At 11:32 pm EDT on Sunday, June 20, Earth reached the point in its orbit of the Sun where the Sun appears at its northernmost point. In the northern hemisphere this is the longest day of the year, the time when there is the most light. Because of orbital mechanics and other science-y stuff, the Sun appears to stand still for a couple of days before apparently reversing course and heading back south. From this time on, the days will start getting shorter, although here in East Tennessee, we won’t reach the height of summer until August.
The longest day is a time of great mystery and power. It has long been known that without the Sun there would be no life on Earth, prompting veneration and worship of the Sun, or at least a deity who represents the Sun or controls its track across our skies. For agrarian communities, this has profound practical significance as the summer sees fields start to grow and produce a hopefully bountiful harvest in the coming weeks. The light has ample symbolism for us: life, sight, power, warmth. For some of us, the June solstice means that the hottest and most unpleasant part of the summer is about to hit us hard, sending us either running for air conditioning or to the lakes and beaches for relief from the heat. Then, of course there are those hardy souls who crave the sun and spend as much time outside as possible during the summer. (I am not one of those; give me snow and ice any day.)
Today we see earth-lovers, Druids, neo-Pagans, and others gather at Stonehenge and other sacred sites to welcome the Sun as it rises on the longest day. Christians also welcome the coming of the light by celebrating the birth of John the Baptist on June 24. The Gospel of John describes John the Baptist’s role in this way:
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
John 1:6-9 (NRSV)
Malachi 4:2 refers to the Sun of Righteousness who rises “with healing in his wings,” a figure many see as Jesus.
During the week leading up to the solstice, I have turned once again to David Cole’s The Celtic Year during my morning prayers. This is a nifty little book of devotional readings and prayers built around the eight-fold cycle of the Celtic year. For the week of readings around the Summer Solstice, the focus is mainly on light. Beginning with the creation of light in Genesis, David Cole leads the reader in a reflective journey on light, beginning with the creation of light in Genesis and ending with the saints who have gone before us to light the way. Here’s a summary of what I’m taking away at this point.
- We need light to see; what we see and how we see it are largely determined by the source of light. The world looks a lot different when we see it by the Divine Light of God. What light do we see by?
- Jesus is the Divine Light in human form. Following Jesus means that we try to be like him. How does the Divine Light of Christ guide us in our journey? Do we allow the Holy Spirit to work within us to make us better reflections of the Light?
- Jesus said that we are the light of the world. Through the work of the Holy Spirit, we not are not just Light Bearers; we are Light Projectors.
- Sometimes the Light shows us things we don’t want to see. For Saul, the Light was blinding and revealed an entirely new path for him that was radically different from the one he had been following. Are we willing to let the Light show us new paths, or do we block it out so we can carry on with our plans?
- Not only do we have a community of believers to accompany us on our journey, we have the example, the light, of all those who have gone before us, especially those whom we revere as saints. Their lives and work are a light that inspires us to this very day. This is an immense community and when we take our place within it, we shine brightly for all to see.
I want to walk as a child of the light, I want to follow Jesus, God set the stars to give light to the world, The star of my life is Jesus. In him there is no darkness at all. The night and the day are both alike. The Lamb is the light of the City of God. Shine in my heart, Lord Jesus. --Kathleen Thomerson