Archive for the ‘Jesus’ Category

(Stonehenge, Winter Solstice-photo by Mark Grant)

I never really knew what a solstice was growing up. I knew it had to do with the sun and the cycle of the year, but it’s exact meaning always slightly escaped me, despite the fact that I visited Stonehenge when I was 16 and Machu Picchu  in my early twenties. Civilizations spent decades and sometimes even centuries building insanely huge, heavy, expensive and incredibly precise monoliths to mark the moments of the solstices. I should know what they are, what they stand for and why they are so important to humanity.

This blog is winter solstice 101. It is an extremely condensed overview of some things you should know about this important day/night.

Our year is divided into two main sections, the time of light (more day than night) and the time of dark (more night than day). The authors of some books I’ve read have stated that during the time of darkness the ancients, not understanding how the heavenly bodies work, weren’t really sure if the sun was going to come back. Of course, say the authors, this was distressing to these folks, because with the longer, lighter and warmer days came the growing season.  If the sun really didn’t come back, the darkness and cold spelled hunger and eventually starvation. And so the people made festivals on the longest night of the year (which falls on what we nowadays call December 21st or 22nd), sacrificing people and animals to appease the sun gods and goddesses, giving gifts and having huge feasts (just in case everybody died the next month).

My own modern sensibilities make it difficult for me to believe that these ancient people thought that the sun (god) might not come back. It is so simplistic a view of the intellectual capacities of these folks that, to me it is immediately suspect of timeline bigotry. I see their festivals more as a celebration in honor of the earth forces that bring us back around into another cycle, another wave of evolution, and less so out of fear that the sun may not rise over the horizon one day.

Of course, it could be both. In the Talmud there is a  description of a pagan festival called Saturna (not to be confused with Saturnalia of the Roman party flavor). Adam saw that the days were getting shorter and he feared that it was because he had sinned and so he sat down and meditated for eight days (which happened to be eight days before the winter solstice). When he noticed that the days were getting longer, he assumed that this was just the way the world worked and ordered an eight day celebration. (I like this Talmudic Adam. He’s got just the right mix of manic extremism and carefree hedonism. He’d go far in today’s modern world.)

However, there is more to this solstice story than just the return of the sun. There is the almighty metaphor here too. At the end of the winter solstice there is a new year to celebrate. The old year is dead and behind us and we have the new time of spring to look forward to. Also, this is the time of year when we celebrate the birth of Jesus, another story metaphor of the sun/son come to save humanity. If you like ghost stories, there is also the fact that during this time of the year, there is more darkness than light…more places for the boogey to find you. Death has been stretched out across the land plucking buds, freezing shoots and watching you sleep at night. (I just said that to freak you out. I do believe it though. Read this.) but now the light has begun to take a foothold in the battle against the dark. There’s all sorts of metaphor in there.

As history would have it, the winter solstice is a holiday whose origins have largely been forgotten. Here is a quote from John Matthews, author of The Winter Solstice: The Sacred Traditions of Christmas:

In our own time the Solstice is indissolubly linked with the festival of Christmas, though it was not always so. The myths of the festival are so deeply imbedded within us that we no longer ask why we decorate a fir tree at this time, or why we place green boughs and candles in our home. We take these things for granted, as we plunge into the whirlwind passage of preparations that lead up to the all-too-brief day of Christmas itself. Yet even here we forget the season is really twelve days in length–we sing the carol “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” but have little understanding of its origin.

Today the festival is most often known simply as Christmas, and it has been celebrated for nearly two thousand years. During that time, it has taken many forms, changed direction several times, absorbed the influence of many cultures, and developed into a modern industry. Yet the simplicity of the Christmas message has continued to ring through the ages, and depsite the commercialism and nonliturgical appropriateness of many aspects of Christmas today, it continues to exert a powerful effect upon everyone who celebrates it, adults and children alike.

There is a moment of silence that occurs every year–a moment we have all experienced at least once in our lives. It can silence a great city like London or New York, and it can bring stillness to our hearts, whoever and wherever we may be. That moment is unlike any other. It offers the promise of new beginnings, of the clean slate of a new year, and it incorporates the breathless expectancy of Christmas night itself.

It always feels nice to stop for a moment and rest in the oldness of our traditions. This year I will light a candle on the solstice to welcome the sun back and to honor all of those ancients who came before me and helped create this magical world I live in.


