We arrive at the shortest day. Silence. Stillness. This moment, when I am writing, is the darkness just before the dawn. The year, too, is dawning. Sit in the dark. Feel the empty quiet around you. Breathe in. Breathe out. Holy, holy, holy.
Gratitude List: 1. Laughing with my family. Somebody said last night that they were glad we get to celebrate Winter Stoltzfus together. 2. The long night is over and the day is dawning. 3. There are still many days to become acquainted with the shadows, but the light is returning. 4. How the house lights make the dew sparkle and twinkle. Light and shadow. Light and shadow 5. Now the day begins, the laughter, the clatter, the murmurs, the music the twinkling eyes.
If this journey into the December darkness is a labyrinth, today we have come to the second to last turning, the final passage before we turn inward to the center circle. Today is the approach, the last moment in the labyrinth walk, when I am usually asking myself, “Have I missed anything that I need to lay down, to let go of, to relinquish?”
Inanna gave up–willingly–all her symbols of personal power in her underground search for her sister, until at last she came to the deep central chamber naked and unadorned. No pretense, no mask, no tool, could hide or protect her when she entered the chamber to greet her sister, who was all moving shadow, all hidden secret.
What are the last unexamined scraps of our deep selves that we have left unexamined? What personal power have we yet failed to turn over to the guards at the gates?
Yesterday while I was folding clothes, I listened to LeVar Burton read the short story “Navigators,” by Mike Meginnis, about a boy and his father who play a video game whose heroine, instead of gathering powers as the game progresses, slowly gives up her powers. Each item they find in their hero’s journey disables something of the video character’s power. As she lost strength and speed, they began to notice other hidden aspects of the game, places they could hide, and ways their hero could escape rather than fight. It struck me how much this is like the Inanna tale.
So much there is that I want to fight for. I don’t want to enter this next doorway defenseless. If I am going to keep participating in this battle for justice for the children, for those who seek asylum and justice, for the planet herself, don’t I need to keep my fighting powers intact? Don’t I need to gain strength and power instead of letting it all fall away?
And there, I think, I am beginning to come toward the kernel that I might be trying to learn in this year’s labyrinth. In November, I experienced a significant hit to my ego, a sideways blow that made me question myself and my sense of belonging. Trying to respond with vulnerability and yet maintain my sense of safety took a great deal of inner energy. I raged a little bit that fate would keep bringing me this particular lesson–Didn’t I do the chapter on ego back in 2003? Haven’t I been through all the review sessions? Haven’t I already passed all the levels of this test?
There’s always one more test. You’re never really done. I stand here and hold my fragile ego in my hands, my own words from past lessons and tests ringing in my ears: Begin the lesson again. Lay it down. Break it open. One. Final. Thing.
Gratitude List: 1. Punctuation. I put a couple little punctuation jokes on the the board yesterday. Most of my classes smiled politely, but one class suddenly broke into an intense discussion of how we use punctuation in texting and social media these days, how it’s changing, how punctuation has suddenly become necessary to help create the emotional context for digital communication. It took twenty minutes of the class period, but it was such delightful intellectual analysis that I was happy to set aside the plan. 2. Those bright and shiny student brains and hearts. In three classes, we concluded Julius Caesar yesterday. At the end, I asked them to consider their own ideals for their countries. What is the purpose of a government? What should be the relationship of government to people? In two of the classes, more than five countries were represented, and in all of them were students from both sides of the US political spectrum, but in all three classes, the ideals brought forth were the same. 3. Examining the last shreds of ego to relinquish to December darkness. Today is the last leg of the inward journey. Tomorrow is the dark and quiet inner chamber. And then we begin walking toward the light. 4. Breaks from the routine. 5. Pops of color in the grey.
Such a strange and wakeful night it was. The borders between sleep and unsleep were oddly porous. Toward the end there, I did fall into deeper grooves of dream and sleep. I don’t feel particularly unrested, so there’s that. Perhaps it’s the load of work still to get done this week, or the doings in the House today, or the season, or the excitement of going to play practice again after twenty-five years. Or maybe it was simply cats and digestion.
