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Spiritual Practices for the Winter Solstice

Through the practice of intentional season keeping we can let our souls rest in our intrinsic relationship with Nature. We can reconnect with the rhythm of the earth and the festivals our ancestors celebrated. We can follow the natural cycle of balance-activity-balance-rest and find healing from the stress, depression, anxiety, and general spiritual malaise that affects so many of us. 

Remember the wheel of the year isn’t linear. There’s no hard stop. It’s a constant cycle of waxing and waning. We’re coming to the end of the year (and the end of a decade!) and soon there’ll be lots of talk about resolutions and goals. And while we are turning toward the active cycle of the year, the wild earth is still holding out an invitation of stillness.

The sun will become stronger with each passing day. But we’re still in the heart of darkness. And there’s blessing to be had if we can stay present in the coming of early winter.

The Winter Solstice—the darkest day of the year—is a festival of rebirth! It’s the day the sun changes direction and begins its journey back to us. So it’s the day we celebrate the return of the sun. 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, but slowly. We still have three months until day and night will be equal again. So we 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.

Here are some ideas to support your personal practice this time of year:


As we officially move into winter 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 can 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.

Spend time outdoors and allow yourself to physically experience the quality of light and dark this season.

What do you learn as you smell, taste, see, touch, and listen to the world around you?


This is a great time of year for the practice of trataka, or gazing. In the 2nd chapter of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika we are told to “Gaze without blinking at a minute object, with concentration, until tears are shed.” The most common object used in this practice is a candle flame. It’s a healing practice for your eyes, as well as a calming practice for your nervous system. And it can be a wonderful practice to help you visualize and rest in your inner Light.

Find a comfortable position to sit where your spine is aligned and you don’t have to strain your neck to see the candle (an ideal set up would be to place the candle about 2ft in front of you at eye level). Feel your body, notice your breath, and allow your gaze to rest gently on the flame. Don’t “grab” the image of the flame. Allow your eyes to simply receive the vision. Hold your gaze steady until your eyes begin to water. Then gently close your eyes and find the after image of the flame. Rest your awareness in this image and allow a connection with inner Light to arise.

What do you feel? What do you hear as you listen inward?


Darkness will be predominate until the spring equinox in March. But everyday, the light grows stronger. I invite you to track the sun’s journey with some intention. Notice where and when it rises and where and when it sets. Notice where it is at noon.

How the Light Comes

A blessing by Jan Richardson

I cannot tell you
how the light comes.

What I know
is that it is more ancient
than imagining.

That it travels
across an astounding expanse
to reach us.

That it loves
searching out
what is hidden
what is lost
what is forgotten
or in peril
or in pain.

That it has a fondness
for the body
for finding its way
toward flesh
for tracing the edges
of form
for shining forth
through the eye,
the hand,
the heart.

I cannot tell you
how the light comes,
but that it does.
That it will.
That it works its way
into the deepest dark
that enfolds you,
though it may seem
long ages in coming
or arrive in a shape
you did not foresee.

And so
may we this day
turn ourselves toward it.
May we lift our faces
to let it find us.
May we bend our bodies
to follow the arc it makes.
May we open
and open more
and open still

to the blessed light
that comes.

As we slowly move toward the active part of the year, I encourage you to notice how your body, energy, mind, and spirit respond to the increasing daylight.


British author and celtic wheel teacher Glennie Kindred writes:

To understand this moment, it is important to realize that this festival is not the beginning, in a linear way of looking at things, but a rebirth within a cycle in which the starting point chosen here is part of a vibrant whole. Therefore it is necessary to make a connection to what has gone before. Since the last festival at Samhain, the Earth has been withdrawn within itself. The darkness of the receding daylight hours has been felt by all of nature and humankind. Root energy has been strengthened, the dream world explored, mysteries understood. The deep wisdom of the unconscious has brought spiritual insights. The old year has died and, through reflection and assimilation, the way is now prepared for rebirth of the active principle. The ‘Cauldron of Regeneration’, as this process was known, was central to Celtic and Pagan understanding. Something old must die in order for something new to be reborn. This period of rest and darkness is a vital link in the cycle of life.

As you mark this moment in the cycle of life ask yourself: What needs to be allowed to die? What is calling forth to be reborn?

As you look ahead, what’s gestating in your heart and preparing to come forth this year? As we move through the last months of darkness, how will you support this period of regeneration?

A few more Reflection Questions

(from Jilly Shipway’s great book “Yoga Through the Year”)

  • In these dark days of winter who brings warmth and sunshine into my life?
  • How will I best look after myself over the winter and so avoid getting physically rundown or succumbing to the winter blues?
  • At a time of year when overconsumption and overspending are encouraged, how can I make gift choices that are kind to the earth and don’t use up precious resources?


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


We all benefit from the wisdom of spiritual community. And community means more than one voice, so please add yours to the conversation. What did this week’s sermon and reflection questions spark in you?

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  1. Sarah Shirk December 20, 2019 at 4:51 pm - Reply

    This year I will be celebrating the winter solstice by sleeping in late, planting bulbs for spring blooms, and sneaking in a sun-room nap mid-day. Chicago is being blessed with sunny days in the 40’s and 50’s this week. I foresee a nature hike around noon before nap-time followed by a hot toddy. Aaahhhh. May the inner peace of winter solstice remind me that Copernicus was right, we do revolve around the sun. All sources of power are from the sun. I will toast Copernicus with my hot toddy.

  2. Donalee January 1, 2020 at 6:29 am - Reply

    This year I was able to spend with my 5 year old grandson, whose birthday fell on the Winter Solstice this year. A new and different blessing!

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