Winter Solstice is the day of the year with the least hours of sunlight. Six months of treading deeper into the cold and dark culminates and breaks at Solstice. Tomorrow morning, dawn will crack this shell a little earlier and with each day the light will stretch further into our lives, more muscular and sustaining morning by morning. (Until it all happens again…)
Pagans and Christians recognize very similar events on this day but from antithetical positions. For Pagans, Winter Solstice is a celebration of the sun god born again of the mother earth. For Christians, solstice corresponds with the Christmas celebration of Jesus’s birth. Pagans rejoice in the promise of heat and light that make life on Earth possible. Christians claim prophecies of a messiah and spiritual salvation. The former group recognizes the immanent holiness of the physical world. The latter group honors divine grace transcending the natural world. When held together, Pagan and Christian portrayals of this day inform the meaning that each offers, rendering something more robust and life-giving than I can find in either one alone.
This year, Winter Solstice cradles a shadowy phase in my life. My son is nearly two years old, so my husband and I have shifted from a state of “new parents perpetually reacting” to “new family getting to know itself.” And within that family is a mother, me, getting to know her self newly too. I’m unraveling from an outdated sense of who I am in order to reveal… who?
Parts of me have fallen away. Feelings that I last experienced when my father died have resurrected themselves in my heart. It’s the palpable sensation that everything I was and everything that I did before now is irrelevant to who and where I am today. I am a mother, a financial provider, a believer, daughter, sister, friend.... but how am I these things? What do they mean? Each piece of me begs re-evaluation. Having been here before I’m doing it differently this time. I’m yielding to this unraveling. Relaxing into it. I am letting myself fall apart into the darkness. When the light returns I’ll welcome the awakening.
I recently heard a sermon that surprised me with the image of myself as a Pagan. The pastor preached on Matthew 6:25-33. The passage urges us not to worry about what we will eat or wear because in the same way that God provides for the birds and the flowers, God provides for us. “For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.” (verse 32) I caught my breath. I am so deeply attached to daily life. Not only entrapped by my worries, but also rooted and content in my home, my body, my son and my husband, my coworkers, and all the elements that compose my little world. I cherish the embrace I have around this world, and the grip it has on me.
Pagan practice affirms the intrinsic value of daily life. Life is holy. In both the tangible cycles of waking-tending-working-playing-resting, and the intangible cycles of hoping-grieving-raging-celebrating we participate in the sacred.
But I’ve also felt very constrained since my son was born. His needs plus our limited resources tightly contracted where we could go, what we could do and who we could see. Those restrictions are slowly loosening and my perception of what is possible also expands. I’m not just unraveling an old skin to cast off; I’m unraveling to open myself up.
Just over a year ago we started attending a quirky little Baptist church in our neighborhood. At the time, it was about planting our family within a community. This tiny congregation welcomed us instantly. They even built a “family room” so that we’d have a place to retreat with a fussy baby during services. So I’m afraid I sound ungrateful when I admit that there have been many times when I’ve left church angry about a sermon, or the pastor’s language, or just Christian culture. But every couple of weeks I head around the corner to church. Why?
This community opens me up in unique and loving ways. As a whole they inhabit and model the example of Christ. In the last year I’ve witnessed them comfort the grieving, visit the sick, share food, clothing, and money with anyone in need, celebrate and support recovery from addiction, the list actually goes on and they do it with joy. The faith in these acts transcends my small (precious) world. It contextualizes my life in something bigger, older, and unbounded by the physical world.
At Winter Solstice, the numinous and natural worlds are revealed and revered in concert. I’m drawing on this complementary set of perspectives to help me navigate this place in my life. I expect that many women experience similar cycles of losing and finding themselves. Every handful of years a new life event casts us spiraling down to an unfamiliar latitude and the world feels upended again. I don’t know yet who I’ll be as the light returns.