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A Prayer at the Winter Solstice

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As we come toward the time of the winter solstice and a few days later the celebration of Christmas, we are reminded once again of the primal mystery of darkness and light, and the light being born in the darkness. As the longest night of the northern hemisphere approaches, what is the inner meaning of this turning from the darkness towards the light, and this wonder of divine birth?

If we pause for a moment in the midst of our buying and consumption as a way to celebrate, if for an instant we can turn inward, we will find this greatest human mystery: the birth of light in the midst of darkness. This moment is a celebration of the spiritual nature of life, and how within the heart and soul of each of us this divine light is waiting to be born, to come into consciousness, to come into our daily life. And as many have experienced in their own life, this light is often born out of a time of darkness, of difficulties and suffering. In Rumi's simple words:

"Sorrow for His sake is a treasure in my heart. My heart is light upon light, a beautiful Mary with Jesus in the womb."

Within the heart, within the soul of each of us, the divine child is waiting to come into our life, into our consciousness. We are waiting to be born.

Anyone moved to turn inward into prayer, into their innermost heart, is drawn toward this mystery. And like the image of Christ being born in a manger, it is something as simple as it is wonderful. Many of us have felt, if only for an fleeting moment, this divine presence within our life. We know what it brings, how it can turn our life around in an instant, change what seemed impossible to be changed. We aspire to remain in this place of inner receptivity, this place of waiting in the darkness and longing that belong to the heart's prayer. We are both the darkness and the light, the sorrow and the joy. It is in the midst of the darkness that the light is born, that the longest night turns toward the sunrise.

Our greatest human heritage is this soul's drama of darkness and light, of the divine being born into our life. This is where our prayer takes us, where the heart's longing draws us. This birth is the deepest fulfillment life can give us.

Spiritual stories tell us that the birth of the divine in the midst of darkness can happen both within the individual and within the whole world. The darkness of our post-industrial world is only too visible -- with its pollution and species depletion, its global warming and increasing ecocide. It is not difficult to sense the sorrow of this present time, with growing inequality and global exploitation. But what is the light waiting to be born? Could it be an awareness of the sacred within creation and the deep knowing that we are all One -- one living planet full of wonder and mystery, not just a resource waiting to be consumed? Could it be the simple awareness of the divine that is present within all of life, within every cell of creation?

We are easily drawn into our culture's endless consumption, its myth of progress and economic growth. This story of material prosperity has now become a global disaster, as it pollutes our planet at an ever accelerating pace. How should one respond to this darkness? Yes, there is action to be done in the outer world, ways to respond to our collective self-destruction. We need to take responsibility for the well-being of our planet and its myriad inhabitants, not just our own material welfare.

But for the one who is drawn inward into prayer there is an equally valuable work in holding a space for the divine -- staying true within the heart and waiting. It is here, from within the heart of each of us that the light of divine awareness will be born. It is from within the heart that the dark myth of materialism can turn into a story of divine birth -- a reawakening to the knowing that all of creation is sacred -- it is one living whole and we are its guardians. In our heart and soul we are each like Mary, holding the possibility for a birth that can change the world. Our politicians cannot change our world. The recent climate change conferences at Rio and Doha illustrate their inability to act. But change can happen through the heart of humanity. Through each and all of us the light of the divine can dispel this deepening darkness.

The mystery of darkness and divine light belongs to each of us and to the world. We are the world waiting in the darkness and we are the light waiting to be born. It is only too easy to see the darkness around us -- the forgetfulness of the sacred nature of creation, the destruction and desecration of our beautiful and suffering world. We should not avoid being aware of what we are doing to the world, but we need also to turn toward the light that is waiting within our own heart and the heart of the world. We need to hold this sacred light in our hearts and our life. We need to be the prayer for the world in this time of darkness.