Today is the winter solstice, the longest night of the year. This morning the sun rose at 8:43am, and it will set this afternoon at 2:46pm. We won’t see any of that, though, because the sun’s entire path across the sky is obscured by clouds. Today feels dark and closed-in, and I’ve felt an overwhelming tiredness that led me to nap all morning. I want to go for a walk in the remaining hour of daylight to gather some sticks and twigs in the forest by our place, to light when the kids come home this evening.
Did you know that the solstice isn’t defined simply as the longest night of the year, but has an actual single moment it corresponds to? I didn’t. The solstice marks the moment the sun shines at its most southern point, directly over the Tropic of Capricorn. This year that happened at 5:54am Eastern Standard Time. From this moment on, the days get longer. Thank goodness.
But in thinking about it, today is not just about celebrating the return of the light (though that’s a wonderful thing); it’s also about honoring the darkness. I’ve been ruminating on that the last few days and wondering what it means, and this morning a talk by David Whyte came back to me.
In his luminous, life-affirming talk The Poetry of Self-Compassion, Whyte shares his poem “Faith”:
I want to write about faith,
about the way the moon rises
over cold snow, night after night,
faithful even as it fades from fullness,
slowly becoming that last curving and impossible
sliver of light before the final darkness.
But I have no faith myself
I refuse it even the smallest entry.
Let this then, my small poem,
like a new moon, slender and barely open,
be the first prayer that opens me to faith.
He then goes on to say,
What would that life be like where you had equal faith in the part of you that was fading away as the part of you that was growing? The part of you that was dying, the part of you that was failing? The part of you that was saying the wrong thing to the wrong person at the wrong time in your career? That there’s, as Wordsworth put it, some dark invisible workmanship beneath it all. Wordsworth said, “There is a dark invisible workmanship that reconciles discordant elements and makes them move in one society.”
I’ve been thinking about this today, on the solstice, thinking of the fading moon part of life. In American society in particular, there’s a lot of shame associated with losing and failing, with being weak or vulnerable, with not being perfect (or at least great). But aren’t losing, failing, weakness, vulnerability, and imperfection a huge part of life? I sometimes think that learning to handle those things with grace and dignity is one of the chief projects of life. What if we all had a little more faith in our own darkness?
This evening, as we light a small fire on our balcony to honor the winter solstice, I’ll think of darkness—today’s long night, as well as the fading parts of myself. And then as we come inside, I’ll light some candles and pour warm glögg in a mug and be grateful for the return of the light.
Top photo by me; bottom photo by Mike Labrum.
Also check out the fun photos from the winter light and sound festival we went to at Rosendals Trädgård.