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Winter Solstice Prayer 2017

Winter Solstice 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.)

For a 3-sided pdf of just the prayer, contact terrishcj@aol.com.

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)

Extinguish candles. Socialize.

GLOBAL ONENESS DAY and UNITED NATIONS DAY OCTOBER 24th

Halloween is not the only day to celebrate this month! Tuesday, October 24th, is a double-header — Global Oneness Day and United Nations Day. This is a day to nurture and elevate our consciousness of unity and the organizations that can further our living as One.

We celebrate the awesome and indisputable fact of our biological and atomic unity and also celebrate the existence of an institution founded by 51 member states in 1945. Seventy-two years later it contains 193 members (plus two observer states). Despite having quadrupled its original size, it still makes communication possible among its widely disparate members, and it still fosters many services that help the needy throughout the world. So, both in spirit and with leaders of all nations, let us CIRCLE THE WORLD WITH LOVE on October 24th!

To many our unity seems obvious. Yet violence, prejudices, “isms,” phobias, and delusions of independence and superiority persist. Sad!

These days many seek knowledge of their ancestral roots and watch TV shows that explore other peoples’ roots. We usually delight in discovering close or distant relatives, and want to understand our connections. Yet we forget or don’t realize that all life on Earth — and all creation —has been connected from the start. Curt Stager (Your Atomic Self) writes: “To look into the night sky is to survey distant gardens in which the elements of life are ripening, and your body is a composite harvest from these cosmic fields … Earth is indeed a kind of surrogate mother to us in that our bodies are derived from it, but we exist today only because our true star mothers died long ago.”

We also share Earth’s current and potential-future calamities. Mary Southard, CSJ, sees the positive side: “We as a nation and a planet have been hammered by fires, floods, hurricanes, natural disasters of all kinds these past months.  We are living in a moment of unparalleled crisis in Earth’s natural systems, and challenge to our human intelligence to respond in this unprecedented OPPORTUNITY to create the world we all want to live in. . . .  .”

So let us use October 24th as an opportunity to deepen our own awareness of our moment in creation’s spacetime. We know so much more about our interdependence than did past generations, and have vast opportunities to learn more. Let us include learning more about the United Nations and the unique services it offers. (c.f. www.un.org/en/sections/history/history-united-nations/index.html)          

Recently we’ve seen examples of people coming to the aid of others endangered by violence as well as by floods, storms, fires, and other calamities. October 24th would be a perfect day to join those who are awakening to our global responsibilities for one another and all life.

Psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton recently coined the phrase “climate swerve” to describe the massive climate awakening that’s finally happening in the US. [Many other countries are way ahead of us!] These kinds of tragedies across the nation and world are creating unprecedented receptivity as people search for solutions. Now is our time to reach more people than ever and actually build the political power to change the current systems.

Many of our problems and systems were created before humans realized their interdependence with one another and all creation. Albert Einstein said that “No problem  can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.” Oct. 24th is a good day to alter our level of consciousness in order to solve these problems!

Einstein also gives this advice, perfect for contemplation alone or together on Oct. 24th:

“A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”

Pope Francis agrees. In Laudato Si’ he writes:

“We have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth (cf. Gen 2:7); our very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters.” (par. 2)

“People may well have a growing ecological sensitivity but it has not succeeded in changing their harmful habits of consumption.” (par. 55)

“It cannot be emphasized enough how everything is interconnected. Time and space are not independent of one another, and not even atoms or subatomic particles can be considered in isolation.” (par. 138)

Jesus prayed that all would be one. Today we need to pray that we accept that reality and act accordingly. May I suggest that we save some time on Oct. 24th to expand our consciousness by rereading parts of Laudato Si’ or by learning more about the United Nations or by pausing in awe to consider how interconnected and interdependent we are — with all creation, from the very beginning!

SEASON OF CREATION 2017

From September 1— proclaimed a Day of Prayer for Creation by the Orthodox in 1989 and repeated by Pope Francis in 2015 — through the feast of St. Francis on October 4, Christians of all denominations and locations are invited to participate in an ecumenical SEASON OF CREATION. 

