Let me get my full geek on, and offer you a George RR Martin quote for the day:
“Winter Is Coming.”
I know. I know. That’s crazy talk. The hottest days of Summer haven’t even arrived. Whether you love Winter or hate it, it’s foolish to talk about it being on the way.
But, scientifically? Seasonally? It’s absolutely the truth of today.
Today’s the Summer Solstice.
The longest day of the year.
The twin of the Winter Solstice on December 21st.
One quarter of the year from the Fall Equinox (My birthday, btw….)
I’m grateful that over the past few years I’ve taken the time to pay more attention to these earth-cycles. I wouldn’t claim to be an expert on them, like good friends of mine who follow more earth-centered spiritual paths. But the journey itself, over a full-year, is fascinating to watch. I’m grateful that I pay more attention than I used to.
Over the past few decades, the Winter Solstice seems to have gotten a lot of attention in the public eye. Here in Dallas, we were blessed enough to have one of the largest Solstice gatherings in the nation for many years. Even many churches are doing “Longest Night” or “Blue Christmas” services on or around that date.
These kinds of things resonate deeply with me, because I hate the dark and the Winter so much. I really hate it. Facebook friends are surely beyond weary of hearing about this. But it’s true. I hate the short days. Literally, the darkness makes me depressed. And the cold….jeez, I hate the cold.
Which is why I almost never complain about Summer. Not even the longest, hottest days of August. Summer, to me –even an oppressive string of 100-degree days– makes Winter bearable. I’ve often said, give me a month of 100 degrees rather than a week below freezing. That’s just how I roll. (1) Without knowing that Summer is coming, I might go crazy in the midst of some long February night.
I have friends who feel the exact opposite. Given them a “snow day” over any day in August. Give them a warm blanket, several layers of clothes, and a burning fire, and they couldn’t be happier.
But here’s the irony. Whether you love Summer or love Winter, the fix is always in.
To the point, as of mid-day today Winter is on the way, just as assuredly as Summer is on December 21st.
Yet, it never feels that way, does it? While both Solstices are always the longest and shortest days, they are almost never “coldest” and hottest.”
Even though we are starting our slow, inexorably march toward “cool/cold,” the hottest days are still before us. Same thing in winter. Around here at least, the really hard freezes almost always come in February…. freezing rain, sleet, snow.
It’s a fascinating cycle to watch, if we slow down and step back far enough. My friend, Spider Johnson, just wrote about this on Facebook this morning:
“While the fullness of summer is yet to be expressed, and countless invertebrates sing the same song into the distance, nature’s job is mostly done and all that’s left is slow inertia and then patient waiting until the miraculous cycle re-awakens with the Vernal Equinox. I raise a glass to thee, Mother Nature, with inexpressible gratitude…“
What strikes me is that for our ancient ancestors, marking the quarter-time of each year might have been one of the ways they first experienced FAITH and HOPE.
We have all sorts of cultural definitions of faith and hope today. There are all manner of theological spiritual definitions ones.
My own favorite is the short line from St. Paul’s:
“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
Faith is not something we can see. In fact, it’s so far away from visible that all we can do is hope for it.
And hope isn’t something seen, either. Hope isn’t tangible, physical, “provable.” If it was, it wouldn’t be hope. (It would be “fact”) If faith were these things it wouldn’t be faith either. (ditto)
Meditate for a moment on the profundity and paradox of the phrase: “The assurance of things hoped for…”
The mere words themselves drip with paradox and irony. I mean, if “hope” is really “a sure thing” then is it really hope?
But, in the spiritual sense, this is exactly what we believe to be true. Hope IS a sure thing. Faith too. These things are real, tangible parts of “the reality of reality.” No, they’re not physical or provable. We cannot grasp them, hold them, own them. But they are a part of the gracious reality that God invites us to understand and embrace.
So, somewhere along the way, our ancestors learned to mark the seasons. Their first great celebrations seem to have coincided with these quarter-year observances. Winter Solstice, especially, came to be seen a great festival of light for many religious traditions. (Hannukah, Christmas, Dongzhi, Sol Invictus, Yalda, etc, etc…)
My own tradition happens to be Christian. But I can appreciate, and be grateful for the fact, that human beings of all sorts of varied traditions have “marked the time” of these special Solstice days. It speaks to a deep-level, perhaps Jungian, unity behind humanity’s journey.
In my tradition, and in many others, faith is not seen. Just hoped for.
When we’re in the dry heat of life’s pains and sufferings –when we are parched by the death of loved one, shriveled up with loss and mourning– right at that moment the cool is on the way. No, we can’t feel it in the moment, literally. But it’s there, spiritually.
When we’re frozen, when we can’t move or make a decision –when the chill of depression sets in and all seems dark and lost– right at that moment the warm is on the way. No, we can’t feel it then, either, literally. But it’s there.
The seeds of every new birth are present in the midst of every death.
The power of every new love lays dormant within the shell of every loss.
The spiritual challenge of life is to find assurance, comfort, peace, and trust in things that are not tangible at all. Things that cannot be proven or seen with the eye. Things that are so far from tangible “fact” that all we can do is “hope” for them.
It means that, if you hate Winter (like me) you rejoice in celebrating the “Longest Night” or Winter Solstice near December 21st. You cling to the faith and hope that, “Summer is Coming.“
And, vice versa for this very day. If you’re a summer-hater, take comfort: Winter is Definitely Coming.
One of my favorite songwriters, David Wilcox once wrote a song that expresses this same faith and trust. If George RR Martin is known for “Winter Is Coming,” David Wilcox is known for “It’s Almost Time.” Martin’s expression is meant for today. Wilcox’s song is its twin, for December 21st. Both remind us of the same truth.
So, I’ll close with a bit of the lyrics, and a version of the video. It’s on his very first album, “The Nightshift Watchman.” (There’s a link below…you should buy it…)
The final truth of life is that true happiness is to be found by embracing every season.
Those of us who hate Winter are called to consider why, and come to terms with it. Because Winter will always come.
For those of you who hate these coming hot days of Summer, meditate on that too. Why is it that you hate it? I know, it’s hot. I get that. But what does that mean for you? What spiritual message is there for you?
Maybe it means you have some dry, parched earth in your life that you are called to embrace.
Maybe you are being called to live-through some seemingly unbearable crucible of heat that has nothing to do with a celsius or fahrenheit.
Meditate on these things during the coming Summer months.
But know this. Even when these days seem most unbearable:
Winter is coming.
It’s almost time.
“It’s Almost Time” by David Wilcox
(click here for full lyrics or by buy this song)
“Just across the sea on this world so round
the sun’s shining hot right now.
And even though the winter still surrounds this town
I can still feel that sun somehow.
When I know that my sun will shine just as sure as this world can spin,
I can hold on fine, cause it almost time, for that sun to come ’round again…
When your love grows cold and your heart grows dark
and the blame seems to fall on you.
Well look how seasons must change and don’t think it so strange
that your love goes in circles too.
And just know that your sun will shine just as sure as this world can spin,
and I know you’ll find, that it’s almost time, for that love to come ’round again.
We can hold on fine, cause it almost time, for that love to come ’round again.”
1. While this is absolutely true, the deeper truth is that I really dig Fall. I love the changes Fall brings, and I am sure it has something to do with my birthday falling ON the Fall Equinox. It resonates me the deepest of all. The Summer/Winter dynamic is a powerful Ying/Yang. The Fall is a deep, meditative journey.
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