This season, I have been reading Gayle Boss’ All Creation Waits again, learning about the various states of torpor and hibernation and quiet of various animals throughout a northern winter. I, too, feel torpor taking me, but it’s not always about deep sleep for me. Sometimes, it feels more like a simple need to rest quietly and profoundly, while the stories play out in my brain.
Winter is, for me, the Dreaming Time. I do head more readily toward sleep, if I don’t always actually make it to the deepest waters. After Solstice and Christmas, in the hush of nights when the planet seems to pause in its dance, as she begins the whirl back to exquisite balance, I listen more closely to my dreams, watching for symbols and images and words that I might mine for use in the coming year. Already, my night-brain seems to be readying me for the work of conscious dreaming.
Now comes the work of remembering and sorting the images that come in those half wakeful moments between the dreaming and sleeping and waking. May your dreams bring you wisdom.
Gratitude List: 1. The startling talents of my students. 2. The wisdom of dreams and darkness 3. Break is coming 4. Only 3 days until Sunreturn 5. Little spaces in the coming day in which to breathe
The sun is not yet rising on this morning of Sunreturn. That’s a term I think I made up myself. Over the years, I have felt the need to slightly separate my Solstice observance from my deep celebration of the next day. I need to keep a space for both: for marking the full darkness, and for joyful honoring of the returning of the light. So I made up a word for it, unless I stole it from someone else.
On Solstice, I settle into the darkness, feel the long night, the blanket of winter. But on Sunreturn, I delight in the turning back to the sun. Yesterday, we reached the end of the tunnel. I could sit in the darkness and feel the satisfaction of another year’s journey to the outer reaches. Today, we turn our faces again to the sun, and begin the journey toward that light.
So my word for today is Sunreturn. May the sun shine upon you. As I have written this, drinking coffee with my sister and my father, hearing the wind whistling around outside, the day has gently dawned into grey morning.
Gratitude List: 1. Christmas karaoke in chapel yesterday 2. The Welcoming Place at MCC 3. Last night’s Solstice Celebration at Community Mennonite. 4. The young man did not jump off the bridge. I might not be able to ever wash that image from my brain, seeing him sitting there, officers and caregivers and concerned citizens gathered around and below him. I suppose all those helpers gathered around were, in their way, Clarence the Angel. I will listen for the bells of the season with a different ear this year. 5. Sunreturn
May we walk in beauty!
(I feel like I should explain #4. On the way here to the Welcoming Place from school yesterday, the traffic on 222 slowed suddenly and measurably. As we approached a bridge that goes over the highway, we noticed that traffic was completely stopped on the other side, beginning at the bridge. I speculated that someone had stood on the overpass and thrown things down on passing motorists, because there were people gathered on the bridge. Only as we approached did I see that they were gathered at a short distance from a clearly distraught young man sitting on the edge of the bridge. The highway was closed for a couple of hours. News reports say that a police officer eventually “grabbed” the man, and he was taken to a hospital for observation.)
“There is really only one way to restore a world that is dying and in disrepair: to make beauty where ugliness has set in. By beauty, I don’t mean a superficial attractiveness, though the word is commonly used in this way. Beauty is a loveliness admired in its entirety, not just at face value. The beauty I’m referring to is metabolized grief. It includes brokenness and fallibility, and in so doing, conveys for us something deliciously real. Like kintsukuroi, the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with powdered gold, what is normally seen as a fatal flaw is distinguished with value. When we come into contact with this kind of beauty, it serves as a medicine for the brokenness in ourselves, which then gives us the courage to live in greater intimacy with the world’s wounds.” —Toko-pa Turner
“God has scattered the proud in their conceit.
God has cast down the mighty from their thrones
and has lifted up the lowly.
God has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.” —Mary
“No human relation gives one possession in another—every two souls are absolutely different. In friendship or in love, the two side by side raise hands together to find what one cannot reach alone.” —Kahlil Gibran
“Always there comes an hour when one is weary of one’s work and devotion to duty, and all one craves for is a loved face, the warmth and wonder of a loving heart.” —Albert Camus
“Be like a tree and let the dead leaves drop. ” —Rumi
My heart is moved by all I cannot save:
so much has been destroyed
I have to cast my lot with those
who age after age, perversely,
with no extraordinary power
reconstitute the world.
