Tag Archives: winter solstice

The Dark Party

A decade ago, Trish and I gathered some of our favorite people on earth to our house. We invited them to wear dark clothes, bring dark-coloured food to share, and be prepared to share a real-life story of the past year.

It was our first Dark Party.

Though guests may have looked prepared for a goth rave, the occasion was Winter Solstice, one of our favorite moments of the year. It’s the longest night (or shortest day, if you like) of the year, when the sun hits our planet at 23° 26′, the steepest it’s gonna get.

And Winter officially begins.

If you’re like me, you have mixed feelings about the season’s turning.

I grew up in Minnesota, so the contrast of seasons is a vital experience for my soul. Boiling-hot and humid summers, butt-clenching cold winters, planting and harvest in between. Exhilarating!  On the other hand, winter calls me to pay careful attention to my mood, making sure I’m taking my anti-depressant, getting good light and getting exercise (snow shoveling often does the trick).

It is indeed a season of contrasts. My faith heritage celebrates Christmas as the breakthrough of God’s presence. Advent builds to it, Epiphany cools down from it. Most Christ-traditions welcome the light of the world as the highest festival day of the liturgical year. Excepting maybe Easter, depending on if your theology runs more incarnational or resurrectional.

Our first Dark Party came about because our friends and we had a damn rough year, and we wanted to recognize the gifts of the dark. Not desperately wait for the light, not avoid the dark, but to honor the rich stuff that happens when things are bleak, veiled and mysterious.

We sat in a circle and listened carefully to one another speak about the past year. There was a lot of rich silence. There were stories of cancer, divorce, exile, grief and wonder. There was weeping and some laughter, too. There was dancing. On this quiet night, we witnessed for one another the description of deep humanity with all its brokenness and hope-fullness.

At the end of our story-sharing, people were invited to light a candle. Some did, trusting that change was on their horizon; some did not, honoring the mystery of the present moment.

And there was food. (Did I mention the food?) Trish’s famous Edgar Allen Bean Dip, my “fear not the valley of the shadow ” fudge, big blackberries, pumpernickel bread… you get the picture. As a Lutheran, fellowship just can’t happen without a potluck.

Deep breath now.

That gathering remains one of the deepest, wonder-filled, most intimate, truly human and unforgettable moments of my life. As I bring up the faces of those who have joined us over the years, I am touched at the honesty and the open-hearted listening.

How is it with your soul here at the end of this year?

You may have had a hell of a year.

Maybe you have sadness, terror or deep grief. Maybe there are loose ends where resolution is unknown. What you may need is a kind of Dark Party, a moment to be in awe of your life, as crazy as it may be.

May I invite you to call someone to share your story? Or ask your friends to pray with you?  Or maybe solitude in darkness would be a true companion for you. Not because gloominess suits you, but because harmony can happen in shadows.

To close, a benediction for you from David Whyte:

Sweet Darkness
When your eyes are tired
the world is tired also.
When your vision has gone
no part of the world can find you.
Time to go into the dark
where the night has eyes
to recognize its own.
There you can be sure
you are not beyond love.
The dark will be your womb
tonight.
The night will give you a horizon
further than you can see.
You must learn one thing:
the world was made to be free in.
Give up all the other worlds
except the one to which you belong.
Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet
confinement of your aloneness
to learn
anything or anyone
that does not bring you alive
is too small for you.
Our family celebrates Solstice because we are citizens of the planet. And because we desire honesty with and from our friends, especially when life is hard and a lot of our culture is about denial. (Lest you think me morbidly dismal, I also enjoy the celebration of light in its time.)
May you receive all the gifts of this season you can bear, whether they be excavated in the mystery of darkness or placed in your hand with the sunrise. Both are the realm of Holy.
And you are right in it.
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Spiritual Life in the 4th Quarter

In the final stretch of the calendar year, there is much to pay attention to. Lots of cultural traditions and liturgical moments converge in these final months.

From here on out the river moves fast, and something special will happen if you let go of the bank and let the current take you.

This post (should you choose to accept it) is to prime your imagination for the ride.

Autumn is a bell for change. Colors, aromas and temperature embodies the continual transformation of the Christ in us– death and life, ever recycling– and invites us to feel it in our bones. It’s a mixed emotional ride for many of us, however. As Gretel Ehrlich writes, in autumn “we hear a double voice. One says that everything is ripe; the other says that everything is dying. The paradox is exquisite.”

That intense mix resonates with these last few months of the year. As a liturgist, I think about how natural markers in time demand or romance our attention. At the end of the year, there are a whole lot of them piled up. It can be a spiritual practice to follow them– to keep in touch with the invitations to integrate what you feel and know, like you’d follow someone on Twitter.

Here’s a quick tour of some of these moments for your preparation. Notice the wide range of experiences we are invited into.

  • Harvest: Celebration! Seeds have, without any advice from us or wi-fi, made food. We are woven into all creation.
  • Day of the Dead, All Hallow’s Eve: Re-membering our dead dears, accepting our past, feeling grief and letting go.
  • All Saints: Each of us is woven into a great web of holy witnesses. We ask how to be purely present in the flow of past-future.
  • Thanksgiving: Refreshing our gratitude; imagining a thriving, generous life.
  • Advent: Whisper it: Mystery! Longing for newness, we are pregnant with change.
  • Winter Solstice: The darkest day of the year, quiet and stark. The ancients used to climb the mountain with fire to help stoke up the sun.
  • Christmas: Surprise and celebration! Holy-ness is among us; in fact, our very lives carry the Christ.
  • New Year’s: With hope and with tender trust, we begin again.
  • Epiphany: Share what you have; that’s the point of all this.

Quite a ride.

How does it feel to see your life as part of these moments? Celebration and contemplation, gathering and letting go, remembering and starting again.

To be a liturgist is to be a farmer. I often find myself in leadership simply inviting people to pay attention to what the current season calls for. It’s not to be taken literally. These moments don’t just happen once a year on the calendar, like, “better get ready to be grateful, because Thanksgiving Day is coming!” No, all these days are practice for what’s possible every day. It’s a spiritual life that recognizes what your life is asking for.

You probably have favorite things coming up as well as moments for which you have natural resistance. But listen: you’ve experienced all manner of things this year. These next few months offer the opportunity to integrate these experiences. Each moment coming your way is an invitation to acknowledge, accept and welcome your whole life experience.

Are you open to that?

A deep breath of space in your body is all that’s needed for today.