Faith is the bird that feels the light and sings when the dawn is still dark.
Tonight, Dec. 11, is the third night of our Solstice Sun-Wheel Prayer Circle.
This working is intended for all — all faiths and philosophies. The Christian church calls it the Advent wreath, which was simply handed down from much older Pagan Advent celebrations.
If you are neither Pagan nor Christian, I urge you to participate anyway! Simply assign each candle a meaning that is important to your faith or world view (you need not even be religious!). You can find some suggestions here.
And to see our intention for this year, you can visit here.
This is the prelude to a moment that has been celebrated since prehistoric times, by people of every culture. The dawning of the Winter Solstice and the re-birth of the Light is coming to all beings across the Northern Hemisphere, no matter what they believe about it!
Tonight’s Candle in the Christian Traditions
Each candle can be symbolic of principles important to Christianity: The first candle is traditionally the candle of Expectation or Hope (or in some traditions, Prophecy). The second is frequently the one that represents the Bible, the knowledge handed down across the centuries, and the sacred manger in Bethlehem.
With awareness and good faith, re-light your first two candles in order. Then you are ready for this evening’s new lighting.
Tonight’s third candle (almost always a rose-pink candle), is sometimes considered the Shepherd’s Candle, and represents the Joy of the impending birth and the exhortations sung by the angels for all to rejoice.
Consider, perhaps, where Joy is lacking in Christianity today. How would the true joy of Christianity be a powerful balm for a world so deeply troubled? When you are ready, light the third candle, and let it, like the profound joy that is the gift of this time, illuminate your faith in a powerful new way.
Welcoming the Elemental Guardians
If you have chosen to use the Elements as your template in this working, here are some suggestions for tonight’s ceremony.
Tonight, gather with your loved ones, or alone, around sunset. Ground and center yourself, or create sacred space in whatever way is right for your practice. Turn out the lights where you are, and have your wreath, candles and lighter ready.
Notice and be aware that all over the globe, as night’s shadow descends, many hundreds of others are joined with you in this rite.
In the twilight, consider again (as you did on Nov. 27) the power, for good and for ill, associated with the Element of Air: knowledge, information, understanding, communication. Light the candle for East; see, and know. With its spark, see the shadows of Air dissipate. With your own breath, words, and song bring light and healing to all in need of Air’s life-giving goodness.
Then, move to the next candle that you lit last week – the candle that represents the Element of Fire, the direction of South.
In what ways do the matters associated with this candle, when out of balance, create trouble in our world? And in what ways shall you again tonight send your prayers for healing? As you focus your call for Fire’s blessings, light this candle.
Hail to the Waters
This brings us now to the third candle, which we are lighting tonight for the first time. This candle is for West, the Element of Water.
Pagans know that Water is the Guardian of our emotions, intuition, empathy, compassion and is sacred to Autumn and the setting Sun.
Which means it is the candle that marks exactly where we are at this moment.
As we contemplate our unlit candle, we might consider the fears, distortions, and untruths that flow through our hearts and our world. How do our emotions, and especially the deliberate manipulation of our feelings, create suffering for our human family?
In harmony with the Christian attribution to this candle, we might consider the elusive nature of Joy or how the emphasis on the pursuit of happiness creates trouble when it is out of balance.
And of course, there is the matter of the waters of our world.
Deepening Shadows: Water Is Life
This year, we have seen the dramatic standoff in North Dakota between Big Oil’s agenda and the Standing Rock Sioux tribe. For months, the Water Protectors have been engaged in a peaceful protest to stop the construction of a pipeline that threatens the survival of their reservation in the central part of North and South Dakota.
The proposed pipeline would travel underneath the Missouri River, which is the primary drinking water source for their tribe of around 10,000. In addition, the pipeline has already desecrated a number of tribal burial grounds and sacred sites, and would destroy even more.
Builders of the pipeline insist that they have taken measures to safeguard against environmental dangers, but opponents and experts point out that even the safest pipelines can leak.
The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) has reported more than 3,300 incidents of leaks and ruptures at oil and gas pipelines since 2010. Even the smallest spill could damage the tribe’s only water supply.
