Monday, December 22, 2008

My Winter's Solace

I've never been a fan of death.  Who is really?  Maybe a funeral director.  Maybe.

Last year when my Grandpa died it was the first time I'd lost anyone with a place in my heart. Even now, in my lowest moments, I can sob uncontrollably over the loss I feel.  Sometimes I even pre-grieve.  This strange mix of anxiety and grief which erupts when I spend too much time watching the news or reading about death (particularly children).

It is safe to say that I hate death.  Or at least I did.

The same could be true of winter.  I've never really understood winter.  I blame winter for my cold feet and my unshaven legs.  Sometimes I get so overwhelmed with the cold and the gray that I cannot see past either to what might be beautiful in winter.

It is safe to say that I hate winter.  Or at least I did.

That is, until Sunday.  

Let me digress for a moment to say that it is going to become fairly obvious, to those who do not know already, that I am not talking about the church of my birth.  Many of you already know that I was born into the LDS (Mormon) faith. Some of you already know that I have not been participating as a member of the LDS church for some time.  A couple of you understand where my journey started and how I got where I am.  For a while I was not attending any religious service.  I found, however, that I missed my organized spiritual time and wasn't finding time for it without help.  After some investigating I have rested at the Unitarian Universalist community.  Here I can explore my spirituality and religion without feeling obligated to agree to anything.  This change is something I want to talk about - and am happy to talk about - but not in this post.  Feel free to ask me about it via phone or email.  I will take the time to share that story with the blog world at some point...soon.

Back to Sunday.  Our local UU church invited it's Pagan members to perform the service and celebrate the Winter's Solstice.

If you know anything about my Mom you know that she's an earth-loving, women's rights pursuing, Jesus-loving Mormon.  (That's my simplistic description of her - not hers) We grew up in a home where spirit was celebrated both on Sunday but also in every natural experience we had. We welcomed the Christmas season with stories from the Bible and then celebrated the New Year by meditating on the year past and lightening a candle signifying our hopes for the next. We did Earth Mother card readings at camping and sang chants when we released found animals back into nature.  So stepping into the Pagan world isn't that hard to do.

The CUUPS group performed a play/vignette/ritual to celebrate the Winter's Solstice.  We have, in our family, long celebrated the Summer's Solstice.  Summer has always been easy to celebrate.  It's the season of my birth, the season of my sunflower.  It's warm and comforting.  

On Sunday I found myself being challenged to better understand the season of Winter and the life season of death.  To bring myself to understand the entire cycle.  To realize that the Summer I love so much, the celebration of birth that I love so much, is all predicated on the previous season ending.  

There were so many things I loved about the service:  

* Having a moment to reflect on what my ancestors of long ago lived like and celebrated.  No one knows how to celebrate the return of the sun like the Swedish.  They seem to understand and appreciate what the Winter is about.

* Watching each person, as a season, physically turn to the next to welcome it in and pass on the light.

* Being asked 'Did you think it would last forever' as each season bid farewell.

* And I loved what each Season said about itself.  I've put it here, but you can read the entire ritual text HERE:  

EAST GUARDIAN: I am the East, the place of dawn, ruled by the element of Air. I am
The breath of Life, gifter of thought, speech and song. I watch over all the winged ones. I am the season of Spring, the season of birth and new creation.

Can you remember the Spring? Life surged forth in buds and sprouts. The trees
dress their branches in new leaves as the sap rises to rouse them from sleep.
The birds returned from the realms of the South to raise their children. New life comes forth and multiplies. The Earth leans towards the Sun as she greens and blossoms. Each day the young Sun rises in the East and each day grows stronger. Each day the time of light lasts longer. Did you think it would last forever? The Wheel Turns!

SOUTH GUARDIAN: I am the South, the place of midday, ruled by the element of Fire.
I am the passion and laughter of life. Guardian of all that walks and crawls on
the Earth. I hold the gift of fertile Earth from which your crops come forth. I am
the blessing of children, the keeper of truth and innocence. I am the season of

Can you remember the Summer? The fruit was set upon the Vines and the
branches of the trees. The herds fatten on the thick grass of the upper pastures.
Young animals scamper and play under the watchful eyes of the older animals.
The young birds learn to fly. Your own children take shade under the glorious
leaf canopy of the trees. The Earth leans nearest the sun, radiant in her beauty.
The Sun, strong and hot, is at the peak of his power. And the light exceeds the
darkness. Did you think it would last forever? The Wheel turns!

WEST GUARDIAN: I am the West, place of dusk, ruled by the Element of Water. I am
the keeper of life-giving water, from the oceans depths to the waters of the
womb that rocked you before your birth. I am the sweet rain satisfying the thirsty
Earth and keeper of all that swims and lives in water. I am the place of all that
lies below the surface, of intuition and dreams. And I am the season of Fall and
the time of Harvest. Can you remember the Fall?

Do you remember the backbreaking labor of harvesting the grains and fruits and
vegetables. The vines and trees were heavy with their bounty. Now the young
animals take their places beside the elders and begin the great migrations to
the Realms of the South and the pastures of the lowland.

The trees transform from deep green into glorious gold, orange and red, - their
true colors shine forth before they drop their finery, leaf by leaf to the ground.
Your own children must be dressed against the morning and evening chill and
you labor to make ready for the coming darkness. The Earth stands apart from
the Sun who grows cooler and the light begins to die. Did you think it would last
forever? The Wheel turns!

NORTH GUARDIAN: I am the North, the place of midnight, ruled by the element
of Earth. I am the place of the ancestors and ancient wisdom, of all that has
walked the wheel through millennia and knows the way. I rule the time of
Winter. Now the time of Darkness is upon us- a time of cold and scarcity when
the northern-most Earth leans farthest from the Sun. Now the Sun gives brief light
and little warmth. The life that was lies shattered and still - retreated like refugees
in the migration of herds, the flight of the flocks. The trees stand stripped and
naked, their once glorious leaves and fruits lie rotting at their feet. Now their
branches are imprisoned in ice, bent and broken by storms. In the time of
suffering and hardship you learn what is essential. In the time, of cold and dark,
death seems to triumph. Did you think it would last forever? The Wheel turns!

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