The moon is quiet these days. It’s a half moon, hardly calling attention to itself, not yet bright because the full moon is still 10 days away. The moon in this phase rises around noon and sets just before midnight, making those long hours before sunrise feel very dark and very exposed to the vastness of the night. This is the monthly dance of the sun and the moon: The moonrise and moonset are offset by half a day from sunrise and sunset, but the full moon rises and sets in precise opposition to the coming and going of the sun--as the one rises the other sets and vise-versa. We forget this about the sun and the moon. We forget that they are never quite in the sky together, always moving in a pattern of light and darkness.
The solstice season is much the same. In the annual cycle of sun and earth, there are longer days and shorter days. Amid all the traditional parties and holiday lights, we forget that this is not only a holiday season. It is also a dark time of year. We forget that the silent hours after midnight are long. As much effort as we put into making the holidays cheerful, we also feel chilled and our thoughts can become dark, even a little bit bleak. As creatures made for daylight, we intuitively worry, “Will the days ever grow long again? Will the sun ever warm the earth again and make things grow?”
These are our ancient fears. Our ancestors who meticulously watched the heavens could measure planetary movements with incredible accuracy, but they couldn’t be certain (and neither can we) that soon the celestial balance will once again bring longer days and shorter nights. This is the time of year when our faith in time, itself, is tested as we witness the coming and going of growing seasons, light and dark, sunrise and moonset. Are we certain that what happened last year will happen again this year? Will the sun truly rise in the morning? Will we live through the crises that are surrounding us? Are we truly facing events with no precedent? How do we know we will survive this dark season, these uncertain times?
Winter Solstice 2023 seems especially dark, perhaps for reasons that have always been there, perhaps for new reasons, we can’t say. But we do have doubts and many of us are asking, “Will there be a spring? Will we live to see it?”
We invite you to take a look around for a moment. 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?
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.