Every year at this time, I feel the anxiety and restlessness begin to rise within me, and the cold settles into my bones. Every year, I need to consciously ease my spirit into the season. This year, from the beginning of December until Epiphany, I will set it down here on the blog. May we journey into the darkness with intention and tenderness.
Do you feel how it approaches? The shift? The transition? The time of the change is nearing. In each of our whirling dances about the sun, we have two moments when we spin furthest from our star: the solstices. While I feel it in the summer’s languid play of days, I am more keenly aware each year in the quiet dark of winter. Just two more days and we will be at one of our furthest points from the sun, and here in the northern hemisphere, our face is tilted away.
Today, my word will be unclench. My shoulders, mostly, but my breathing, my forehead, my gut, as well. I have noticed myself naturally doing it in the past week–stopping, pausing, sighing, letting the tensions drain downward and away.
Gratitude List: 1. The Donor. Yesterday, we learned that someone has donated a sum of money to begin the process of updating our oldest classroom building. I love this building, but teaching in August and late May can be nearly impossible as students melt into their desks. This money will begin the renovations which will bring my hall some air conditioning. 2. Geese raggedly embroidering the sky 3. Magenta clouds 4. Strong female characters in books. In my reading lately: Antigone, Katniss Everdeen, Jane Eyre, Cordelia 5. Rhythm
May we walk in Beauty!
“…and I am out with lanterns, looking for myself.” —Emily Dickinson
I am my own Home, now.
Wherever I move
the Light –
It moves with me.
I open all of the windows and the doors
so that God can come and go easily.
I don’t know why God takes such delight
in this House I call “Me”.
where hearts come to be broken.
At the end of the Long Day I always ask.
“God? Why, hearts to be broken?”
And God always replies,
“Never broken, dear Lover _
“Find the antidote in the venom.” —Rumi
“Only two more days of the walk into the darkness. I am so grateful for the way the light kept finding me today. I’m not really on the edge, and I am not losing it, but I feel the edges of the panic, the sense of claustrophobia. I like the darkness. I love the inward-turn of winter, but always, at the edge, there’s the. . .well, the edge. So. There’s the Sun. And Stars and a growing Moon. And Mother Darkness. Comfort me. Disturb me.” —Beth Weaver-Kreider (from several years ago)
“In one of the stars, I shall be living.
In one of them, I shall be laughing.
And so it will be as if all the stars were laughing
When you look at the sky at night.”
―The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupery *
“Now go hug your kids.”
―Bret Sidler (my heart is with you and Sue in these late June days)
“All that you touch you change. All that you change changes you.” ―Octavia Butler
“The world is not to be put in order. The world is order. It is for us to put ourselves in unison with this order.”
― Henry Miller
“The greatest danger to our future is apathy.”
Prayer for the World
by Rabbi Harold Kushner
Let the rain come and wash away
the ancient grudges, the bitter hatreds
held and nurtured over generations.
Let the rain wash away the memory
of the hurt, the neglect.
Then let the sun come out and
fill the sky with rainbows.
Let the warmth of the sun heal us
wherever we are broken.
Let it burn away the fog so that
we can see each other clearly.
So that we can see beyond labels,
beyond accents, gender or skin color.
Let the warmth and brightness
of the sun melt our selfishness.
So that we can share the joys and
feel the sorrows of our neighbors.
And let the light of the sun
be so strong that we will see all
people as our neighbors.
Let the earth, nourished by rain,
bring forth flowers
to surround us with beauty.
And let the mountains teach our hearts
to reach upward to heaven.
Gratitude List: 1. Mullein. I know I said it a couple days ago, but yesterday I drove toward York, and there was a huge patch all along the roadside, all the bright yellow candles lit for midsummer. I did not have a fire last night for St. John’s Eve, but the Hag’s Tapers were lit up everywhere.
2. Titmice calling in the trees to wake me up.
3. Preparing for my time at the monastery, gathering books and art materials, ideas for meditation.
4. Today is Cycle the Solstice, and one small person in my house is really excited.
5. The way rain refreshes the soil, the plants, and my heart.
Art at Kreutz Creek Valley Library Center. It’s a tiny library, but such big things happen there. It is truly a community center.
I jumped the starting gun again yesterday on Solstice. Apparently it’s become my pattern. Happy Longest Day to you! May your seeds grow. May your pathway be clear. May your light shine brightly. Blessed be.
