The time of darkness is past. The winter solstice brings the victory of light.
After a time of decay comes the turning point. The powerful light that has been banished returns. There is movement, but it is not brought about by force. The idea of RETURN is based on the course of nature. The movement is cyclic, and the course completes itself. Therefore it is not necessary to hasten anything artificially. Everything comes of itself at the appointed time. This is the meaning of heaven and earth.
24. Fu / Return (The Turning Point), The I Ching or Book of Changes
Tomorrow is the eve of Yule, one of the four truly pivotal points in the calendar year, and the I Ching describes this brief interval in the Great Round more eloquently than I ever could. The winter solstice is one of only two times in the calendar year (along with the summer solstice) when the sun seems to stand still for a brief interval - that is what "solstice" means, that the sun is standing still. This week's word has been around in one form or another since the beginning times, and it comes to us from the Latin noun sōlstitium, itself a blend of the noun sōl [sun] and the verb sistere [to stand still].
December days are short and dark and icy cold, dense clouds covering the sky from here to there most of the time, the earth below our feet sleeping easy under her blanket of snow and glossy ice. For all that, there is a feeling of movement in the landscape now, a clear sense that vibrant (and welcome) change is on its way. Sunlight is a scarce quantity here in winter, and we look forward to having a few more minutes of sunlight every single blessed day after this weekend - until next June when sunlight hours will begin to wane once more. The first few months of the year will be frigid going, but hallelujah, there will be sunlight now and again.
As I build a fire in the old fireplace downstairs, I find myself thinking of the ancestors and their early seasonal rites, how they too must have watched winter skies, fed the fires burning on their hearths for warmth, lit candles to drive the dark away and rejoiced in this poignant turning when the light returns.
Our own solstice rites are small, quiet and of some years standing: a trek into the woods and a brisk walk along the trail with grain, apples and freshly cut cedar for the deer, suet and seed for the birds. On the way home, we will deliver fruitcake (my great great grandmother's recipe) and small gifts to friends in the highlands, then return to the little blue house in the village for candlelight, firelight and mugs of tea. We will entertain silence as darkness falls and give thanks for the returning light.
Happy Yule to you and your clan. May light of the dancing star at the center of our universe be yours, and may all good things come to you.
19 December, 2014
18 December, 2014
Owl hoots three times in the far woods,
fair warning for all small creatures
scurrying to their burrows.
Are we not still and always
those crouching figures
who flee the heavenly alchemy?
Three times in the crackling air,
Owl hoots for us.
Wind plays the drums of snow...
crescendo off the roofs,
flourish of shuddering branches.
Ice snaps its castanets,
Atonal music of the darkest days
needs the most fearless,
Those strumming flamenco
fingers of sunlight
are a long time away from now.
Now we go comforted
in dreams and ceremonies,
flaming our star-speck candles,
raising our voices against that other music,
drowning out the forever
at night’s heart.
Look up! The wheel is turning.
The spectacular crowd of stars,
the tangle of dimensions
jostle for our attention.
Salute the birth of everything holy.
Yule (the winter solstice) arrives this weekend, and those of us who dwell in the northern hemisphere will be turning toward the light again. This lovely poem was written by Dolores Stewart Riccio and published in her exquisite Doors to the Universe. It is posted here with the kind permission of the poet.
17 December, 2014
16 December, 2014
Is this place an ocean or a desert in winter? I am never sure which one it is, but either way, there is always something to feast one's eyes on and capture with the lens. Artfully frosted windows, heaps of books, bowls of fruit and cups of tea, it's all good. Besides, isn't a little uncertainty a good thing, every now and then?
There are patterns here everywhere one looks at this time of the year, and they all have to do with liquid turnings and transformation: feathery patterns in river ice, glossy icicles suspended from trees along the shore, field grasses poking their silvery heads out of snowdrifts, beads of water falling in the garden and freezing in midair, fallen leaves with snow crystals shining through tiny apertures in them. Closer to home, or rather, at home, everything my cronish eye alights on is food for thought and camera too.
Winter's eye is passionate indeed. In the absence of most of the vibrant colors dancing on my palette at other times of the year, the Old Wild Mother (Gaia) has turned these winter places into a commonwealth of swirling shapes and patterns, each and every one exquisite. Even an egg yolk sun shining through the kitchen window delights and enchants.
