We don’t need a calendar to tell us that summer has arrived in North Carolina. The rocketing heat and steamy humidity are all the notice we require. The sun’s ascending song has charmed the trees into full display, beckoned the squash to blossom and the kale to bolt. At the Farmer’s Market, strawberries have yielded to peaches heaped in bright baskets next to tables of tomatoes flushed and fat. Summer reigns as a beloved queen who freely bestows her lavish favors until fall’s frugal chamberlain stays her hand.
The Summer Solstice reveals the sun in all her glory in the northern hemisphere. She will never be higher in the sky nor grant more daylight than at the moment she stills above the Tropic of Cancer, just before earth’s angling pushes her south to her winter rendezvous with the Tropic of Capricorn. This is the range of expression of life on earth. Everything that has evolved over billions of years comes alive, creates, and expires within this measured frame.
Without the sun (at its precise distance from us) there would be no life on earth. Without the tilt of our axis, there would be no seasons. These are the cosmic truths within which we have our life, our breath, our being. All that occurs within the course of a year is but an outworking of this relationship with the light of life. Her waxing warms the leaf out of its winter home in spring, her fullness swells the fruits of summer, and her waning drains the grass of its green in the fall. July’s melon becomes January’s frozen turf, light gone dark by its dying only to shape-shift as spring disposes come March or May
Doesn’t it seem fitting that our ancestors worshiped the sun? That they would erect megalithic edifices precisely aligned to amplify the arc of her illumination? But our western scientific and religious world views have rather rolled a stone over the portal that allows us to experience the sacred within us and around us; our very natural sense of awe, reverence, and gratitude for the earth and sun, moon and stars judged as naive or even hazardous to our material and spiritual well-being.
I was raised a Catholic thanks to the insistence of my Irish grandmother. Though my mother’s heart was not in it, she dutifully dragged us three kids to the classes and Masses weekend after weekend until we achieved the sacrament of Confirmation at around the age of thirteen. Following the example of my two older siblings, and receiving little resistance from my mother, I stopped going to church soon after.
There was much received in those early years that I am grateful for. But one enduring legacy is the fact that I still flinch when I hear the words “pagan,” “heretic,” or “heathen,” for I learned that to believe that the divine is manifest in matter as well as in mind is definitely a punishable offense. It is not my purpose here to define these terms with any precision, nor to trounce or endorse any way of being or believing. It is time, however, for me to break the spell that these words have cast on me.
I just need to declare, straight from my heart, that the Earth (nay, the universe) is sacred to me. That watching a time-lapse video of a pea seed plunge a searching taproot deep into the soil and push up a sprout that opens to the sky is an experience of true wonder. That tasting a sweet and supple lettuce leaf torn from a plant settled in the soil feels like a miracle. That the beauty of the natural world seems holy, and the infinite variety of creation – whatever or whomever we believe is responsible – is marvelous in my eyes.
It’s amazing to me that I still hesitate to say this after all these years. I feel sheepish even now, fearing judgment, scorn, or dismissal by peers who set their sights by hard science or by the star of Bethlehem. I feel I don’t have a leg to stand on. Until I look down and see that the Earth is the only place TO stand. And stand by. And stand up for. And stand with.
In a commencement speech at Yale University in May, Ambassador Samantha Powers offered this: If you want to have a deep impact on what matters to you, don’t do things at remove. Invest yourself fully. Get close.* In this spirit, I want to cultivate partnership with the creative forces of the natural world. I want to commune with the plants and animals and receive intelligence from the ground beneath me. I want to be a part of the forging of a new type of existence rooted in the dust of eons come before but which meets the exigencies of this time and place. I want to sing songs that move my heart. And I want to participate in vibrant community with people who are committed to working it all out. This is not theoretical. I don’t want to just talk about this. I want to DO it.
The sun deserves our most profound and total gratitude for the fact of our continued existence on this blue dot. But life does not come with a promise or a guarantee for more. Whatever matters most to you this Solstice season, start now by saying thank-you for this day. Then feel it all light up.
*With thanks to Carol Henderson and Heidi Gessner for this prompt, offered at Writing for Resilience, UNC Hospital
We are grateful to share LIGHT UP – Reflections on the Summer Solstice written by Hope Horton, a member of NCIPL’s spiritual network.
You can read more of Hope’s writings on her blog page: https://hopematrix.wordpress.com/
To contact Hope email: firstname.lastname@example.org