“Now, on the longest day, light triumphs, and yet begins the decline into dark. We turn the Wheel… for we have planted the seeds of our own changes, and to grow we must accept even the passing of the sun… Set Sail…See with clear eyes…See how we shine!” —Starhawk
“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious.
It is the source of all true art and science.” —Albert Einstein
“To live is to be musical, starting with the blood dancing in your veins. Everything living has a rhythm. Do you feel your music?” —Michael Jackson
“Ceremonies large and small have the power to focus attention to a way of living awake in the world. The visible became invisible, merging with the soil.” —Robin Wall Kimmerer
We who prayed and wept
for liberty from kings
and the yoke of liberty
accept the tyranny of things
we do not need.
In plenitude too free,
we have become adept
beneath the yoke of greed.
Those who will not learn
in plenty to keep their place
must learn it by their need
when they have had their way
and the fields spurn their seed.
We have failed Thy grace.
Lord, I flinch and pray,
send Thy necessity.
“The cure for anything is salt water – tears, sweat, or the sea. ” —Isak Dinesen
Gratitude List: 1. The boys are becoming fanatical readers. We went to the library yesterday, and they’ve already read most of their books.
2. Yesterday’s inspiring keynote speech by Hasan Davis (you can google him). His message was that all children need at least one adult to believe in them, to believe that they’ll become their best selves in spite of the odds.
3. Summer days. This is one of the first days of summer for me that doesn’t have some plan or process or meeting in it. I do have something to prepare for tomorrow, but really–I get to schedule today as I want to. I am giving myself at least an hour of writing, and an hour of schoolwork and some cleaning/tidying/organizing. These boys may need another trip to the library. I think we’ll have to take another long walk.
4. The library. Libraries. The public library system in the US is a national treasure. I am grateful that my taxes go to support libraries. Support libraries, not drones!
5. We’re still sniffly in this house, but since the trees are no longer blooming, we seem to be getting out of the worst of tree-allergy season.
Another year has dawned, Bright Ones! And of course time is a human construct. Where we begin to count its passage on this Wheel of the Year is utterly arbitrary. I like how it has come to be that we create a passage, a doorway in time, here in this place of winter, just after we have swung around the sun again and begun to whirl in toward Equinox. I love the Days Out of Time marked by the twelve or fifteen days of Solstice or Christmas to Epiphany. I revel in the dreamtime of these days.
I have been mining my dreams again for the word or phrase that I will take into this year. Several years ago, I woke up one morning with the word Palimpsest in my head. It became my word for the year, the idea that we live in layers, simultaneously experiencing the past and the present. The next year was Bridge. The next, Mystery and Secrets and Impeccability. And last year’s phrase was Bold Wise Counsel. Ooh. That was important. What will be my word for this year, I wonder? I have begun to wait until the Dreamtime of Twelvenight is officially over on Epiphany, so I will give myself these next five nights to settle. I think because we celebrated Epiphany Sunday at church this morning, I am particularly impatient this year.
Join me? Keep particular watch on your dreams (daydreams, too) and conversations in the coming days. What images keep coming back? What songs present themselves? What names keep surfacing in conversation? Be like the Magi, who followed their intuition and a star through the dark nights to seek their truth. What will be your words and images for 2017?
Here is a poem I wrote in 2015 about the impatience and the anticipation of seeking out the word or idea that I will use to shape and mold my story for the coming year:
Waiting for the Dreams
by Beth Weaver-Kreider
While I wait for the dreams to be complete
while I sit at the feet of winter
waiting for the little bell to ring
for the sound of rushing wings
for the things born in darkness
to take form
to rise up–
while a vulture flies across my window
red root and plantain nourish and heal me
a lynx crouches by a granite outcrop in the meadow
the storyteller raises her voice in a chant of longing
and a silent girl turns the corner ahead of me
I sit down to work
and sleep overtakes me:
One more vision for the road
One more message for the journey
Gratitude List: 1. Give Yourself to Love. What a song. I loved Mindy and Jared’s version this morning.
2. The Magi–colorful, messy outsiders who followed their intuition and a star: What a story about stepping into the unknown dark to seek their truth with only the stars and their intuition to guide. Mindy’s tales of magi this morning: Giving, Resisting, and Being Honest.
