Friday, December 21, 2007
For years, starting when I was a teenager, winter was a season that slowed me down physically, mentally, and emotionally. It was like a dense hood closing tightly over my head, prompting both panic and paralysis. Year after year it worsened. I dreaded the dark, and that dread worked like steroids to muscle up the despair. My own frailty lasted longer into each spring. And I believed all of it. I believed that winter was stark & hopeless & would always just be that way. I believed I was small & defenseless against its insidious advance.
One winter in my mid 20s I went to a planetarium show at the Museum of Science in Boston. The show specifically illuminated the winter sky. I saw the constellations that were currently above me (past the clouds and the light pollution). I heard about the significance of the winter solstice to different cultures around the world, and even learned the origins of the lights hanging on houses, shrubs, and Christmas trees like the ones in my own neighborhood.
Beginning with that show winter lost some of its terrible strength. Instead I focused on the light. I clung to every glimmer and glow of houses dressed up for the holidays, candles flickering, even neon signs took on fresh significance. I was happy to sit in a nearly dark room with just the little light bulb of my mom's electric candle on the window sill. And I studied the sky for the growing fingers of dawn.
My spiritual director at the time shared with me her understanding of winter as a season of hibernation and rest. There was a sense of yielding to the slower pace, but not as resignation or surrender. Rather to rest, reconsider, and even reconnect with self and loved ones. Even so, it took some effort for me to meet winter this way. Last year I participated in my first Winter Solstice ritual (also called Yule). Through ritual, the meaning of winter's dark continues to change for me.
The season of darkness is recognized at Samhain and through ritual I enter it anticipating what my spiritual director tried to impress upon me - hibernation, a season in Earth's belly during which living things rest & are made new, an openness to being surprised by what this season will produce, a vulnerability to reflection & introspection. At Winter Solstice I (try to) let go of what has passed away, I express gratitude for what has carried me through this season and the new insights or skills I have learned, and I look to the new season in the light. What do I hope to cultivate? What would I develop or produce in my life now?
But it's not all contemplation and passivity. Even in winter's dark there is a call to action in my own life and in the lives of my community. Salvation Army bells and various drives for food and toys draw me out of my cocoon and into needs and lives of others. I confess, these days I'm a lot more about me & mine than I am about strangers. (What a word to keep people apart from each other - stranger than what? or who? Why do I use that word?)
Tomorrow night I celebrate Winter Solstice with friends in a ritual. I'm looking forward to time together in the quiet dark. I'm looking forward to candlelight. I'm grateful for a season of rest and preparation - this year mainly for the birth of my son, becoming a mother, and parenting with my husband. I'm hoping too to develop the means to tend me & mine as well as those I know first only by their needs.
I'm grateful that winter's dark that once restrained me now feeds me and equips me for living.