The first part of this piece I posted last year, on the 2008 winter solstice. The rest of it I added for 2009.
Today is winter solstice, the shortest day of the year. In the days long before fossil fuels routinely lit our nights, winter solstice was celebrated as the Birthday of the Unconquered Sun.
Imagine how vulnerable our long-ago human ancestors were as the days grew colder, darker and shorter. They struggled to protect themselves from the bitter elements; they carefully rationed the food they had saved from summer and autumn. Surviving the winter was by no means a given. Winter meant death for many.
And so for the life-giving sun to return, for the days to start growing longer again was a time of great celebration. Winter solstice meant rebirth. It was a holy day (the origin of the word holiday). For our ancestors, winter solstice was a turning-point of hope as great as . . . . . well, as great as the birth of a savior for humanity. As great as the later birth of Christ.
Over many years, the pagan Birthday of the Unconquered Sun became the Birthday of the Unconquered Son. Our modern Christmas (which can be joyful without being commercialized) is a direct descendant of the pagan winter solstice. In both holy days, we are celebrating hope in the darkness, and our connection with a life-giving force much greater than ourselves.
And what do I practice, myself? I embrace both earth-centered spirituality and Christianity. I make several pilgrimages a year to wildish places like Opal Creek Ancient Forest, letting the trees already alive in the Middle Ages feed my soul. I compost, nurture my garden-beds and lush house-plants, tend to my four sassy chickens, say silent grace with my husband before meals, marveling at the many species and hands that brought the food to our table. I actually resonate more to the divine feminine, embodied in the Goddess of the earth, than I do to the divine masculine, embodied in Christ and the sky god.
Christianity, though, is what I was raised in, and what my culture offers me for weekly worship. Rituals like holy communion, passing the peace, giving the offering and singing the doxology feed my spirit. Many mornings they move me to tears: I am created. I am blessed and loved by the Creator, whether or not I manage to behave well. I pay little heed to details of dogma. For decades, I’ve been murmuring, “Our Mother” as the congregation around me utters “Our Father”. While I know others see this differently, I don’t see various religions and spiritual approaches as mutually exclusive, at all. As Norman Maclean wrote, eventually all things merge into one, and a river runs through it.