The winter solstice brings us the longest night, the shortest day of the year—around
here about 8 hours of daylight. In Nunavut 2000 kilometers to the north, the last sunrise
of the decade was in mid-November, the next sunrise will be the end of January. The
darkness is very present in our lives…outside and inside, on all levels.
In the depths of darkness, a little light—the hope of light—becomes significant. We have
carried over from ancient times looking in the night to the stars for orientation, in space
and also in our lives and relationships. Many ancient peoples celebrated the “Sol
Invictus,” the victorious birth of the sun—the Son God—at the winter equinox.
Altars in Christian churches are orientated to the rising sun, and since the rising place of
the sun swings greatly from solstice to solstice, the orientation in the Middle Ages was
also a dedication to a significant festival, seeking the source of light from the birth (at
the winter solstice) or the death and resurrection of Christ (at the spring equinox). Some
altars are oriented to the summer solstice, seeking inspiration, “prepare the way of the
Lord,” from the birth of John the Baptist. Our altar here shares the same angle of
orientation, 46 degrees north of east, as the great Gothic cathedral at Chartres!
Light gives us familiarity, we know where we are, we can find our way, we can
recognize in the light. And the signs in the sun, moon and stars became all the more
significant. But in the depths of darkness, other senses become stronger as we seek
We become very sensitive, for example, to sound. The light was
experienced expressing itself in sound—the Bushmen could hear the songs of the stars,
the sun arose proclaiming, and “the stars spoke once to Man…” At the end of Advent,
the signs of the sun, moon and stars are mute… and in the deepening silence, we begin to hear the beating of our heart. And we realise that we ourselves can speak! We can
speak “the language of the light.” As we orient with the altar toward the rising sun, we
hear the Word from the altar, we turn with the God of peace toward “life,” and put on the
armour of faith and love and hope.
Contemplation by Rev. Susan Locey