Solstice, Hanukkah, Our Lady, ChristmasLight and Dark | December 18, 2022 Rev. Dr. Kathryn Benton
A candle is a small thing.
But one candle can light another.
And as it gives its flame to the other
see how its own light…increases!
YOU ARE SUCH A LIGHT.
Today is the beginning of the Jewish celebration of Hanukkah…the celebration of the burning of the oil for eight nights instead of the expected one night. It is a flame that continues to burn in various places, signifying the hope of light. Thurman continues his consideration of this celebration:
Light is the power to dispel darkness.
You have this power to move back the darkness in yourself and in others – with the birth of light created when one mind illuminates another, when one heart kindles another, when one person strengthens another.
And its flame also enlarges within you as you pass it on.
This light is powerful and didn’t come out of nowhere. It was not only the miracle of the lamp burning for 8 days, this celebration also honors the courage of so many people throughout history who have struggled for freedom and against oppression. This is the culmination of a story signifying the triumph of justice in the world! And we know that it is these stories and traditions that can inspire us in our current struggles…our minds and our spirits can be illuminated by our ancestors’ stories.
And Hanukkah does not stand alone at this time of year as a “festival of light”. Perhaps coincidentally (or perhaps not), this is also the time of the winter solstice…the time when darkness is most evident in the natural world. An ancient tradition, the solstice may have provided the inspiration for many of our current religious traditions. Starhawk, one of my teachers that I often cite, says this of the solstice:
This is the night of the solstice, the longest night of the year. Now darkness triumphs; and yet, gives way and changes into light. The breath of nature is suspended: all waits while within the Cauldron, the Dark King is transformed into the Infant Light. We watch for the coming of dawn, when the Great Mother again gives birth to the Divine Child Sun, who is bringer of hope and the promise of summer. This is the stillness behind motion, when time itself stops; the center is also the circumference of all. We are awake in the night. We turn the Wheel to bring the light. We call the sun from the womb of night. Blessed Be!
Starhawk continues her consideration of the ritual of the solstice with this question:
What must you lose to the night?
The people answer whatever might be on their hearts…something that they would like to transform in the cauldron, in the time of stillness during the long night. They might answer:
Fear is lost to the night. Fear is lost to the night.
Maybe we can consider what we would like to lose to the night. Taking a deep breath into the lower part of our lungs, let us consider this thought. Could this be an opportunity to get some relief from the fear and anxiety that often companions our days? Could this be a time that we could loosen our grip on the hatred we feel for those who do not share our view of the world? Could this be a time when we re-commit ourselves to the task of changing our daily habits to more fully take into consideration all of God’s creatures and resources, rather than only our own individuals wants? Could this be a time to re-imagine our form of government and our cultural “norms” to include all people, and not only those who are successful, able-bodied and privileged?
There are so many things that could be seen as opportunities for transformation at this time of stillness…stillness behind motion…darkness before the dawn.
The pagan solstice celebration speaks of the “Great Mother”…the one who gives birth to the “sun” who is the “bringer of hope”.
Sound familiar? This is perhaps where our veneration of the divine nature of Mary on December 8 and then the Latino celebration of Our Lady of Guadalupe on December 12 come from. In honor of “our lady” a teacher of mine, Rafael Jesus Gonzales writes:
Mother of all that of you lives, be, dwells, inhabits, is; Mother of all the gods the goddesses Mother of us all, the cloud & the sea the sand & the mountain the moss & the tree the mite & the whale. Spilling flowers make of my cloak a reminder that we never forget that you are the only paradise of our living. Blessed are you, cradle of life, grave of death, fount of delight, rock of pain. Grant us, mother, justice.
Grant us, mother, peace.
Entitled, “Tonantzin”, this poem also harkens back to the Goddesses of the indigenous Central American traditions…it is, as we know, all connected. This “Mother of all” encompasses all life…the cloud and the sea, the sand and the mountain, the moss and the tree, the mite and the whale. Calling her the cradle of life and the grave of death, fount of delight, rock of pain, Gonzales asks for her to grant us peace and justice at this time. May our Great Mother hear us!
Of course this leads us to the celebration of Christmas…where the very holy Mother of God is to have given birth (miraculously) to the Son of God. We move so swiftly from the veneration of the Goddess…the Mother All…the Great Mother, to the Son of God…the masculine vision of the divine. Yet this whole celebration is sitting on the bedrock of the ancient traditions of Solstice, of Judaism, of the Goddess religions. It is not a separate celebration. Like all of life, it is intertwined in the growing edge of experience…the growing edge that includes all of us. None of us is lost. We are each a manifestation of the divine…we have the original spark of creation within, as long as we have breath in our bodies, we embody the eternal flame of hope.
I would like to close with the words of Grace Hazard Conkling in a poem entitled, “After Sunset”. It expresses to me, the heart of the Goddess…the flame of hope, the Great Mother nestled within each creature…each being.
I have an understanding with the hills At evening when the slanted radiance fills Their hollows, and the great winds let them be, And they are quiet and look down at me. Oh, then I see the patience in their eyes Out of the centuries that made them wise. They lend me hoarded memory and I learn Their thoughts of granite and their whims of fern, And why a dream of forests must endure Though every tree be slain: and how the pure, Invisible beauty has a word so brief A flower can say it or a shaken leaf, But few may ever snare it in a song, Though for the quest a life is not too long. When the blue hills grow tender, when they pull The twilight close with gesture beautiful, And shadows are their garments, and the air Deepens, and the wild veery is at prayer, — Their arms are strong around me; and I know That somehow I shall follow when you go To the still land beyond the evening star, Where everlasting hills and valleys are: And silence may not hurt us any more, And terror shall be past, and grief, and war.
Blessed Be! May we walk in the light!