A Shining Moment Just when days couldn't seem to get any darker, they don't. It's a time of renewed light and spiritual rebirth for winter solstice watchers.

December 20, 1997|By Linell Smith | Linell Smith,SUN STAFF

In the week before Christmas, even the world seems weary of itself. Daylight is weak, nights press closer, festive pressures build. Desperate times call for familiar rituals: spending too much, eating too much, doing too much -- and complaining about it all.

Yet some people are resisting. They are creating rewarding traditions.

They are finding light in the darkness, embracing the wheel of the seasons and the heavens' covenant with the earth. They are marking the winter solstice, the year's longest night and shortest day, 9 1/2 hours. When it occurs at 3: 07 p.m. tomorrow, the solstice will usher in winter and the promise of spring.

"There's something very profound about this time of year," says Jessica Dibb, director of the Inspiration Community, a nonprofit spiritual studies group in Owings Mills that will hold a solstice ceremony tonight, one of at least two in the Baltimore area this weekend. "The solstice comes at a time when many religions are giving thanks and celebrating the occurrence of miracles. You have to think there's some kind of resonance we're all feeling for such different cultures to end up celebrating something sacred."

The winter solstice coincides with Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa. It also shares the calendar with Divali, the Hindu Festival of Light, and Soyal, the traditional solstice ceremony of the Hopi Indians.

At the winter solstice, the Earth's tilt angles the Northern Hemisphere away from the sun, causing the shortest day. The word solstice literally means "sun stands still" -- which it does for a few days. By Dec. 27, however, Baltimore will have an extra minute of daylight.

The solstice "comes from the fact that the Earth is tipped 23 1/2 degrees and that the earth goes around the sun," says astronomer Richard Henry, director of the Maryland Space Grant Consortium. But to him, the vastness of the universe is a mystery worth pondering while the solstice is a matter of geometry.

Dibb notes that in primitive times there was no greater miracle than the return of the sun. "Somehow we all picked up on this desire to feel connected to a greater good but still connect to miracles: In Hanukkah, the light kept burning for eight days on only a day of oil. In Christmas, there was the birth of Jesus. The return of the Hopis' kachina gods. King Arthur was said to be born on the winter solstice. The I Ching [an ancient Chinese text prized for divination and wisdom] celebrates this time as the point of the return of the light."

The meanings of light

The common theme is the symbolism of light: the hope it inspires, the fear of its loss, the joy at its return.

"At this time of year, we've lost the light we can see outside, but we only lose the light that's inside us if we don't take care of it," Dibb says. "We can use very dark times to reach our essential qualities."

The Inspiration Community holds its 12th annual interfaith solstice celebration tonight at St. Mark's-On-The-Hill Church on Reisterstown Road in Pikesville. Titled "Global Holiday Celebration," the ceremony usually attracts about a hundred people. It will incorporate music from different traditions along with prayers and inspirational texts such as the Bible and Sufi poetry.

Although the rituals change slightly each year, there is always singing -- a favorite chant is "There's a sacred voice calling us today all over the world" -- and taped music alternates with live performances. This year, 11-year-old Warren Johnson of Millersville will play Pachelbel's Canon on the piano and his mother, Barbara, will sing the environmental folk tune "Swimming to the Other Side."

During another part of the program, participants form a circle around a table decorated with images signifying the richness and diversity of spiritual beliefs and cultural heritages.

There is also a short period of contemplation accompanied by soft music in which people are invited to review their lives during the past year and to envision their goals for the next year.

Mark Soloski, a molecular immunologist at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, attends the celebration every year with his wife and son.

"For us, as practicing Roman Catholics, the solstice reminds of the advent of God in our midst. But here we gather as a community: as Christians, as Jews, as Buddhists, as Hindus and Muslims. We all have this time of year in common. There's just such a potpourri of spiritual strength that is brought together."

Another local solstice celebration will emphasize nature and the environment. Sponsored by Earth Home, a nonprofit environmental educational group, this ceremony will take place tomorrow at Cromwell Valley Park in Baltimore County.

"Most of us go from house to car to work -- from heating to air conditioning -- without a clue about what's going on outside," says celebration leader Ellie Lindsay. "This kind of ceremony is a way of getting people to be more aware."

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.