beeswax candles (See, e.g., gulliverscandles.com) for the centerpiece and for participants. Organize refreshments for socializing. Begin with minimal light. Adapt to suit your preferences.

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)

Close your eyes and relax. Let us praise the loving Mystery dwelling with us in our wondrous garden in our galaxy. Let us ponder the wonders of both darkness and light.

Reflection time

Hymn:  “Song for the Winter Solstice”(Pauline Le Bel, YouTube) or  “Long Is Our Winter” sung as a round (words below), or any appropriate hymn:
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 be grateful for Brother Sun, lauded by St. Francis because he “brings the day and the light You give us through him. How beautiful he is, how radiant in all his splendor. Of You, Most High, he bears your likeness.” Let us be grateful for the fusion that causes Sun’s energy. Fusion is unlike anything we experience on Earth, though scientists are trying hard to replicate the process. Fusion in stars created the stardust that resulted in each of us and everything we know on Earth.

Reader 4: In the beginning, there was silence. In the beginning, there was darkness. In the beginning, there was no-thing . . . but in the silence, darkness, and nothingness, we believe that there was Love.

Reader 5: This love infused every religious tradition of people throughout Earth’s history. In our time, many religious and secular groups include light in their December celebrations. For example, Hanukkah – the eight-day festival of lights — and Christmas each use candles to show respect for light.

Reader 6: Some Native American and Aboriginal groups also observe the Winter Solstice. They associate different beliefs and rituals with it. The Hopi tribe celebrations are “…dedicated to giving aid and direction to the sun which is ready to ‘return’ and give strength to budding life.” Their ceremony is called Soyal. We remember the many dedicated people who endured the cold and dark at Standing Rock in North Dakota and in other locations to protect the sacred land and water presently being threatened.

Reader 7: Let us celebrate and honor the gift of fire. UnknownFire has held mystery since the first Flaring Forth.  The fire’s heat warms us and gives us light. Fire is used to purify and to cook food that nourishes us. It symbolizes the presence and love of God and a passionate love of life, of others, of all creation. Lovers speak of the fire of love in their hearts.

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, Let us give thanks. 

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

~ For those living and dead who have enlighten the world by their example and teaching [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 an appropriate focus of unity for all people everywhere?

Hymn: Any appropriate hymn or song.

Together: 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)

Advent Paths to Peace

For December I shall be adapting sections from “Advent Reflections 2018, Paths to Peace”:
PATHS TO PEACE – ecospiritualityresources.files.wordpress.com

Christians often refer to the Christ Child as the Prince of Peace. Many groups exchange a sign of peace during their services. When someone dies, we sometimes say: May s/he rest in peace. We pray for peace in our world, our families, our selves. Nobel awards a Peace Prize. We assume that the Cosmic Christ’s reign will be one of Peace on Earth. Let’s ponder the challenges of “peace.”

How do you feel when applying Pope Francis’s words to personal and national/international situations: “Peacemaking calls for courage, much more so than warfare. Only the tenacious say yes to encounter and no to conflict; yes to negotiations and no to hostilities; yes to respect for agreements and no to acts of provocation”?

In the Hebrew Bible, “shalom” is translated “peace.” (The image here includes “shalom” in Arabic and Hebrew.) Shalom is about wholeness. Each part of us (e.g., cells, organs, systems) is a whole entity, working for the good of the greater whole. Each person is part of larger wholes. Ultimately we are integral parts of our interconnected, expanding creation. No one and no thing can be excised from that whole. “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.” (John Muir) Justice demands that each be given its proper respect.

Note that shalom is not the absence of tension or even of conflict. Think how our Universe somehow began with an expansion of particles and light and the repeated transformation of these particles as they gave themselves to become the next generation of elements within evolution. Eventually supernovas exploded so that the remains could become our solar system — and everything in it, including ourselves.

Death and conflict pervade creation, yet from the beginning, creation has kept in balance and harmony. Earth repaired disequilibriums whenever that was necessary. (E.g., when too much oxygen threatened the health of the atmosphere, Earth “invented” respiration to assure the presence of the right amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) to foster life. This required eons.) We know from experience that we, too, can heal, though sufficient time must be allowed.

Others have shed light on the meaning of peace. Margaret Anna Cusack (foundress of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace in the 19th century), emphasized the biblical conception of peace not as the absence of hostility but as the establishment of right relationships based on justice. Pope Paul VI repeated this concept in his famous 1972 quote: “If you want peace, work for justice.” The world awoke to yet another aspect of peace when Wangari Maathai won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 because of her efforts to save the environment and plant trees, thus contributing to social and ecological justice. How would you explain that to someone who didn’t understand why she won the award?

What right relationships based on justice seem most needed in our personal lives, our groups, our nation, church, and Earth? How can justice bring peace to these issues? What difference happens when we use positive words rather than negative ones, e.g., “work for justice” instead of “war on poverty”?

As we ponder the gift of Jesus’s example and teachings this Advent, let’s remember that “justice and righteousness” are needed to keep ourselves and the entire web of life whole/at peace. Any single thing we do for peace will affect many people, many other issues. As with the mobile (on the left), touching any one part affects the whole. Butterfly wings flapping somewhere influence weather patterns elsewhere; stones cast into water result inripples that extend and intersect. We cannot do one thing in our interconnected universe!

Thanksgiving and Native Americans

I live barely a block from Lake Michigan. I see it from my windows, and I can walk to its shore in minutes. When there, I sometimes join in spirit with the Potawatomi who must also have stood there, marveling at the pristine incoming waves. 

They did not know — as I do — that they evolved billions of years ago from creatures who originally lived in water, or that their bodies were over 70% water. But they had a very advanced reverence for, and unity with, water and all creation. How sad, how tragic, how foolish we were to reject their sense of the sacred and use Earth’s water and resources in ways that desecrate them, thus harming all lives, including our own! 

Every corner of this continent was originally Indian country. There are more than 565 federally-recognized tribes and hundreds of unrecognized tribes. Each tribe has its own culture, customs, traditional clothing, dwellings, and rituals. How would we feel if strangers forced us and our families to leave our homes so they could claim to have “found” this land — and too often spoil it? Why might Native Americans respond to Thanksgiving holidays with acts of rebellion and resistance?

As we give thanks for our abundant gifts this Thanksgiving, let us also remember and value the example our indigenous ancestors left us. Let us remember the injustices done to them both in past centuries and also today. Let us do what we can to protect their sacred burial grounds and their human rights, and let us strive to reduce the pollution and wasteful use of water caused by industries and by ourselves (e.g., if we use bottled water or plastic straws). 

In her gloriously inspiring book, Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants, Robin Wall Kimmerer tells us that Native peoples globally send greetings and thanks to all members of the natural world each day. Here is one excerpt taken from the Haudenosaunees’ all-encompassing Thanksgiving Address:

We now turn our thought to the Creator, or Great Spirit, and send greetings and thanks for all the gifts of Creation. Everything we need to live a good life is here on Mother Earth. For all the love that is still around us, we gather our minds together as one and send our choicest words of greeting and thanks to the Creator. Now our minds are one. (p. 115)

Robin ends that chapter with this sobering thought:

Every day, with these words, the people give thanks to the land. In the silence that falls at the end of those words I listen, longing for the day when we can hear the land give thanks for the people in return. (p. 117)

May we speed that day!