‘What does he sing of?’ Arren asked the mage… ‘Of the grey whales, and the albatross, and the storm…’ (from The Farthest Shore by Ursula Le Guin)
Beyond my window as I write this, a dramatic fire-streaked sunset is submitting slowly to the darkness of the longest night: Winter Solstice.
In Ursula Le Guin’s book The Farthest Shore, the prince Arren and the mage Sparrowhawk witness the Long Dance, performed on the shortest night each year by the Children of the Open Sea. Far out beyond any land, they live on rafts, swimming like dolphins, joyful and alive. All of the shortest night, they dance by torchlight, and the chanter sings, tirelessly, until dawn.
But the story tells of magic being sucked from the world by one man’s fear of mortality, leading to madness, namelessness, and to the death of dragons. And so the chanter falters in his song, for he can no longer remember the words.
Every year has its share of horror and harrowing events, but 2014 seems to have taken a sharp twisting turn towards inhumanity. I feel that hardness and lack of compassion in myself, often, sitting like a stone in my heart. Not to the extent that I could conceive of, for example, killing children in their classrooms, but I sometimes wonder how many steps away that might be for each of us. What events and convictions might make us feel that torture is acceptable, that mass kidnaps and rape are legitimate political weapons, that it’s somehow alright for carers to abuse people who are elderly or have disabilities, that buying ivory when elephants are being hunted to bloody extinction for profit is just a trinket.
I wonder if, at this sacred time, we can look openly into the darkness and find some answers there.
And I also wonder if we can find the joy in our lives. Sometimes we feel guilty about our experiences of joy, about our laughter, when so much is going on that is terrible. But that’s when we need to own our joy the most. It keeps us truly human and holy – in its original sense of being whole.
At the darkest time, try closing your eyes, and look within. In the distance is a tiny pearl of flame. This is the sun within you. As you breathe, the solstice sun grows in power; reaching out its rays, it touches your heart, bringing life, and renewal. May its blessings fill you with light. (from The Winter King by Danu Forest)