The struggle has been ongoing for many months now, and others have joined, including many other Native American tribes, thousands of American military veterans, and countless environmental activists and supporters. The Water Protectors are now enduring sub-zero Winter conditions in addition to being attacked by the military and police with water cannons, concussion cannons, rubber bullets, and more.
In what way might this pivotal moment be a calling for you? As we pause in the flickering light of our first two candles, gazing at the yet endarkened third one, what does your own heart and spirit say about a personal stake in protecting the living waters near and far, without which we cannot survive?
Perhaps you and your family may agree with this excerpt from the petition of solidarity, written by the Reclaiming tradition:
To hold something sacred means that its well-being becomes the standard by which we judge our actions and decisions. In the words of the defenders who have made their stand at Standing Rock, water is life. No amount of money, no profits that benefit a few, can justify a threat to the very means and sustenance of life.
In addition, many of us have endured another bout of frightening, devastating drought. The rains that usually cleanse our cities and lands, that feed our crops, that strengthen our forests, that provide home to countless habitats, failed in many places again this year.
The parched, cracked Earth cried out; wildfires where there once were forests obliterated homes and farms.
For others, the rains were too much. Torrential and destructive, they dumped terrifying, unprecedented floods that swept away property and lives.
Meantime, thanks to global climate change and explosive population growth, access to safe drinking water is an endangered resource.
Did you know that only one percent of all the water on our planet is drinkable? The World Health Organization reports that about 1.1 billion people lack access to safe drinking water. That means – no access. Contaminated water is one of the biggest killers in the world, with young children most at risk.
Add to that the fact that, at more than $1 trillion each year, the U.N. and World Health Organization estimate water is the world’s third largest industry (just behind electricity and oil), and is the most-traded commodity on Earth.
The rampant greed that is at the heart of so much suffering is very much focused on the commoditization of water. In developing countries around the world, giant corporations like Bechtel and Halliburton are buying up the local water sources and then selling it back at price-gouged rates to the impoverished residents who live there.
And don’t even get me started on the wickedness of the Nestlé corporation.
As you consider these matters, honor the many feelings that flow through you. If this brings you anger and sorrow, give thanks, for you are alive and you care! If you do not feel despair at times, you are not paying attention, and dangerously out of touch.
Owning our pain for the world is absolutely necessary. It is our sorrow, the feelings of our heartbreak, that provide the fertile ground for healing and hope. Emotions motivate us to dare to act.
Without them, no change is likely.
And, as it happens, Water is the element that gives us that very gift of emotions. Another reason to honor, and actually feel what you feel.
Now take a deep breath. You have let your emotions flow — now, with your breath, let them go.
When you are ready, with clarity and compassion, light your candle. Let this light chase away the shadows that darken your heart.
Notice and give thanks for all the ups and downs of our emotions. They can be tumultuous at times and strangely prescient.
They open our hearts and sometimes break them, bringing cleansing tears and joyful laughter. What a sacred gift it is to feel our feelings, even when it hurts!
As you gaze upon this wondrous addition of light to the wreath before you, consider the life-giving blessings of Water.
See in your mind’s eye the beautiful rains when they come gently, in balanced abundance. Send your blessings and prayers to the Defenders of the Waters in North Dakota, and all indigenous people who are on the front lines of protecting our sacred Waters from pollution and destruction.
Give thanks for the incredible gift of turning on a tap at your home, and having clean, pure, hot and cold water pour forth. Such luxury was beyond the imagination of gilded pharaohs and emperors of old!
And remember Mama Ocean in your thanksgiving – the Mother of us all, the ever-restless, changing, flowing source of all life on our blue planet.
You might call upon all the Water Goddesses you love, and give thanks to Them.
Know, too, that the river of tears and joy is a deep, ancient one that defines our humanity. It gives us the motivation and possibility of the true, deep, lasting transformation we so desperately need.
May its light heal the fear, the hurt, and all of our troubled waters.
Gaze now at your three dancing flames and call upon the powers of these Elements or Gifts of Spirit, to heal and bless.
Tonight, we have reached the tipping point. It is now truly clear that the birth of the shining Child of Promise, and the renewal of Life is on the way!
When you are at peace, and the time feels right, going backwards from Water, to Fire, to Air, gently extinguish your candle.