People of all faiths or no faiths can certainly join. International Day for the Preservation of the Ozone Layer, Sept. 16; International Day of Peace, Sept. 21; and World Habitat Day, Oct. 2, obviously fall within the Season of Creation.

Pope Francis quotes Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, “the Green Patriarch,” several times in Laudato Si’’. In the following quote, Bartholomew lays a foundation for the Season of Creation. He says that we are called “to accept the world as a sacrament of communion, as a way of sharing with God and our neighbors on a global scale. It is our humble conviction that the divine and the human meet in the slightest detail in the seamless garment of God’s creation, in the last speck of dust on our planet.” (par. 9)

During the Season of Creation we are asked to ponder that sacrament. Pope Francis’ provides many quotes to contemplate. For example: “The universe unfolds in God, who  fills it completely. Hence, there is a mystical meaning to be found in a leaf, in a mountain trail, in a poor person’s face. The ideal is not only to pass from the exterior to the interior to discover the action of God in the soul, but also to discover God in all things.” (par. 233)

Caring for creation, then, is a religious, moral, and ethical matter, and should never have become a divisive political one. Earth’s vitality is required for all life on our planet and it affects every industry and occupation. It is not an optional choice, nor should it be a grim one. Laudato Si’ bids us to “sing as we go. May our struggles and our concern for this planet never take away the joy of our hope.” (par. 244)

Please mark your calendars for the Season of Creation and note the days left to prepare for it. Time to get planning!

Among actions you might consider taking are the following:

  • PRAYER: Initiate or join an ecumenical prayer service. The Season of Creation serves as an important witness of how Christians, regardless of their denominational line, are united in prayer and action for the planet. For extra significance, assemble in front of sites of ecological destruction (e.g., fossil fuel site, polluting or polluted area).
  • Components of prayer services (for groups or individuals) could include gratitude for Earth’s beauty and life-sustaining abilities; contemplation of our interrelationships with creation; sharing grief and sorrow for the destruction currently underway; pledging action for earth. Be sure to include singing! Pope Francis’  Prayer for Our Earth concludes this blog. Suggestion for prayer service can be found here:  creation-prayer-suggestion: https://ecospiritualityresources.com/2017/08/29/.
  • ACTION (group and private): Include a positive action to heal “the last speck of  ust” in your area. Perhaps plant a tree, bless solar panels, collect and recycle plastic pollution, write letters to legislators, etc. Maryknoll  suggests this action: Join the “Big Shift Global” Campaign to ask the World Bank to shift all of its projects away from fossil fuels and to 100 percent renewable energy. Here’s a fact sheet that explains the campaign.
  • LIFESTYLE CHOICES: Patriarch Bartholomew does not soft-pedal his advice in Laudato Si’ (par. 9): “… replace consumption with sacrifice, greed with generosity, wastefulness with a spirit of sharing, an asceticism which ‘entails learning to give, and not simply to give up.’ ”   Deepening our consciousness and understanding during the almost-five weeks is another good option. Try reading a book and discussing it with others. (See suggestions at ecospiritualityresources.com.)
  • If you are not already part of a local group, this would be a good time to join one or to start one with people who attended the prayer/ action.

Pope Francis’ Prayer for our Earth, which follows paragraph 246 in Laudato Si’, is as follows:

All-powerful God, you are present in the whole universe

and in the smallest of your creatures.

You embrace with your tenderness all that exists.

Pour out upon us the power of your love,

that we may protect life and beauty.

Fill us with peace, that we may live

as brothers and sisters, harming no one.

O God of the poor,

help us to rescue the abandoned and forgotten of this earth,

so precious in your eyes.

Bring healing to our lives,

that we may protect the world and not prey on it,

that we may sow beauty, not pollution and destruction.

Touch the hearts

of those who look only for gain

at the expense of the poor and the earth.

Teach us to discover the worth of each thing,

to be filled with awe and contemplation,

to recognize that we are profoundly united

with every creature

as we journey towards your infinite light.

We thank you for being with us each day.

Encourage us, we pray, in our struggle

for justice, love and peace.