Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Winter Solstice 2010

Today is the Winter Solstice, and in the middle of the night, for the first time in several hundred years, a full eclipse of the moon will occur at the same time as the solstice. I took the photograph above in New Orleans about 15 years ago: it's a cast iron plug reinforcing a wall, common on very old buildings. It has nothing actual to do with the Solstice, but the classic simplicity of its design, a cross with four equal parts set in a circle, shares something with the easy-to-grasp classic simplicity of the Pagan concept of the Wheel of the Year: a rotating circle, divided into four solar seasons, turning, repeating and spinning into eternity. The wheel turns, time passes: the darkest, shortest day of the year -- now -- soon recedes as the days, cold at first, start to lengthen and brighten, warming, the Earth reacting to the changing light and temperature. If today's extra dark solstice night is a sign that soon the light will return, the returning light is also a sign that the darkness will also return. And so it goes.

I have nothing against complex theology. Actually it can be rewarding: I like arcane detail, and the mystical understanding that comes from deeper knowledge. That's true about subjects not limited only to spirituality and religion, I might add. But while a spiritual love affair with a chosen, or discovered, religious path might deepen with knowledge of the accumulated wisdom of generations of the faithful, there's much to be said for that simplicity of an idea so profoundly straightforward as the Solstices and the turning of the seasons.

My own spiritual journey began with acknowledging that simple natural event. And certainly that natural event continues -- and will continue hopefully for a very long time -- whether I, or anybody, notices or names it: it's so much bigger than mere humanity. Unlike Christmas with its questionable blend of Northern European quasi-Pagan folk tradition, historically doubtful Middle-Eastern myth, and perfectly modern rabid consumerism, the Solstice is just there. It happens, without a lot of explanation or doctrinal debate. Nobody has to look anything up. And conveniently, it doesn't actually contradict the teachings of any of the many worthy religions out there. I'm going to light a candle in the space where there is no light, but whether I do or not, that light will eventually return.

To me the turning wheel suggests the mysterious engine of life force called God, but that's me and my enjoyment of a quest for meaning. But to celebrate the Solstice you don't even have to make that leap of faith. You just have to marvel at the way the world is, was, and will be again. And if you're so jaded that you don't find it particularly marvelous, well, there it is, just a piece of cast iron hardware holding up a wall in a convenient and pleasing shape.


  1. a good friend of mine asked me to watch the eclipse with her, and i was really excited to, but then she never called me back. it was a bummer, but being alone for it was also a treat.

    the universe will always do its thing. no matter what.

  2. I slept through it, LOL. But my candle is lit!

  3. Good religion hits you at what ever level you go looking. I don't think any one religion has the patent on that quality but some do have it more than others. I was once brought to tears by Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. On the one hand it's this classical mass of arches built on ancient mathematical principles meant to draw the consciousness of the parishioners ever higher. On the other hand it's some stupid building paid for by a bunch of rich assholes. Somehow the tension between ancient knowledge and every day bloody, money squalor gave me a glimpse of how very small every human thing is and conveniently brought me to my knees right where there was a kneeling pad. Sometimes cosmic events like the solstice remind me that I am an unlikely event. A tiny squiggle of meat that is somehow conscious and trying to take in things that are vast beyond my ability to imagine. I'll take those moments where ever I can find them.

  4. thanks for that Jon. I find the urge to humble oneself before God--and the act of doing so-- one of the most profound of spiritual experiences. and it's so obviously shared across religious doctine.