Monday, December 20, 2010

When The Sun Stands Still


I got a late start on some yard work last week and wound up raking leaves in the dark at 4 p.m. I’d have to say that the short winter days are one of the most challenging aspects of life in the northern tier, but things are turning around. Tomorrow the Winter Solstice will take place in Seattle at 3:38 p.m. (23:38 Coordinated Universal Time), marking the end of our ever-longer nights and the return of light. To top it off, we'll also be experiencing a total lunar eclipse, starting at 11:41 p.m.

Not to lessen the significance of Christmas or any of the other festivals of lights, but this astrological event is the original reason for the season. The Earth is tilted on its axis at, on average, a 23.5-degree angle and today is when the North Pole is farthest from the sun, causing it to appear to rise and set in the same place. We call it the first day of winter, and while the days will now grow longer by increments until the Summer Solstice in June, the average temperature of the “top” part of the globe will continue to drop as the oceans slowly lose the heat they still store from the warm summer months.

Humans can hardly think without resorting to metaphor and there is none more profound than this. It’s not an accident that this is a time for reflection as well as celebrating new beginnings. It’s not an accident that we seek out the people who mean the most to us, family and friends, those we love and without whom we live in perpetual winter. It’s not an accident that Christians retell the story of the birth of a child, the son of God, the light of hope in a darkened world. It’s not an accident that we give one another gifts and wish each other merriness, happiness and cheer – the darkness is passing, buck up, light is returning, have hope.

Winter is often used as a metaphor for death, but the comparison is superficial. The trees may not have leaves, the forests may have been temporarily emptied by hibernation and migration, there may be fewer children on the play grounds and at the beaches, and it may stay that way for some months to come, but we shouldn't mistake stillness for death.

The word “Solstice” comes from the Latin phrase for “sun stands still.” We spend the rest of the year in motion, moving forward, making progress. But if we can hold still long enough to listen, we hear winter whispering to slow down, take stock, cut back, rest, tend to the core of what makes life worthy of its name. All is calm. All is bright.

Even the sun stands still today.

(Reprinted, with edits, from 12/21/2009)

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5 comments:

Jason, as himself said...

Very interesting! I do love it when the days get longer, although right now our days are much longer than yours!

Enjoy your holidays, Teacher Tom.

Art Project Girl said...

Beautiful piece of writing a joy to read!

Life with Kaishon said...

I could not remember for the life of me what was special about today. Thank you for reminding me!

Barbara Zaborowski said...

There's magic in the air tonight A marvelous Solstice, Tom.

Marla McLean, Atelierista said...

It's 11:03pm EST, and I have a long wait until the Lunar Eclipse tonight. What a pleasure to use this time to read, reflect, post, bake, and yes, catch up on all your posts (Good Lord, how do you do it???)
What a perfect treat to read your Solstice post as I just completed mine.
I love this moment in time. Finding light in darkness is such a powerful metaphor for this season. Now I have your metaphor too,
"The trees may not have leaves, the forests may have been temporarily emptied by hibernation and migration, there may be fewer children on the play grounds and at the beaches, and it may stay that way for some months to come, but we shouldn't mistake stillness for death."
Lovely.
Happy Solstice.

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