Yule: Be the Light of the Returning Sun

A flame is passed from candle to candle by a crowd gathered on the court square for a vigil for the victims of the Newtown, C
A flame is passed from candle to candle by a crowd gathered on the court square for a vigil for the victims of the Newtown, Conn. school shooting Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2012 in Shelby, N.C. (AP Photo/The Star, Brittany Randolph)

I am having a hard time preparing for Yule.

It isn't for lack of trying. It isn't because I haven't been engaged in my religious life. In fact, the opposite it true.

For the better part of the past few months, I've been building the Solitary Druid Fellowship (SDF), an extension of my Druid tradition, Ár nDraíocht Féin (ADF). The project was born from the idea that solitary Druids, or Pagans with Druid leanings, could benefit from the development of a shared liturgical practice; one rooted in ADF teachings and structured around the Wheel of the Year. Our hope is that this shared practice will create for solitaries the experience of congregation in solitude.

SDF launched on Dec. 11 and the first SDF liturgy was made available to the public on the following Monday, giving people plenty of time before the Solstice to familiarize themselves with the free liturgy and customize it to their needs. This project, the crafting of the liturgy and the development of a simple website, has been my central focus for so long now. I'm already beginning to think about how the participants in this shared practice will begin to process what our experiences in ritual were like. I plan to open up a dialogue on the SDF blog about that very topic on the week following Yule.

So, my difficulty around this High Day isn't for lack of attention, or even lack of trying. I think I'm having a hard time approaching the observance of Yule because -- and this may seem strange to many Pagans -- I'm yearning for some sort of moral lesson attached to the High Day; some distinctly Pagan message of hope, one that addresses the tragedy that befell the community in Connecticut last week, and the emotional aftermath that swept through the world.

I cannot ignore the timing of this event. I cannot pretend that what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary, or more pointedly, what happened in the heart of a man that would lead him to be so heartless, does not affect me. I feel very affected, to the point where celebration seems almost inappropriate.

I've found myself yearning for some narrative of reconciliation, or perhaps even redemption. The latter word brings up red flags for many a Pagan, and I understand why. But the redemption I've been seeking is not one connected to the Christian narrative. I haven't been looking for a savior, or hoping for redemption in the form of a transactional clearing of my spiritual debts. The redemption I yearn for in the wake of the shooting, on the eve of Yule, is of a strictly human nature.

In a way, I do not want an invocation, or some divine intervention to be necessary in order for redemption to occur. I don't want a god to have to swoop down and save humanity from our cruelty and viciousness toward one another. Instead, I long for a redemption that is born out of the human heart, inspired from our own desire to be kind, loving and compassionate. I would like for us to redeem ourselves to each other, to come to terms with the distance we put between us and our neighbors, to release ourselves from indifference, to recognize that our lives are indelibly interconnected.

I would like to feel that Yule is not just an observance of the balance of light and dark in the outer world, but that it is a moment where we reconcile ourselves to the light and dark within us. And I would like a story, a lesson, a moral teaching that contextualizes the spiritual conflict that is created by such a tragedy. I would like for us -- for Pagans -- to be willing to speak from our moral convictions about the need for compassion, the need for caring, the need for understanding. I would like for us to sit with the discomfort, and to be able to speak to the very hard stuff of being human.

In my tradition, and for many Pagans, the light is not equated with good, nor is the darkness equated with evil. We don't moralize nature, or use the symbols of nature to moralize with one another. But I have to tell you, at this point I think I might welcome a little moralizing.

Perhaps something like:

Be good to one another. Be kind. Do this not out of fear of retribution from an angry god, but because kindness breeds kindness.

Reach out to those in pain, and allow for others to reach out to you. Their heart is your heart, and their body your body.

Be a good steward of the life you have, and of the lives of those around you. The two are no different.

Recognize that your solitude is not a liability, and that even when you are alone you can direct your heart toward the common good.

Be in the world. Be fully in the world. Love the land beneath your feet, the air you breath, the food you eat and share, and the people you depend on.

Live from your heart, and nurture the hearts of others. Do this without reservation, and you will be a beacon of hope in the world. You will be the returning sun. You will be the light which illuminates this place, and reminds people of the beauty in their midst.

This is what my heart yearns for.

Perhaps I will heed my own words and approach Yule with this understanding. I will seek out the light of the returning sun, and let that light be my light. As I watch the days grow longer and the world be made ready for new life again, I will seek to be, myself, a symbol of that new growth, that abundant light.

I think I can do that. I can try, at least.

Please share in the comments the ways that you are approaching Yule this year. If you have any messages you'd like to share about how you've dealt with the tragedy at Sandy Hook, please post them here. And if you'd like to know more about the Solitary Druid Fellowship, you can find more information at SolitaryDruid.org.