May I let my voice be a clarion call. I will use these words for justice. I will use these words for truth. And humour.

Friday, December 23, 2011


First Winter Solstice Reflection

Delivered at First Unitarian Church of Pittsburgh, Dec 21, 2011.
One brief note: This service included a performance by the congregation's Dance Choir, which was dedicated to solar waves, which upon viewing during rehearsal inspired portions of the latter half of this reflection.

Solstice Reflection – A Planet in Process
          Here we are—a gathering of humanity, loving and striving together in this sacred space. Somehow we all found our way to this place, this evening. I pray that it has meaning. I believe it does have meaning.
          The matter within our bodies could instead be rocks, or air, or perhaps plankton in the ocean, unable to understand our world in the way we do, without senses to observe the world to know that today is the solstice. But instead we are walking organic sensing machines, sometimes even thinking about this world.
           Some of my reflections on this world are geometric. This planet Earth we live and travel on is pretty close to being a sphere, slightly squeezed at the poles, so it's actually a little bit of an ellipsoid. This planet travels around the Sun in a slightly elliptical pattern, at a distance varying between 91 million and 93 million miles. One journey around the Sun we call a year. This planet rotates around on an axis in a period we call a day. The axis is tilted 23 degrees in such a way that the equator is not parallel to the plane containing the Earth's path around the Sun. This produces an annual sine-wave pattern in which we have long days around Summer solstice, shortening days in Fall, long nights at Winter solstice, with Spring's daylight again lengthening to complete the cycle.
          To further complicate this situation, we have our blessed moon that circles around the Earth, causing the Earth's rotation to wobble ever so slightly around the center of mass of these two. The moon also causes the oceans' tides to ebb and flow with regularity. The Moon has also provided humanity with a way of measuring out monthly cycles from new moon waxing up to a full moon then waning back to new again. I count myself among those who find this geometry of angles and light reflections absolutely fascinating. But the geometry alone doesn't do the story justice.
          I believe there is a miracle that brought us here. Several weeks ago, in an interview on public radio, I heard a scientist proclaiming that this planet would not have been capable of creating and sustaining organic life without the tidal ebb and flow processes created by our moon's gravitational pull on the oceans. As I understand it, the hypothesis was that the continuous cycle between wet and dry at the ocean's beaches played an essential role in creating the single-celled organisms that got animal evolution started.
          There are so many other things peculiar to this planet not to be taken for granted. The Earth is not a perfect sphere. It does not follow a perfectly circular path around the Sun. It doesn't even rotate “perfectly” because of the wobble introduced by the moon. Its tilting axis produces seasonal variations. It has a magnetized core that surely plays a role. It has currents in the air and in the water that cycle like a giant Heating, Ventilation and Air-Conditioning system. It recycles water through precipitation and evaporation. I encourage you to think about that joyful happening the next time you're caught outside in the rain without an umbrella.
          The Earth acts as an eclipse between us and the Sun's light every night. Some nights the eclipses are longer than others, and tonight is the longest. This is an annual process that seems to matter for the quality of life on this planet.
          The Sun, however, is another absolute essential for life. Somehow this relatively small star has established an equilibrium in which the outward forces of pressure from burning gases and plasma are matched by the inward pressure of gravity. Yet despite this stability, the Sun has peculiarities of its own, occasionally sending out wisps of solar flares and unexpected radiation that sometimes reaches as far as the Earth. These flares have the potential to cause major disruptions, as well as the potential to cause major transformations. Yet to be certain, even on a regular day, the Sun's processes give life to this planet, heating our globe to a sustainable temperature, and providing daily patterns of radiating light for plants to photosynthesize. As it reflects off of all we see, this light also provides a way for us to make our way through the world.
           As sure as the rhythm of our hearts and our breathing, the Earth's rhythmic patterns sustain life. This life we live within provides so much for us, it's difficult not to be reverent unless we forget this providence. It is a mysterious source of love and an ongoing succession of further life. When we are mindful to appreciate and adore this astonishing gift, we can be found doing the strangest things. 
          We ourselves, in touch with our natural clocks, can bring a thrum of regularity to the chaos. We can learn to sway like ribbons in the fluid of time's processes. Now with the time we are afforded, we can be found connecting, and chanting, dancing intertwined, casting forth thoughts and emotions among ourselves in concert. We can be found opening and closing our hands, twirling and turning our bodies on axes above our feet, and we can be found stamping out the pulse of life, like music brought forth by a love untraceable. I will close this reflection with a quote from musician John Cage. “Everything you do is music, and everywhere is the best seat.”
          So as we ride upon this magnetic tilted breathing planet, spinning daily as it annually courses around this local star, may we remember the profound miracle of our being here in this place, and of our being now in this time. And may we know that at the foundation of our lives in this very moment and in every moment, there lives a deep and indestructible joy. May we—at times—be still enough to find it. Amen.

chant/prayer/mantra: Wave--Light--Wave, Sun--Light--Sun, One--Light--One. 

pax hominibus, agape to all, joel

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