Monthly Archives: December 2015

A Word for the New Year

word

“Always we begin again,” says Benedict of Nursia, in his 6th century rule for monastics.

Always we begin again.

Every moment is a new beginning. Some moments hit us over the head with their “new beginning-ness.” The moment our clocks click over from 11:59 pm on December 31st to 12:00 am on January 1st is a very powerful moment. There’s a whole brand spankin’ new unsullied year stretching ahead of us.

One way to harness the power of a new year is to make resolutions. If you’re a maker of resolutions and you get the results you want, read no further. But if your resolutions leave you feeling like a flat failure, I invite you to consider a “Word for the New Year” practice.

The practice of discerning a word is usually more intuitive and heart-centered than making a resolution. A word comes from within. A word acts as a guide and illuminates the path before us. A word feels kind and gentle, sustainable and sustaining, even as it challenges and provokes. A word inspires.

Here’s the process I’m using this year with several groups: Word for the New Year 2015.12.29  I based this series of questions on a poem by Spanish mystic John of the Cross, and it’s pregnant with incarnational imagery.

Abbey of the Arts online Abbess Christine Valters Paintner offers a twelve-day mini-retreat focused on discerning a word for the year, which you can access here.

If you want a more entrepreneurial, business-oriented word of the year process, check out Christine Kane’s resources.

And share your word in the comments, if you’re so inclined.

Coming soon: some ways to work with and honor your word, once you’ve chosen it, or it’s chosen you.

Happy New Year! May you harness the power of new beginnings!

~Barb

Winter Solstice: Two Poems

Milky Way (I learn to paint stars)

Milky Way 

WINTER SOLSTICE 

Perhaps
for a moment
the typewriters will stop clicking,
the wheels stop rolling
the computers desist from computing,
and a hush will fall over the city.
For an instant, in the stillness,
the chiming of the celestial spheres will be heard
as earth hangs poised
in the crystalline darkness, and then
gracefully
tilts.
Let there be a season
when holiness is heard, and
the splendor of living is revealed.
Stunned to stillness by beauty
we remember who we are and why we are here.
There are inexplicable mysteries.
We are not alone.
In the universe there moves a Wild One
whose gestures alter earth’s axis
toward love.
In the immense darkness
everything spins with joy.
The cosmos enfolds us.
We are caught in a web of stars,
cradled in a swaying embrace,
rocked by the holy night,
babes of the universe.
Let this be the time
we wake to life,
like spring wakes, in the moment
of winter solstice.

~Rebecca Parker

STOPPING BY WOODS ON A SNOWY EVENING

BY ROBERT FROST

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

 

Life goes in circles and cycles. Years go in circles and cycles. No need to be ponderous about this. Simply hold what your life brings each day and each night like you would hold a wild bird: gently, reverently, attentively, awestruck and breathless with wild wonder. Days will grow and nights will shrink from now through mid-summer, when dark will expand again and light will contract. That’s how it is on this round planet with a slightly tilted axis. That’s simply how it is. Cherish this long tonight and all the long nights to come. Soon enough sun’s time will come, with its burgeonings and its demands. Long days for getting things done are just over the horizon. Today, send blessings to what’s quietly, secretly happening in darkness.

Winter Solstice: Two Poems

Milky Way (I learn to paint stars)

Milky Way 

WINTER SOLSTICE 

Perhaps
for a moment
the typewriters will stop clicking,
the wheels stop rolling
the computers desist from computing,
and a hush will fall over the city.
For an instant, in the stillness,
the chiming of the celestial spheres will be heard
as earth hangs poised
in the crystalline darkness, and then
gracefully
tilts.
Let there be a season
when holiness is heard, and
the splendor of living is revealed.
Stunned to stillness by beauty
we remember who we are and why we are here.
There are inexplicable mysteries.
We are not alone.
In the universe there moves a Wild One
whose gestures alter earth’s axis
toward love.
In the immense darkness
everything spins with joy.
The cosmos enfolds us.
We are caught in a web of stars,
cradled in a swaying embrace,
rocked by the holy night,
babes of the universe.
Let this be the time
we wake to life,
like spring wakes, in the moment
of winter solstice.

