“In the bleak midwinter” could be my theme song these days. I’m tired. The weather is glum. I’ve had enough election news.
The phrase is the name of a favorite carol written by the English poet Christina Rossetti in the 1800s and set to music by Gustav Holst.
In the bleak mid-winter
Frosty wind made moan;
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, Snow on snow,
In the bleak mid-winter
This is the darkest time of the year in a year that has already been so dark. I’m ready for new light. I even put up our Christmas tree and lights on Thanksgiving day. (I’ve never done that before.) I bought LED lights so I wouldn’t feel so guilty leaving them on.
I need light.
As I look forward to Solstice beckoning in the return of the light and the lengthening, I realized, oddly enough, that I didn’t want to rush through the darkness, The darkness has its purposes, too.
Social activist Valarie Kaur said it most poetically, referring to our present situations as the darkness of the womb, not the darkness of the tomb.
I’ve given myself the job this week to feel what wants to grow inside me.
As much as I enjoy the lights my husband and I put up, what I need most of all is inner light. In the darkness, one small candle can illuminate a room. This time of year invites me to nurture my inner flame.
It’s not always easy to find my inner glow. Healthy practices like breathing, laughing, and singing can help.
I also want to take extra minutes for contemplation this week. I need to find my light.
Here’s a process I’m trying:
- As I sit, breathing calmly, I picture a candle glowing in the darkness. I imagine its heat and light within me, expanding.
- I feel the sources of light outside me: the sun, the stars, as well as the earth with its fiery chambers.
- I connect with my love for that which is numinous, mysterious, and eternal.
- I remember whom I love and what I love. My husband, my dogs, my copper beech tree, my friends, our slanted madrona tree, the books, my tea, people I admire, ancestors, and strangers who are struggling with Covid.
- The list grows. I let my love expand.
- I allow my gratitude to fuel my inner flame. As I do, my light quickens.
- Then I sit and open myself to receive love from the world.
- I imagine myself like a star, radiating and receiving love.
- Finally, I pause, give thanks, and resume my outer life.
All around the world, people celebrate the return of the sun. In Norway, it’s called Yule; in China, Dongzhi; in Iran, Shab-e Yalda. The sun was critical to early agricultural societies–no wonder people wanted to pray for its return. But a winter festival is also a time to mark the passing of a year, a time for letting go, and a time for celebrating.
I need to celebrate Solstice to mark the passage of the seasons in a year that seems weirdly arrhythmic. (Sometimes I don’t know what month we’re in.) Solstice helps me remember that nature, the sun, and the planets continue to move on course, even when our human world seems whacko. This year, I will spend time contemplating prior to Solstice and then use the event to take a pause, turn off the lights, and appreciate both the dark and the light. Then I’ll turn them back on and look to the time ahead.
I might also release to the fire something from 2020 (the list is long), and pick something to welcome in 2021.
On the Solstice, the sun will start returning. In January, the election kafoodle will be over. But the need to nurture our inner flame will continue.
“In the Bleak Midwinter” ends:
What can I give him, Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd I would bring a lamb,
If I were a wise man I would do my part,
Yet what I can I give Him? Give my heart.
When I need to find my inner light, the one source I can always count on is my heart.
Now, time to turn on a few more holiday lights.
If you haven’t heard the carol, here’s a lovely version.