External Darkness Internal Light | Winter Solstice

/External Darkness Internal Light | Winter Solstice

Welcome to the Yoga Church Sunday Sermons.

December 16th, 2018

Is the sun up for you yet?

Where I live the sun rises about 8am and sets around 4pm. And in between it never really gets that high. It sort of hugs the southern horizon all day.

Earlier this week I painted a little triptych of its journey…

External Darkness Internal Light (Winter Solstice)

Watch:

or Listen:

or Read:

As we explored last week we’re currently in the season of Advent—which is a season of waiting. Living in the Northern Hemisphere, I understand the timing of this tradition. Because up north the earth is going into hibernation. We’re leaving the harvest of fall and entering the darkness of winter.

In her book on the season of Advent, Gayle Boss writes about early agricultural peoples feasting after the harvest. She says:

“No matter how glad the party, they couldn’t keep from glancing at the sky. Their growing season was over because the sun had retreated too far south to keep the crops alive. Each day throughout the fall they watched the light dwindle, felt the warmth weaken. It made them anxious, edgy. Their fires were no substitute for the sun. When they had eaten up the crop they were feasting on, how would another crop grow? Throughout December, as the sun sank and sank to its lowest point on their horizon, they felt the shadow of primal fear — fear for survival — crouching over them. They were feasting, and they were fearful, both. Yes, last year the sun had returned to their sky. But what if, this year, it didn’t? Despite their collective memory, people wedded, bodily, to the earth couldn’t help asking the question. Their bodies, in the present tense, asked the question.”

As the season is changing around you have you been listening to your body? Do you hear it asking the question of whether or not the sun will ever return? I promise that in some way it is, because we are creatures and without the sun, there is no life for us.

We might be able to fill our homes with light and heat. And we might already be praying for spring, but there is blessing to be had if we can stay in the moment of winter. If we can pause and ground our attention in our bodies—which are standing in the darkness and cold of December—the season of winter just might model the practice of waiting for us. It can show us how to slow down, how to draw inward. How to rest from the activity of production. It can also teach us how to wait with promise. How to wait with hopeful expectation.

Because the Winter Solstice—the darkest day of the year—is actually a day of promise. It’s the day the sun changes direction and begins its journey back to us. But it’s still the darkest day of the year. The Winter Solstice makes the promise that something has happened. That change is coming. But waiting is still required. The light is returning to us, slowly. We still have three months until day and night will be equal again. So take the promise of Winter Solstice and begin the practice of expectant waiting for the sun. But in your waiting, choose to stay present to the blessing of darkness. In your waiting for the external light, choose to connect with your internal Light.

Listen to these words—the 1st half of a blessing—written by David Steindl-Rast, a Benedictine monk:

May you grow still enough to hear

   the small noises earth makes in preparing for the long sleep of winter,

      so that you yourself may grow calm and grounded deep within.

May you grow still enough to hear

   the trickling of water seeping into the ground,

      so that your soul may be softened and healed,

         guided in its flow.

May you grow still enough to hear

   the splintering of starlight in the winter sky

      and the roar at earth’s fiery core.

May you grow still enough to hear

   the stir of a single snowflake in the air

      so that your inner silence may turn into hushed expectation.

Learning to listen to the wisdom of winter grounds us, quiets us, and invites us to experience hopefulness.

The Christian calendar has aligned Advent and Christmas with the Winter Solstice. This is no accident. We celebrate Christmas, the story of a birth that reminds us that God is with us, that reminds us that God begs for an end to injustice, as a reminder that the darkness will fade. That the Light will return. Brother Steindl-Rast’s blessing that we grow still enough to hear the season of winter ends with these words:

Peace….. the angel announced.

But peace is as much task as gift.

Only if we become calm as earth,

   fluid as water,

      and blazing as fire

will we be able to rise to the task of peacemaking,

and the air will stir with the rush of wings of angels arriving to help us.

This is why I wish you that great inner stillness

which alone allows us to speak, even today,

   without irony of “peace on earth”

   and, without despair, to work for it.

