“Even though it is dark now,” the minister said from the pulpit. “the light awaits you in every direction. That is the gift of Solstice.”
Maybe, I thought. But that light feels far.
Hi. It’s been a while! The last time I blogged here was to urge Witches to vote for Hillary. Since then, I’ve struggled for something meaningful to say. I was devastated by the election and I was burned out from nearly a decade of running a faith community and grassroots activism…while working two jobs because Pagan Priestesshood doesn’t (currently) pay. It felt wonderful and important until it didn’t. I felt empty at my altar. I felt nothing in rituals. I cried alone on the subway and later, when my husband and I moved to Oregon, to the silent trees. The Goddess had left me, if she’d ever been there at all.
It was a crisis of faith and purpose. I wanted to believe, but the Gods were distant. I wanted to fix my broken country, but nothing I did felt effective. The dark of Solstice affirmed what I felt, but without the promise of returning light.
Last week, I supported a convening for Millennial African American pastors working for racial justice through their ministry. My job was to make sure their meals were on time and delicious, their hotel rooms were comfortable, and their tech functional. As a Former-Christian-turned-Pagan, Christian space feels like running into an ex at a party. There’s anger, resentment, nostalgia, satisfaction, and the question of how to interact with my past. I didn’t fit then or now. But my adopted faith doesn’t always fit that well these days, either. It didn’t matter. The pastors’ mission was important and I wanted to help.
During the convening, I got a call that a family member was being hospitalized. The entire group joined hands and prayed for me, a white lady protected by a system that had done so much to hurt them and their communities, with a strength and honesty so powerful that I cried—honored, thankful, and humbled. I felt unworthy. I wanted to give back.
The convening had a guest speaker: an African American woman nearly 80, a career advocate for disadvantaged children and a civil rights activist, who had been working in the movement since the age of five. This woman, who couldn’t drink from “white” water fountains as a child, offered a sobering reflection of this being the most evil time she had ever seen in our country. We may be in the season of planetary Darkness, but our country is its own kind of Solstice Darkness—but without the guarantee of light returning.
I should be doing more, I thought bitterly as I refreshed snacks for the group that had offered me so much love. I should be chaining myself to something, getting arrested, screaming through a megaphone. But there I was supplying candy, a fun and easy task, and getting paid to do it. It felt like cheating. It didn’t feel like enough.
Last night on Solstice Eve, I attended an interfaith service in the basement of a Baptist church just a few blocks from my home. One woman arrived late, in pajamas with a pile of blankets under her arm, clearly experiencing homelessness. She was made to move twice—once for sitting in the section reserved for ritualists, and once for being too tall and blocking someone’s view. She looked hurt and tired but when the offering plate came around, she rummaged through her blankets to find a dollar. No, I wanted to say. Keep your dollar. I’ll give extra. But I know that giving feels good. If she wanted to give, I wouldn’t interfere.
The minister preached about “the light being in each direction.” Miles away, I thought. And every direction feels self-indulgent.
At the end of the service, I wished the woman a Happy Solstice. She had no hat and it was going to be very cold. I had a hat---one made by an Al-Anon friend. I loved that hat. It was green and green is my color. But I had other hats at home. I wondered where this woman had come from. She was about my age. I wondered if we’d played on the same playground, if we’d attended the same high school dances. But something had happened along the way that left her homeless and me not. My Solstice reflections were about how to contribute to the Movement in an effective and humble way. Her reflection might have included where she would sleep that night.
I wanted to offer her my hat, but the voices in my head (ones that read too many think-pieces) fought me: Giving makes YOU feel good…charity destabilizes…if you want to help, work for affordable housing and support for addiction. Plus, your friend made that hat for YOU. How ungrateful would you be to give it away? The reality of systemic darkness pushed in on my heart the way the dark of a moonless Solstice cloaked the night.
Then I recalled a song we sang in my old Coven at our Yule Sabbats: The poor and the hungry, the sick and the lost. These are our children, no matter the cost…
I offered her the hat. She tried it on and asked if it matched her outfit. I assured her it did and wasn’t lying. She smiled. I smiled back. For the first time in months, I felt the Goddess’s voice—warm and real.
Candy and hotel rooms don’t end racial injustice, but they make the fight sweeter. A hat is not a home, but it keeps a head warm for a night. Yes, darkness is heavy and light may be feel far, but reaching it begins with small steps in whichever direction the light beckons.
I walked home, through the cold and peaceful darkness, the colorful lights of homes in business above and around me, illuminating each step I took.