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Bodhi Tree (Ficus religiosa)

Recap of a past posting in the form of a question: If potential violence is around me but I choose to not collapse the potential into reality (i.e. choose not to be conscious of it), would I be injured anyway? (This after the realization that if there isn’t pair of ears and ear innards, a sound is just a vibration…like everything else. Without a conscious observer (ears) to collapse a violent vibration, would it just wiggle on by?)

I’ve been thinking about this problem quite a lot lately, and I thought that a good way to view it would be through the eyes of folks who have apparently learned how to master violence on the physical plane–>Jesus and Buddha.

You’ve all seen the bracelets: WWJD? In a world full of crazy, Jesus is our rock. We’ve heard how he helped poor, crazy Mary-the-Fallen-Cat-Lady exorcise her seven demons (what’s that? Mary Magdelene was a business woman who financed Christ after her exorcism? and she wasn’t really a prostitute? Hm. I smell a whiff of patriarchy here…)

Anyway, if anybody could avoid violence in this world by thinking positively, it would be Jesus, right? Well, read the title of this post. Jesus was kidnapped by political criminals and murdered. He was resurrected, so it all worked out in the end, but still. I suppose there is the possibility that he did it all for humanity, and that he could have made a different choice…he “took one for the team,” so to speak.

So then there is Buddha. I twiddled around a little bit and discovered that the Buddha actually had a bodyguard after one of his followers got beaten on a mountain path. Ok, it was really a “personal assistant” but really the same sort of idea. Furthermore, I read this Buddha quote in the book The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker:

People should learn to see and so avoid all danger. Just as a wise man keeps away from mad dogs, so one should not make friends with evil men.

There it is. Buddha says that you should be aware of (conscious of) dangerous things in the world, so that you can avoid them.

Sigh. I’m not convinced. I still dunno what to think about it…

Guess I’ll have to find a Bodhi Tree of my own.

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(Ascension of Christ by Garofalo)
I know a person who is annoying. I had a conversation with this person today. (Let’s call the person “A” so that I don’t have to keep saying “person.” What an annoying word.) Now, as those of you who have read my blog in the past might know, I’ve been working on not talking about people behind their backs. It seems to be going pretty well, except with one (or maybe two) exceptions. “A” is such an annoying person to me that I can’t seem to help myself from recounting all of the incredibly irritating and “A”-aphobia inducing things to anyone who knows (and also dislikes) “A.” Also, the things are so annoying that they are hilarious. Like Saturday Night Live hilarious. Who can walk away from that sort of thing? (I’m holding back right now from telling you the most hilarious story about “A.” You would die of laughter. Ok, maybe you wouldn’t, but I would have a really fun time writing about it.)

So, I’m sitting in the hot car outside Trader Joe’s (not right now–this is a sort of flashback scene–right now I’m at home typing), waiting for my family, thinking about Jesus. I’m trying to picture Jesus hangin’ in the lounge, cracking jokes with me about “A.” Just doesn’t work. In my image I crack one, then Jesus smiles wanly at me, as if to say “You just haven’t gotten here yet, have you Young Child?” Then in my head I’m like, “No! Jesus doesn’t judge!” The picture changes to Jesus laughing a little, because funny jokes are funny even when they are mean, and then changing the subject to levitation or taxation without representation.

Then I start thinking that God wouldn’t want us to have boring lives. Stand up comedy is all about making fun of other people! But then I remember that I love Ellen, and she is rarely mean. She’s just anomolously funny. But seriously, how boring would it be to not be able to crack a joke about somebody who is making my life hell by being irritating and manipulative?

All of this sounds like justification.  I am fully aware that I have made a pact with Jesus to try to not talk negatively about anyone, including “A.” I even know that when I talk about “A,” I’m actually revealing my own weaknesses toward manipulation and irritating behavior…but it’s like I can’t help myself. The desire to make someone laugh (at another’s expense) or to make myself feel better (at another’s expense) is too great and I spill the beans, so to speak.

Something’s gotta give. And so beginneth my next blogapy (new term coined by me meaning blog therapy…hm. It doesn’t work that great. Sounds like a painful invasive surgery. How about therablogging? Hm. Better, but still not quite right. I’ll think on it.) on the topic of how to quit being an arrogant prat.


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