Winter Solstice: All hearts meet as one
A thin layer of week-old snow glistens with sparkles, each tiny pinprick an icy mirror angling out toward the sun blazing low over the southern horizon. Way down across the long arc of the deeply-tilted Earth our local star, the Solar Heart, is flashing bright and fractured through the dark, silhouetted upper boughs of piney woods while two tender nostrils tingle deliciously with each pulse of winter-chilled in-breath, fueling the fleshy heart that beats inside my chest.
Right now, these woods are rolling across the top side of our planetary ball, which is leaning back from the sun as fully as it ever does. The coastal plain here alongside the Gulf of Maine is spinning its way eastward toward that midday moment when it faces the sun, slipping along there among the branches, as high as it will get on this winter solstice day, this sacred day when the long waning of daylight turns and begins waxing toward summer’s fullness.
The winter solstice is prime time for being able to see and feel the eternally tipped earth beneath us. For one day, its 23½ degree tilt (more than a quarter of the way to lying on its side!) is perfectly aligned with the sun—the Antarctic bathed in 24-hour sunshine and the Arctic never glimpsing its light. Those of us living between these polar extremes also experience the full extent of earth’s tilt, revealed here in New England by the sun’s low arc through the sky. Today’s solstice sun is less than half as high as where it stood a three months ago on the equinox noon; the fact that the earth is leaning far back from the Solar Heart is inescapable—obvious to eyes and geometry as well as in the cold air and the soft light brushing across the landscape.
This shortest-day, lowest-sun, backward-tipped moment is not only a touchstone of the seasonal cycle. It’s also—amazingly and coincidentally—the turning point of our Galactic Year, for the winter solstice portion of Earth’s orbit around the sun happens to take us through the place in space that lies on the far side of the sun from the center of the galaxy. So today—and for the week or so before and after solstice—the Galactic Heart sits nearly directly behind the sun in our winter sky; the Milky Way’s glorious splash of diffuse light, that starry trail that on summer nights draws our spirits out into the largest of our visible bodies—the galactic body—is today shining invisibly alongside the sun, and for a brief moment at midday this Galactic Heart and the Solar Heart meet our hearts as each local landscape in turn spins at twelve miles a minute across the sunward edge of the earth to face them.
It may feel startling or unfamiliar, but don’t let this rapid expansion of the horizon disorient you: all this attunement to the planetary, solar, and galactic bodies is simply a broader view of our familiar ways of connecting with—and being a part of—the place where we live. When we really notice the shapes and forms of the land and life around us, and the natural cycles and enduring relationships that tie it all together, we begin to appreciate the larger rhythms within which life springs forth, and so also come to feel the mystery of our lives as a barely perceptible—and cherished!—glimmer within a larger majesty.
As always, it is our lived experience in the world that connects us to the spiritual heart of the matter. My neural-laced body—tender skin stretched around juicy meat and articulated bone—wakes each day as part of a blooming, buzzing collusion of soil, water, and embracing air wrapped close around its earthly ground, a just-right goldilocks world where creation flares forth with all of its inherent intelligence and symbiotic design, opening into pine needles and tumbling streams, root hairs and auroral ripples, hooting gibbons and seabottom vents, ant colonies and sky-shaking storms, moon-tugged tides and all the shapes and sounds of human societies.
We humans have long recognized our embeddedness within the natural world; this unity comes alive in a new and radically expansive way as I begin to see and feel my place on the earth spinning along in its eternal circle dance with the sun, each of my days enlivened by that generous, infinite source that has forever called the human spirit forth.
Just as my spiritual connection with the woods emerges from attention to the physicality of trees and leaves and seasons and weather and light . . . or my love for the American West grows out of the bodily experience of traversing the fantastic forms of its sprawling mountains and vast rangelands . . . or the patterns newly woven across the sand by each day’s receding waves shape the way my soul is soothed by the shoreline . . . and just as the solace of caring human touch can nourish a lifelong blending of hearts . . . so too do I attend to the dance of this lovely planet around our life-giving star and feel my way into the rhythms within which our whirling solar system revels us with its seasonal cycle of vistas into the embracing arms of our galactic home.
Each of these glimpses of direct perceptual experience and bodily presence (of embracing woods, the expanse of a continent, the shifting edge of the sea, loving touch, earth and sky) opens doors through which my sense of self—my very identity—expands and joins in communion with the same mighty and generative force that knits together the cosmos, pours through the sun, and forever blossoms so subtly and wildly within this biospheric blanket of our precious planet.
And so today one receptive, attentive body looks skyward through the pines and honors the moment when these woods of home turn to face the solstice sun and the galactic heart beyond. Yet another fleeting instant among the days and seasons of a piece of land spinning once a day around the steadily-tilting axis of this planet traveling the great circle of the year around our mighty star within the vast expanse of its galactic home—all seen and felt through the limited senses and mind and the boundless heart and spirit arising within one fragile, resonant human being. Here on the edge of the world, all my hearts meet as one.