14 December, 2014
We have received an inestimable gift. To be alive in this beautiful, self-organizing universe—to participate in the dance of life with senses to perceive it, lungs that breathe it, organs that draw nourishment from it—is a wonder beyond words. It is an extraordinary privilege to be accorded a human life, with self-reflexive consciousness that brings awareness of our own actions and the ability to make choices. It lets us choose to take part in the healing of our world.
resting easy in saying yes to the world
13 December, 2014
This mural livens up the wall of an old commercial structure in Ottawa South, and it is the work of a spirited group of street and graffiti artists who call themselves Ottawa Urban Arts. The OAU's "off the wall" and delightfully radical mission is to transform their community, one surface at a time, and to bring us all together in the process.
The group's motto is "inspiring communities from the ground up", and that is just what they are doing. They are also committed to giving local kids a voice and teaching them to express themselves in creative ways. The OUA's Art for Action: Community Mural and Youth Mentorship Program mentors youth at risk while providing artistic training in a wide variety of styles and mediums.
This is my favorite OAU mural so far, and it always makes me smile when I visit a used book shop a few doors away. The lady has presence, and she is at least forty feet tall.
12 December, 2014
This week's word comes to us from the late Latin immanent/immanere meaning "remaining within", a combination of im (in) and manēre meaning "to hold or stay". Kindred words include manse, mansion and remain, all arising from the same root(s), and some of the synonyms are lovely: essential, fundamental, indwelling innate, instinctive, intimate, intrinsic, inward, natural.
When something is immanent, it is everywhere: indwelling, inherent, pervading or present throughout worlds known and unknown. In religious doctrine, immanence is the belief that the sacred is intimately present within us and everything around us. Thus, the notion contrasts with more common notions of transcendence which hold that the sacred is something beyond and apart, separate from this plane on which we are journeying along merrily together.
I'm fond of the words of Quintus Aurelius Symmachus, who said, a very long time ago: "We all look up to the same stars; the same heaven is above us all; the same universe surrounds us all. What does it matter by what system of knowledge we seek to know the truth? Not by one path alone may we attain to so great a secret.”
The hallowed "stuff"is anywhere and everywhere - in these leathery sinews and creaking bones, in winter sunrises, technicolor sunsets and starry starry nights, in the timelessly revolving seasons and the Great Round of time. It dwells easy in the earth under our feet, in the wild nave of branches arching over our heads and next year's sweet green leaves, in the splendid meringuey winter snows covering my native hills in December. Seeing the immanent is what most of my wandering around with a camera seems to be about, however badly captured or expressed here - tuning into and honoring the bright and tender spark that dwells at the heart of everything. I call the process, "saying yes to the world", and Sundays here are devoted to the affirmation.
My puckish Zen side feels compelled to add that mere existence is never an issue, a parameter or condition of immanence. No doubt, the immanent dwells as happily in things that don't exist as it does within things that do. The concepts of non-duality and being "all one world" cover things nicely, and the rising sun shining though my window is a perfect illustration.
My husband is resting comfortably at home after his cancer surgery - Spencer and I are "over the moon" to have him back with us and are sticking to him like glue. All your kind thoughts and lighted candles and healing energies were appreciated, and they are treasured. Sitting in hospital waiting rooms this week, I could almost feel you beside me, and it held me up, kept me going in moments when I was almost numb with anxiety. That too is immanence at work. Thank you, thank you, thank you!
11 December, 2014
At sunrise on winter days,
our trail is through newly fallen snow, and
every footfall is a waxing moon.
Our muffled steps rise and fall
through snow-drowned spruces, hearts
beating as one, in tune, in time.
beating as one, in tune, in time.
Goldenrod and milkweed,
great spruces weighted under snow—
all nod in early greeting.
Ghost choirs of summer grosbeaks
sing above our heads, and icicles form
along roof lines as we pass.
Winter rounds the village out,
smooths the contours of house and street,
shaping deserts out of snow.
In morning softness, we know ourselves
at last—perfect, still and so complete
nothing abandoned or left behind