We are close to the time of the autumn/winter solstice. That word comes from two Latin roots which mean “sun” (sol) and “stand” (sistere). So the imagery is that of the sun coming to a stop or standing on the day with the shortest amount of daylight. It is as though the sun is standing at the edge of darkness, but things won’t get any darker, and soon, minute by minute, the daylight will increase.
Of course, imagery of the sun moving or standing is based on old cosmology which saw the sun moving around the earth. We know it does not do that, even though we still make use of old cosmology in our ordinary language. We talk of “sunrise” and “sunset.” We go to beaches and other open areas to watch the “sun rise” or the “sun set.” I like doing that. But the sun is not rising or setting. The earth is turning. You know that, but it’s less romantic or poetic to talk that way.
So to talk of the sun stopping anywhere is imagery or maybe poetry. But maybe that imagery can speak to us about ourselves and the need or desire to stop once in a while. Simply stop, not necessarily to “stop and do something,” but simply to stop whatever. The solstice is the official beginning of winter, but by that time winter weather has been with us for a while. People speak of “meteorological winter” as beginning with December 1st. That more coincides with climate and weather. And winter can be good stopping time.
The cold and darker times can be good moments to slow down, as some things in nature do, as though to rest from the activity of warmer times. The classic, of course, is the hibernation of bears. We can’t quite “stop” like that. But if we are fortunate enough to have a warm place to live, perhaps even with a fireplace, this can be a good time to hunker against the cold and simply “be.” One can stare for a long time at a fire and do little or nothing. Or to sit inside and watch the snow. It can be a time for daydreaming. A quiet, slow walk in the snow can also be such a time.
Where has life gone in the past year? Lots to think about there. It can be a time of sadness and grief or a time of gratitude for what we have and for the people in our lives. It can be a time for letting things come to mind that we have set aside for some time, maybe a time to re-think about where our lives have been and where they might be going.
Along with quiet daydreaming can be quiet, leisurely reading of something familiar or something new, again, not to rush or “get it finished,” but to appreciate each passage. The Bible, perhaps one of the Gospels, can be a good companion here.
Now, I can hear the response: who has time to sit around and daydream, staring at the falling snow? Who has time to simply “stop?” Maybe you do. We have the tradition from our Jewish ancestors as well as Christian tradition of the Sabbath or the Lord’s Day. These were a part of our tradition because they were good for people, for their spirituality as well as simply their physical and mental health. And for Christians, we are in the time of Advent. This is meant to be a time of preparing for Christmas, not so much by running around doing lots of things, but indeed by slowing down, stopping, to again watch, wait, desire, expect, appreciate the presence of the Incarnate God among us.
The sun doesn’t really stop completely and neither do we. But we can quiet down, and breathe, and wonder and maybe have a spiritual solstice.
– Fr. Tom Zelinski OFM Cap.