The Dark of the Year
Video of the sermon (click here)
Call to Worship (click here)
It is the dark time of the year. Each day grows shorter as we approach the winter solstice. So often we use light as a positive symbol. Our flaming chalice is only one example. Light is a good thing, but we need the dark too. We need the night as a time to rest and to sleep, and we need the winter as a time to rest and recover before we begin yet another year. This week we have changed to the winter colors here in the sanctuary. We change them four times a year as a reminder that our lives are of the earth and the changing seasons affect us in ways that are not always obvious.
This week is the winter solstice. The celebration of the winter solstice is an earth-centered tradition, a very ancient one. Christmas celebrations have always incorporated some of the solstice rituals, of food, of holly, and of fire. We are so connected to this earth. Our planet spins through space and tilts on its axis giving us seasons and changes in light and warmth.
The changing of the seasons can sometimes seem to mirror the changes in our lives. We grow older, we change jobs or we retire, we move up a grade in school, we make new friends. Very little in life stays the same for very long. We are always saying hello to something new, and we are always saying goodbye to things that we thought might be with us always. There is loss in life. There is grief. Loved ones die, we lose touch with good friends, relationships and things break and cannot be repaired.
Life is not all about the future. We carry our past within our hearts and minds. We carry our experiences in our bodies too. Many of the lessons we have learned from living are much too valuable to cast aside. We have to learn to add and subtract before we can learn multiplication and long division, much less calculus.
There are lessons from the earth as well, if we let ourselves feel them. The earth in winter takes in all the brown leaves and the plants that have died in the fall, buries them beneath the snow, and changes them, making a rich loam from which new life might grow in the springtime.
Sometimes we need to let some of our old leaves fall to the ground so that new ones can be born. Yes, that is a metaphor.
In a few minutes we will do a ritual, common in various forms among those who celebrate the solstice for its darkness as well as for the promise of the coming light.
All of us have things we carry that we have outgrown, that no longer serve us, and that prevent us from moving forward. Sometimes we carry these for years. It can be anything.
The dry brittle twigs of old hurts and resentments can prevent us from reaching out to others in friendship or in love. Old failures can prevent us from trying again.
A bad grade on a science test, a fumbled fly ball, some mistake or disappointment that happened long ago might be keeping us from discovering a new invention or the joy of a game of soccer well played.
I invite you to ponder for a few minutes about what you have been holding within you that no longer serves you well. For the adults and youth, try to think of things that happened a year or more ago that still plague you, things that you turn over again and again in your mind. Events you relive, perhaps in pain, perhaps in regret, perhaps in anger.
You also might want to consider some of the hopes or desires that you may be still holding on to, even though you know they will never happen, things that might prevent you from appreciating what you have.
Don’t worry now, if you can, about the fresher stuff. Sometimes, most times, we need to process serious events for at least a year, to let them simply swirl within us just as our planet turns and circles all the way around the sun. Some things also can take longer just because they are very hard. Violence and betrayal are two things that can take years to heal, and if you have experienced that, you might not be ready yet to let them go. That is OK. But try now, if you can, to set all of those newer and all those still very difficult things aside for now, just for the rest of the hour.
Focus instead on something older, something you might be ready to put away, to bury in the healing darkness of the winter night.
For our younger people in particular, it might be difficult to think back to something that happened a long time ago. If that is true for you, just think of some feeling, some hurt, some regret, some wish even, that you don’t want to have anymore. Even if it is something that happened yesterday, that is OK.
Mary, with some help from some young volunteers, will now begin passing around a basket of pieces of tissue paper. I’d like each of you to take a piece of that tissue paper.
This ritual is sometimes done with fire, but today we are going to use water as we have done here in the past. We will have some time for you to settle on one thing that you would like to leave behind you, something that needs to be transformed or simply composted, thrown into the trash.
Then, when you are ready, write a word or two or draw a picture that represents what you want to leave behind. It only needs to make sense to you. No one else will read them.
We have done this before, and each time afterward, although the writings and drawings disappeared, the paper remained. It was transformed. I will lay this tissue paper heart near the bowl so you can see what can come from a ritual such as this.
After the musical reflection I will ask you to come forward as you are ready. Just drop your piece of paper into this bowl. Nic will play some music while we do that. It isn’t necessary, but if you want to whisper a word or two naming what you are leaving behind, either to me or directly into the bowl, that is also fine.
After all who want to have had a chance to add something to the bowl, we will prepare it for composting.
Does everyone have a piece of paper? There should be pencils in each pew. Share if you need to.
Now just listen to the music, think quietly, and then write or draw whatever comes to you. Don’t feel rushed. There is plenty of time.
Please come forward when you are ready. Try not to form a long line – just 3 or 4 people waiting at a time would be great.
We bless this bowl containing so many troubles, so many heartaches. Feeling them, living through them, has made us who we are and we are grateful.
They have served their purpose, however, and it is time to let them go. In this dark time near the winter solstice, when the sun seems to stand still in the sky, we give them back to the water and to the earth. (Pour water)
We also add some of the water gathered by this community each fall, symbol of the healing power of love, of friendship, and of faith. (pour water)
There is beauty in this bowl. There is beauty in all of us. We also add some snow, putting whatever pain and fear contained here safely to rest. This cold blanket as it melts will drain these things of their power to harm us in the coming days and years.
Spirits of the darkness, the air, the fire, the water, and the earth, we thank you for being with us.
We now turn toward the sun, a little lighter, ready for the new day, new life, as we are born and reborn again. May our lights and our lives shine a bit brighter from this day forward. Blessed Be.