Monday, December 21, 2009

The Sun Stands Still

A couple weekends ago I got a late start on some yard work 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. The Winter Solstice took place today at 12:47 p.m. EST, marking the end of our ever-longer nights and the return of light.

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.

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Unknown said...

That was beautiful. I love how you put words and thoughts together. Love. Love. Love it!

Michelle said...

Oh that was beautiful. And educational -- love the Latin tip.

I just like the fact that the days are now getting longer. I won't go so far as to say it's my *favorite* day of the year, but it's close!

Audrey said...


Eternal Lizdom said...

I hadn't read this yesterday but reading it now reminds me of the moment I took for myself in the midst of my rushed morning.

I went out to start our cars in preparation for the bundling of children and the bustling start of our day. I stepped outside and there had been some snow overnight- enough to fill in the gaps from the previous day's snow. I stood on my front steps and stood still. And listened. In the darkness. I stood and listened to the snow as it fell. It's one of my favorite sounds.

So I stood still with the sun for a moment. That's how it felt- but you helped me find the words.

jlo said...

Thank you for the turtorial and the reminder to slow down, take stock, and rest. Beautifully written.