Twice a year there is a moment - in fact, a few days - when the sun seems to "stand still" in the heavens. From the Latin sol stasis we derive our name for these events: solstices. In our calendar, they mark the beginning of winter and summer. This year, at 1:08 a.m. on Saturday, the sun will stop its retreat from those of us who live in the Northern Hemisphere. It will begin its return to us, and the hours of light will lengthen each day until the summer solstice in June.
Before we celebrate the waxing of the light, however, we would do well to honor the dark. On this longest night of the year, let us sit silently with those we care about in whatever darkened sanctuary we find most comforting - be it family room or church or starry clearing in the woods - and think about the importance of darkness.
Let us take time to acknowledge the gifts that darkness gives us, from the potatoes and carrots and beets that grow underground to the mushrooms that thrive in the dark.
Let us give thanks for the dark oven where dough rises, for the rich earth where seeds germinate, for the deep cellars that keep us safe from tornadoes, for the warm wombs that provide our first nourishment, for the quiet caves that harbored our ancient ancestors.
Let us bless the darkness that soothes us to sleep and the darkness that animals require for hibernation.
And let us accept the darkness of suffering that can deepen our appreciation of life and strengthen our connection to one another. Let us even embrace the dark night of the soul that prepares us for the rising of the spirit.
The dark is scary. Every child knows this. But it can also be richly mysterious, deeply comforting, profoundly rewarding. For, as the poet Wendell Berry reminds us, in order to know the dark, we must enter it without light and without sight. Only then will we
find that the dark, too, blooms and sings, and is traveled by dark feet and dark wings
Patricia Montley is the author of "In Nature's Honor: Myths and Rituals Celebrating the Earth." Her e-mail is email@example.com