It is in the season of winter—a season that invites rest and introspection—that our inner reserves can grow. It is through the action of waiting (hopeful, expectant waiting. The kind of waiting rooted in deep belief that something is already happening) that we are able to hear the call of our heart and discern the direction of our lives. That we are able to muster the courage to work for peace in this complicated world.

So please, allow yourself to settle into the season of winter ahead. Choose not to rush toward spring, but instead to go slowly. Allow yourself to learn the lessons of these dark months. Pay attention to the air and the trees. Notice the timing of sunrise and sunset. Be present with the slow returning of light.


REFLECTION QUESTIONS

  • The end of fall marks the end of a year. As we prepare to move on, take a moment to look back. What have you been able to harvest in your life this year?
  • Are you ready to move into the season of winter? Of hibernation? Of waiting? Of rest? As you look toward a new season and New Year, what’s happening within your heart? What would you like to gestate this winter season?
  • Have you ever tracked the sun’s journey with any intention? I invite you to notice where and when it rises and where and when it sets. Notice where it is at noon. And while you’re at it, you might as well give the moon a little attention too!
  • How would you describe the promise being offered through the Winter Solstice? What story does this occasion tell?

LET’S TALK!

We all benefit from the wisdom of spiritual community. And community means more than one voice, so please add yours to the conversation.

5 Comments

  1. Pat Rosen December 16, 2018 at 7:07 am - Reply

    Thank you for putting my lifelong love of the winter months into words, and for offering an explanation of why that might be. It’s the season for soups and stews cooked slowly, and dark breads that rise slowly.

    As one who thinks (sometimes overthinks) slowly, decides slowly, digests auditory and visual input slowly, I am often scolded or pushed for not answering quickly or deciding if a creation is complete quickly…winter is my season. “Wait and watch” is where I’ve always where I’ve been most comfortable.

    It’s a time when people have had to inventory their stores to make sure there is sustinance through the next year’s early harvest. We can go to the grocery store now so that inventory programming turns inward. Our body clocks slow. It’s okay to get to bed early because our internal programming to be productive in daylight is cut short.

    Your sermon today really resonated with me and gave me a deeper understanding of who I am.

  2. John Guffey December 16, 2018 at 1:36 pm - Reply

    Summer,

    I write with much appreciation. Your sermon found me waking up at 5:15 to a world of shining sunlight, blue ocean and steady trade winds pushing a cooling breeze against the coast of St. Maarten, one of the westernmost of the Lesser Antilles islands. I will be thinking of the solstice all week, meditating on the gift of time, preparing myself for the journey into winter, waiting to hear the call of my heart, to discern the direction of my life. Yes this is an expectant period, this week leading into the solstice and our winter of waiting!

    I repeat your words, reminding me to, “Pay attention to the air and the trees. Notice the timing of sunrise and sunset. Be present with the slow returning of light.” This is the call of my heart beating, bringing me back to what is.

    Returning northwest to Colorado on Saturday, I shall focus on settling into the season of winter, being mindful of my need for rest and introspection, for growth of inner reserves.

    Going slowly into the world!

    Thank you for the sermon.

    John

  3. Tori December 17, 2018 at 10:52 am - Reply

    Lovely sermon. It reminded me of the value in stillness. I’m recovering from a cold right now, and I have been frustrated with my drop in productivity. This message helped me to stop resisting this period of recovery and give myself space to heal and rest. Thank you!

  4. Amy December 17, 2018 at 11:13 am - Reply

    Summer, this is so lovely and true. I love the Solstice and I appreciate your insights and wisdom. Thank you for sharing your reflections. May your holidays be warm and light and your New Year filled with peace and joy!

  5. Leanne December 22, 2018 at 8:21 am - Reply

    Thank you for this sermon. I listened to it last Sunday, and again yesterday on the solstice.

    I crave the solitude and darkness of winter, and find myself very content at this time of the year. The frustration that I have is not really having the ability at this time in my life, as I work full time and am in graduate school, to hibernate in the way that my body desires. I know that an unconscious part of me does crave for the light of spring because I notice the difference in myself in my emotions and energy levels on the days that the sun does peep out.

    Right now, I’m trying to find ways to let go of some certain negative things in my life. I am hoping that this period of reflection and waiting will help me to find the insight and strength needed in the more action-oriented seasons of the year.

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