~Rebecca Parker

STOPPING BY WOODS ON A SNOWY EVENING

BY ROBERT FROST

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

 

Life goes in circles and cycles. Years go in circles and cycles. No need to be ponderous about this. Simply hold what your life brings each day and each night like you would hold a wild bird: gently, reverently, attentively, awestruck and breathless with wild wonder. Days will grow and nights will shrink from now through mid-summer, when dark will expand again and light will contract. That’s how it is on this round planet with a slightly tilted axis. That’s simply how it is. Cherish this long tonight and all the long nights to come. Soon enough sun’s time will come, with its burgeonings and its demands. Long days for getting things done are just over the horizon. Today, send blessings to what’s quietly, secretly happening in darkness.

Necessary Darkness

Milky Way (www.goldpaintphotography.com)

Milky Way 

The darkest night I ever spent was on top of Steens Mountain in the southeastern corner of Oregon, far from artificial light sources, hundreds of miles from any population center. The moon rose very late that night and the stars were absolutely breathtaking. I saw more night sky than I had ever seen — parts of the Milky Way I didn’t know existed, multitudes of meteors, and so many stars.

Many Western Christian churches celebrate Advent in the four weeks preceding Christmas. Most Episcopal churches carve out a solemn and simple space during this time, a sanctuary from the surrounding Christmas craziness. Typically you won’t hear Christmas Carols or see Poinsettias. Not yet. Most Episcopal churches are peaceful havens where the focus is on holy waiting – both for the return of the light and for the birth of a baby.

Many Advent prayers and hymns focus on the light, so much so that it seems to me we’re afraid of the dark. The collect (prayer) for the first Sunday of Advent contains this phrase: “… give us grace to cast away the works of darkness and put on the armor of light …” I protest: “There’s grace and healing in darkness! Mary’s womb was dark! Darkness is necessary!!”

It’s also worth noting that many spiritual feminists and people of color hear the church’s plea for light as misogynist and racist, as women and non-White people have historically been denigrated, marginalized, and exploited precisely because of their perceived association with dirt and darkness in all its forms.

David Owen writes, in a 2007 New Yorker article about light pollution, that we actually make ourselves less safe when we artificially illuminate the darkness. “Diminishing the level of nighttime lighting can actually increase visibility,” he says. Among many other examples of situations where illumination creates blindness, he cites “criminal-friendly” lighting that’s so bright it turns everything around it into an “impenetrable void.” Much “security” lighting is anything but secure.

Owen, in the same article, reports that lighting our interior spaces disrupts our circadian rhythms, which affects obesity, sleep, and perhaps some forms of cancer. And lighting the outdoors harms our fellow creatures, especially migrating birds, insects, and sea turtles.

We used to watch our world get dark. We used to look at the night sky. Stars and the night sky have been an important part of becoming and being human. We’re wired for star-gazing. Darkness is necessary, and we avoid it to our detriment. Gestation and germination require darkness – the warm nurturing darkness of wombs, and the holy soil of Earth. Darkness is necessary for birth and renewal.

My family used to live in a suburb of Chicago, where only a smattering of bright, brave stars penetrated the “sky glow” of that city. Every summer we’d head north to Lake Superior on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. And every summer, at least once, we’d see the Northern Lights. Our Aurora wasn’t the full-blown psychedelic light show of polar regions. Our Aurora was a shimmering and flickering magic dance of white light, arcing above the dark vastness of water, sporadic and ephemeral and enchanting. We only saw these Northern Lights because we were in a very dark place, sitting on the beach of that immense lake, paying attention.

My husband and I took in last fall’s lunar eclipse out among the sage and juniper of Oregon’s high desert. We perched ourselves on a ridge formed of lava. We watched the full moon slowly rise and then disappear as Earth moved between the sun and the moon. As the moon was eclipsed, more and more stars appeared. As the moon slowly reappeared, the dimmer stars began to wink out, one by one. Oh, holy night indeed.

Sometime in the next few weeks, the longest nights of the year here in the Northern Hemisphere, let’s go out to a dark place. Let’s dress warmly and take a thermos of hot chocolate and maybe a companion if they can be quiet. Let’s sit. Let’s settle into the darkness and just let it be dark. Let’s welcome the gifts darkness has to offer us. She’s waiting.