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Winter Solstice 2023: Listening without Certainty

Yesterday we asked: “In the world beyond your daily routine, beyond your family, your work, and your friends, what calls your attention? Are you able to let your attention wander without certainty? Can you take a breath and not know for a moment what will happen next?” 

And then we said, “If you can do that or rather when you find yourself doing that, you will have entered Winter Solstice. You will be ready for a few days of letting time stand still.”

The Winter Solstice is a good time for listening. The nights are long and the sun is low in the sky. There is a kind of general slowing down. We use some of that slowing down to make room for holiday festivities, but it can also be a time for listening, allowing complexity, uncertainty, and new, unsettling ideas to enter deeply into our thoughts. 

Listening is a state of preparation—to think, to form complex ideas, to hold space for others, to hold back judgement and refrain from acting. Much like the actual days of Winter Solstice, listening involves pausing. A pause is a soft breath, a quiet space, the rest like the brief moment of balance when a see-saw is completely level—the moment when we see each other, eye-to-eye in opposing journeys up and down. 

In this pause, we hear words and comments differently, maybe as if for the first time. We can hear what another has to say about their suffering or their longing. The Winter Solstice is an invitation to listen to what you have not listened to before, or perhaps more accurately, to hear what you have not been able to take in before.

Today in the spirit of Winter Solstice, we invite you to listen. And what shall you listen to? What draws your attention? Perhaps something uplifting? Perhaps a friend that you’ve been intending to talk with for weeks or months, but haven’t had the time? If something is drawing your attention, feel free to tell us about it in the comments—both what or who you wish to listen to and why it draws your attention.

And if you are open to a suggestion, we invite you, in the spirit of Winter Solstice, listen to Rabbi Sharon Brous and Erza Klein, two very thoughtful people. In this podcast recorded barely a month after Oct 7th, they are engaged in the hardest kind of conversation, the kind that admits to vulnerability and fear while still honoring the incredible worth of every human life . . . even in the face of unimaginable acts of violence. They are talking about the violence of the war in Gaza, but they are coming to terms with what it means to be compassionate and human while holding the reality of historical and generational hatred. They hold multiple and conflicting realities through the lens of impossible imperatives: How do we protect and honor our own tribe (our kin, our families, our neighborhoods) in the face systemic violence and at the same time not separate ourselves from the humanity of our global community. In other words, how do we remain “us” as healthy communities of care and concern without turning everyone else into “them” . . . especially when we are constantly facing the explicit and implicit violence set in motion by racism or anti-semitism or nationalism.

Who you are and how you have experienced anti-semitism—if it has defined you or you’ve never thought about it—will affect how you hear this conversation.  This is the invitation of the Solstice season for you: Acknowledge how your life shapes how you understand this situation, listen to this conversation, and ask yourself how you are changed by what you hear. 


Please note that if this topic--the war in Gaza--is hard for you, we encourage you to choose carefully if this is the right time for you to listen to this discussion. Coming to terms with hard realities is about sharing our common humanity, which includes each of us attending to our own wellbeing. Please attend to your wellbeing as you choose.

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