Dancing in the dark
The times have become, once again, increasingly dark - but that's about to change. It's all too easy to forget that we've been here many times before, and without doubt we will come here again. On Saturday evening, Dec. 21, at 8:19 p.m., we will cease turning away from the sun, as we've been doing since June, and we will begin turning back toward it.
Otherwise intelligent people will tell you that the sun has traveled as far south as it can, and that the winter solstice signals the sun's hesitation before its slow climb back toward us throughout winter, and into spring. But, in fact, the sun has not moved away from us at all - rather, we have moved away from the sun. It is we who are the transient ones, as our seasons turn by turns, away from and toward its light.
Pioneering scientist Galileo Galilei was heard to mutter under his breath, contradicting the edicts of the Church back in 1633, “Eppur si muove” - and yet we move. The authorities of that time could not stand for such contradiction, and he had been forced to recant his claim that earth moves around the sun, and that the sun itself stands still.
The opposing stances of night and day are relieved by the movement of morning and evening. Their very names - the intractable conflict between night and day, and the drive of morning and evening - describe an interweaving of static and dynamic forces that give us the sense of time. In just this way, the seasons of the year operate as the pistons that power the engine of our spin and orbit around the steadfast sun.
In just this way, the tension between the opposing stances of winter and summer is relieved by the movement of spring and fall. Their turning becomes a mutual dance that brings reality to life. And it is we who once again begin dancing in the dark toward the light, slowly at first, perhaps not fully certain of our partnership with the light; but, gaining confidence, our pace will slowly grow throughout the winter and as we approach spring.
These have been very hard times, with acts of treachery, and acts of integrity and courage. Severe climate change is taking place within our governments and within our society, as well as within the land. Erosions and storms scour the landscape with a violence that threatens the fabric of civil discourse, even - it sometimes seems - civilization itself. Refugees from vicious governments crowd into safer places, while economies have become turbulent, driven by a materialism that reaches well beyond competition into attempts to dominate.
All this turbulence has been happening on the personal level, too. Accidents and diseases have menaced good people this year, ones I know and countless others. There are those whom disease has gradually overtaken, and those who have been hurt in sudden accidents. The ones I know - and many others it is hoped - work hard toward recovery. They are the poster children of our village, demonstrating once again the resilience of hope and resolve.
The sun never really sets when it's evening - it really isn't moving at all, we only turn away from it into the night that we bring upon ourselves. Still there is light - and while hope may be mislaid it must not be lost. It was Helen Keller who once said, “Keep your face to the sunshine and you cannot see the shadow.” We call out holiday greetings as we meet, to remind one another that the sun is always there behind the clouds and beyond the night, hidden as it may be at such times from our view.
And so we gather around the lights we light on holidays to share companionship and celebration, and reach out to bring along those who have become isolated, because turning them away also turns us away. We light candles observing ceremonies of faith and hope. We warm ourselves before fires that we set against the cold, for as Peace Pilgrim said, “It isn't more light we need. It's putting into practice what light we already have.” And so we recognize the unfailing presence of the sun, and turn back toward it.
Rituals of religious traditions throughout the world acknowledge the light as central to our faith and our resiliency - the miraculous oil lamp that blazed on the alter that is celebrated during Channukah, and the distant Christmas Star that led the wise men to Bethlehem. Then there is the Verse of Light given in the Quran that tells us (my rendition), “His light is like a niche in which a lamp glows like a luminescent star, fed by the oil of a blessed olive tree that glows without the need of flame-for this is the light within the light.”
These festivals of light, as we observe them, usher us into the dance of an impermanent winter, an inchoate darkness before dawn. And, just as we are satisfied by the majesty of the resounding final chords that resolve great symphonies, so let us now be grateful for the holidays of this season, which bring the fullness of the year to a resounding and peaceful close.
Jim Shere is a local writer with a private practice as a counselor in Glen Ellen. You are invited to explore his website at jimshere.com, or email him at email@example.com