Dearest monks, artists, and pilgrims,
I love the quiet invitation of this time of year to descend into stillness. I will be leading an event on the Winter Solstice with my wonderful friends Deirdre Ni Chinneide and Aisling Richmond who both live in Ireland as well and are deeply enriched by the Celtic imagination and spirit. We will be honoring the ancient invitation to listen for the call in the heart of the fertile darkness. Imagine the ancient Irish – over 5000 years ago – constructing Newgrange and many other stone monuments aligned with the solstices and equinoxes. It is powerful to feel our connection to them by pausing and listening for the gifts this time of year brings.
This reflection is excerpted from our Sacred Seasons online retreat for the Celtic Wheel of the Year:
The Winter Solstice is another profound moment of pause and turning in the great cycle of the year. In Galway our apartment windows face east and south, so one of the great gifts I experience through the seasons is watching the sun make her pilgrimage across the horizon from summer solstice to winter solstice. It is quite a long journey, and on December 21st she will rest at her point furthest south, appearing to stand still for three days before making the return journey again in the long walk toward summer. It is a rhythm of journey, pause, and return, again and again. It reminds me a great deal of walking a labyrinth and the way I follow the path inward, pause and receive the gifts at the center, and then begin to move more fully out into the world carrying the light that is growing.
I love winter, especially Irish winters which are so rainy and grey, so conducive to lighting candles and making a cup of tea. I adore the bare branches that reach up to the sky, their stark beauty, the way they reveal the basics. I love the quietness of winter, fewer people outside.
When we recognize that spring and summer always lead to autumn and winter, in our own lives we will perhaps resist the times of releasing and resting that come to us.
To go in the dark with a light is to know the light.
To know the dark, go dark. Go without sight,
and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings,
and is traveled by dark feet and dark wings.
This poem speaks to me most pointedly about what embracing the darkness means. It does not mean carrying a light into the dark, it means walking right into the darkness and exploring its landscape so that our other senses become heightened and attuned to the sound of seeds jostling deep beneath the black soil, to hear the slow in and out breath of animals in hibernation, to feel our own heartbeats and the heartbeats of those we love, to experience the pulsing of womb-sounds within us just before the water gets ready to break.
Winter invites me to rest and contemplation, to making time for quiet walks in the few hours of light. The God of winter invites me into a healing rhythm of rest and renewal, of deep listening in the midst of stillness, of trusting the seeds sprouting deep within that have been planted. There is a harshness to this winter God as well, winter speaks to me of loss, it is the landscape of my grief in all its beauty and sorrow.
The God of winter is also the God of breaking through into the heart of that dark season with the glorious illumination of the Christ child. We too are invited to ponder what is incubating within us and how we are bringing the holy to birth in our lives.
We are taking a break from our daily email newsletters starting December 22nd until January 1st to honor this time of slowing and descent. We encourage you to allow some time for slowing down, listening, and being in the midst of what is so often a stressful time fraught with demands and emotional triggers. Be ever so gentle with yourself. Make time in the cave of your heart and be held by the One who wants nothing more than to be in our presence.
Advent and Christmas blessings!
Consider joining us in the new year for our Contemplative Prayer Service (Simon and me) and Epiphany Retreat: What Treasures Do You Bring? (I am co-leading with Mark Burrows again and Simon will be offering the gift of music).
If you’re in the southern hemisphere you can find a reflection on Summer Solstice here.
With great and growing love,
Christine Valters Paintner, PhD, REACE
PS – I was interviewed on the Presence and Practice podcast about my Breath Prayer book. You can also read a lovely review of Breath Prayer at Spirituality & Practice.
Image Credit: © Christine Valters Paintner