Winter Solstice: Honoring the Longest Night of the Year

WILTSHIRE, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 22:  A man blows a horn as druids, pagans and revellers take part in a winter solstice ceremony
WILTSHIRE, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 22: A man blows a horn as druids, pagans and revellers take part in a winter solstice ceremony at Stonehenge on December 22, 2011 in Wiltshire, England. The unseasonable warm weather encouraged a larger than normal crowd to gather at the famous historic stone circle to celebrate the sunrise closest to the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year. (Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images)

Solstice. The ancients thought the sun stood still in the sky, hence the Roman name for this event: Sol Sistere. This is how the sun -- at it's lowest or highest point depending on whether it is summer or winter where we live -- appears to us from earth: as though it is taking a grand pause before shifting direction.

For contemporary people, solstices -- summer or winter -- are a chance to still ourselves inside, to behold the glory of the cosmos, and to take a breath with the Sacred. Solstice also gives us the opportunity to ask whether or not we are still on the correct course. We need to ask that in these times, both personally and collectively.

How do we honor this event? In the Northern hemisphere, friends gather to celebrate the longest night. We may light candles, or dance around bonfires. We may share festive meals, or sing, or pray. Some of us tell stories and keep vigil as a way of making certain that the sun will rise again. Something in us needs to know that at the end of the longest night, there will be light.

In connecting with the natural world in a way that honors the sacred immanent in all things, we establish a resonance with the seasons. Ritual helps to shift our consciousness to reflect the outer world inside our inner landscape: the sun stands still within us, and time changes. After the longest night, we sing up the dawn. There is a rejoicing that, even in the darkest time, the sun is not vanquished. Sol Invictus -- the Unconquered Sun -- is seen once again, staining the horizon with the promise of hope and brilliance.

We need to see that light. We need to feel that hope remains in the world, even in the face of young children shot dead in a classroom, or in a village after drone strikes, even in the face of rising waters and devastated forests. The sun is our symbol of that hope. Day and night dance together in the cosmos, just as beauty and fear dance among us every day.

As 21st century people, do we really think the sun won't rise again? We don't. Yet kindling our small fires and gathering in the darkness feels important. Singing up the coming light is a balm for the embattled soul. These rituals remind us that in the midst of the worst pain that can be inflicted, some things are still whole. Some things are still beautiful. Some things continue to occur, in all their beauty, no matter what else is happening on this earth.

May our coming days be blessed with warmth and laughter. May any tears be dried by the hands of those we love. May we share what we have with one another, spreading the light from a single flame, until the world is lit against encroaching darkness.

And for my friends in the Southern Hemisphere, may your light burn just as brightly, as you dance in the heat of the longest day.

Like the bright sun, all of us are alive and have our purpose. We can find new ways to shine.

Happy Solstice.