3. Dinner with the family, reflecting on the ways in which our parents have inspired us, considering–in their presence–some of the legacy they have given us: noticing beauty, advocacy, mentoring others, using their own voices to empower others. The story of Grandpa wanting to send my mother to college, how Uncle Moses and Aunt Lydia told him to send her to EMC, which is where she met my father. The story of Joe Shenk introducing them, and of their first “date.” How series of decisions come together to make a story happen.
4. Those vultures, sunsheen on their black feathers, kettling above Columbia this morning.
5. An afternoon with my college friends. Dear, dear thoughtful people. There’s never enough time together, and yet even a few hours is satisfying. What a profound blessing it is to have friends who are family.
One of the perks of having people riding with me to school in the morning is that I can ask someone else to take pictures of the Solstice sunrise over the bridge. The picture on the right has been sent through a filter–I like what it did with the visual rhythm of the old bridge.
During these long nights after Solstice, I try to stay particularly aware of my dreams. This evening after supper, I fell asleep on the recliner. I can’t remember the whole dream. I remember a sense of feeling like I was sort of an outsider in a group of people at some sort of resort, but the image that strikes me was of a mountainside across a bay. There were large areas of woody hillside covered in blue and purple shadows, but the sun was shining down on one bit that was bright emerald green. When I conjure the image in my head, it’s like a piece of painted art rather than a physical landscape, but in my dream, I desperately wanted to get a picture of that little green patch of sunny green.
Last night, I had planned to spend some time working on a meditation I had just read. I thought I could work my way into the space of the meditation, and then gently fall asleep, but I couldn’t get past the first moment of focus on the candle flame. Every time I woke up in the night, I would go back to the flame, and start with orienting myself in space, and then I would be asleep. Perhaps it would be good to have something like that for the insomnia moments.
Gratitude List: 1. Christmas Caroling and Singalong Chapel. The men’s chorus singing “Twelve Days of Christmas” was one of the funniest Christmas carol moments ever. The women’s chorus was beautiful, and Javon’s final song, “Peace on Earth” gave me the chills.
2. Cloud-shadows on the sky
3. Fred’s Christmas routine. He can no longer jump up to sleep on the Nativity scene like he used to. Now every morning he goes under the little table, beneath the table cloth, and waits for someone to toss his mouse to him. Then he goes and plays shark hockey with the sharks that Josiah sets with his Lego world. He still has a lot of kitten in him.
5. Long naps and dreamtime
Breathe deep the light-filled air.
Feel how the new sun touches you.
Remember the stars that circled you
through the long hours of darkness.
Sit within the circle of the dwindling dark
and feel the way it bathes you with memory.
Walk the bridge between dream and daylight.
These are the nights of the dreamtime. The tender new sun is born into the hush of midwinter, and we can hold the quiet light within us as we walk, careful step by careful step, out of the labyrinth. The inward journey into the darkness has stripped us of our crucial identity, piece by painful piece. And now, as we step outward, the darkness offers us new gifts, images that come in dreams. As the days gradually lengthen, and the dark nights wane, what words and images will the journey offer you to put into your pockets for the coming year?
Gratitude List: 1. Those really super-bright stars at evening and morning. Sometimes you get those news reports that THIS star or THIS comet is going to appear fifty times bigger than usual, and I look and I can’t discern any difference. But that star in the west last evening, and one in the east this morning were so incredibly large and bright. I wonder if it’s a function of my aging eyesight? No matter. It’s compelling.
2. Driving into the Solstice sun this morning. The sky was like a gentle watercolor painting.
3. Waiting quietly in this space at the edge of the void, a moment between moments. Stepping into time outside of time. Walking over the Dreamtime Bridge.
4. Approaching a time of rest.
5. The people who get it. Today I read a Jan Richardson poem to my classes, and I posted a picture of Richardson on the Smart Board that included a statement about “Seeking the thin places that exist between heaven and earth.” One of my students, who has some learning struggles, got really wide-eyed and said, “I like that poem-thing you have up on the board there. It’s like when you go to a place with a lot of history, like caverns, that you know have been there since before people were around, and it feels like heaven is right there.” What a wise, intuitive boy.