Beams of Heaven | December 19, 2021 by Dr. Kathryn Benton
Most royal greening verdancy,
Rooted in the sun,
You shine with radiant light.
In this circle of earthly existence
You shine so finely,
It surpasses understanding.
God hugs you.
You are encircled by the arms
of the mystery of God.
The opening quote comes from Hildegard of Bingen, 12th century mystic and saint. These words have been on my heart for the past few weeks and became even more meaningful these past few days. It is the time of year that so many are hurting…amid the sounds of celebration and anticipation…amid the expectation of family closeness and of happy events…amid the pressure to buy gifts and to give gifts. The sadness is, I think, closely related to these expectations…unrealistic expectations. At the same time, it is for some just what is needed to distract, and perhaps even heal some of these wounds.
Last week we spoke of the expectation of the coming of Emmanuel…God with us…the internal birthing of a new world. This is what I mean by healing. It has nothing directly to do with gifts or even lights, although those can be uplifting. It is the birthing of a new way of looking at the world…at life. To me, it is about the acknowledgement of our place within the universe…as a “most royal greening” verdancy…with the potential to birth new worlds. It is the acknowledgement, as Hildegard says, of our rootedness in the natural world…the sun…where we can shine so finely! It is my hope that we can feel this relatedness, through the up-close and personal embrace of the divine presence…a hug from God. The possible security and warmth that we may feel through this embrace is what is meant, I think, by the following hymn:
If we listen closely to the words of this hymn…there is joy to the world…to the earth where the savior reigns…the spirit of the earth reigns…the Goddess reigns…the Great Spirit reigns…a place where the fields, floods, rocks, hills and plains repeat the sounding joy in their refrain of harmony…heaven and nature singing together. If indeed the world is ruled with truth and grace, then we must become aware of the wonders of this love…the love that was birthed, and is birthed each day that the sun rises.
To me, Hildegard embodies this love. She reminds me that when I am depleted…when I am lacking the awareness of the radiant light…when my understanding is absent, I can depend on the security of the sun…of my royal greening verdancy…and of the embrace of the mystery of God. And this is the time of year that we depend on the birthing of this light…this love.
I’ve been thinking about this healing love at this time of year as an antidote for the fear and anxiety…the depression and sadness that I sense from so many. It is, in a way, the longing for light as well…at this time of darkness and of change…this time of “turning”. And this is the time of the Winter Solstice or Pagan Yule celebration.
One of the only Pagan persons I have known is Starhawk, one of my teachers at the University of Creation Spirituality. Starhawk is an activist and Pagan mystic. Her spirituality is extremely practical…rooted in the earth and in the sun…but also in the search for social justice among earth’s peoples. Of organizations she wrote:
Beware of organizations that proclaim their devotion to the light
without embracing, bowing to the dark;
for when they idealize half the world they must devalue the rest.
Starhawk is reminding us of the nature of light and dark…of life and death…of joy and sorrow. She is reminding us of the need to embrace the dark in preparation for preparing for the light. And she wisely highlights the fact that when we are only devoted to the light, we can miss the meaning…the value of existence…that when we overly value one thing, we devalue something else. This is the reality of our world and must be reflected in all of our work…work to end injustice and oppression…work to restore and to heal the wounds of war…human wars and also the war being waged against the earth. We must “dare the dark” in order to understand it and in order to move forward.
So, the Solstice is the time of the acknowledgement of the darkness and the looking toward the light…the light of the fire that is traditionally lit on this night. Starhawk speaks specifically to this time of “turning”…of the birthing of a new world on the Solstice. She writes:
But the message of Solstice is this: hope does not come once into the world and fulfill itself. Hope and light must constantly be reborn, over and over again. They wax and wane, and must be renewed.
That renewal, that birthing, requires labor. Labor means work, commitment, perseverance through that time when it seems you just can’t push any more. The cervix dilates slowly, pang by pang. The child begins to emerge, is drawn back, pushed forward another increment.
We are the laboring Mother, we are the spark of light. New possibilities kick and squirm within us. No, it’s not easy to bring them forth, but we are strong, and we are made for this work. Bear down…breathe…push. This morning the sun rises; each day a new world is born.
To some, this description is embarrassing…too descriptive. It bears little resemblance to the story of Mary and Joseph in the manger…the sanitized version of a birth. As important as the message of hope and light is, there is a reality to birth. It is painful and can be dangerous…especially to those who are vulnerable…to those who experience injustice and oppression. And if we are the laboring Mother…the spark of light, then we are being called to birth the new possibilities…the new creation.
Malidoma Somé, a West African teacher and author, died last week. He will be missed by so many of his students and those who have read his books or heard him speak. Like Starhawk, he was aware that the sometimes unpleasant reality of life must be faced. Especially in the realm of spirituality, he was clear that many are living in a dream world and are not addressing adversity. He wrote:
I see too many people who jump into spirituality as a shelter to hide from reality. It doesn't work that way. The way it works is for the spirit behind you to follow you wherever you go, like a loyal soldier, and show you how to face up to adversity. If you can't face adversity, you will get locked into a new age perception that everything is fine when it isn't.
Somé hit on the way life can be sanitized and trivialized. He says that we need to face adversity when it presents itself…and it will present itself. He speaks of a deeper more realistic version of life that we must wrestle with.
We lost another great teacher and prophet this week, bell hooks. She was instrumental in giving me a deeper understanding of the Black experience, and especially the experience of Black women. I was introduced to her in my Black Studies curriculum at San Francisco State in the 1990’s. hooks was not one to mince words or to sweep realities under the carpet. In her book, Killing Rage, in the chapter with the same title, she spoke directly to me when she said, “white people remain unable to hear black rage”. She states that after spending much of her life “pushing down” feelings of rage associated with the racism she experienced, she has found that she sees rage “as a potentially healthy, potentially healing response to oppression and exploitation”. Of course, I am not Black, but I am a woman. As such I have experienced, albeit to a lesser degree, oppression and exploitation. I may, therefore, have an inkling of what she is talking about, but the reality is that her rage is still difficult to hear…to see…and to truly understand. For hooks, this Killing Rage, “…burns in [her] psyche with an intensity that creates clarity…it is a constructive healing rage”. So, it seems to hooks this rage is necessary…it is a necessary step in the process to deal with this reality of life…the racism…the daily assault on one’s sense of dignity…one’s sense of “most royal greening verdancy” that Hildegard speaks of. To trivialize or try to “push it down” does not honor this light that “shines so finely” that it surpasses our understanding.
This year at this time of turning…of solstice…of the birth of hope…of the coming of the light, may we honor the spirit of bell hooks…of Malidoma Somé…of Hildegard of Bingen with these words from Starhawk:
So let this Solstice be a time when we all put our intention toward the change, and draw forth the strength, the courage and the determination to bring that new world into being. A world where we know that we are not separate, but connected, not the masters of the world, but nature’s children, her partners and healers, where the currency we strive for is not money or power, but love. We are creative, magical, radiant beings, and when we link our hearts, our vision and our actions together, as the Wheel of the Year turns, we can indeed turn the world around.
These words were written in 2012…now nine years ago. A lot has happened since then…a lot has changed and much more has been revealed. I’d like to leave you with my favorite song (at least at the moment) that gives me so much hope and inspiration…on a daily basis, allowing me to face adversity…to confront reality and to birth a new world with each rising of the sun. May it inspire us all to “turn the world around”.