Solstice musings

MothersNightphoto credit: Unknown

I discovered today that the 20th of December, as well as heralding the festival of Yule and the Winter Solstice is also called Modraniht or Mother’s Night. In old pagan cultures, it was a night to honour mothers and female ancestors and I suppose recognise the turning of the year from the feminine dark towards the masculine light. In the Celtic calendar, the winter solstice is the midpoint of the season of Samhain and the archetype of the Crone is often identified to recognise the coldness of winter, the death of the old.

These days, the consumer fest of Christmas with its cozy Holy Family of the Nativity story, its sterilised tale of angels and wise kings seems a world away from the cut and thrust of what would have been a scandalous birth to a poverty stricken young couple who subsequently found themselves to be refugees.

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I was listening to Alexander Shaia speak with Rob Bell on a podcast and he was discussing how the early church developed the feast of Christ, which only became popular from the 4th century on when Christianity moved further in to the cultures of northern Europe. While many might scoff at the appropriation of pagan festivals for Christian worship, and while it might be disingenuous of me, I rather like to think of the early followers of Jesus sharing their understandings of the world, of the spiritual realms with the people of these other cultures and beliefs and seeing how their different practises resonated with one another. I like to think that in some cases there was a mutual understanding and appreciation of what significance this time of the year held for people who were largely dependent on the sun and who longed for it to return.

My children’s school held a nativity service this week in a local Presbyterian church and I was really touched by the effort that went into it. It’s no mean feat to get 180 children to pull off a play with singing and costumes and nervous narrators, but they did a terrific job. The theme through out was that Christmas was all about love, the incarnation of Love in human form, Light piercing the darkness. The story of the birth of Christ into the world is the story of hope and light and love at a time of the year when we could all do with the return of the sun.

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The whole unveiling of years of misogynistic abuse of women by men in power has had me on the cusp of a simmering rage lately. The TIME magazine picture of the silence breakers, with the evocative elbow of a woman who still needed to protect her anonymity, was a powerful hint that something fundamental is shifting.

I’ve been speaking lately with friends going through the horror of messy and protracted separations with men who seem to have lost all sense of responsibility and decency. I’ve had conversations with other women about the issue of the ‘mental load’ at this time of year, the pressure to have everything sorted and organised for Christmas, running ourselves ragged so that everyone else has a wonderful holiday.

I’ve listened to debates about working women and the continuing struggle for affordable childcare. For all the talk of equality and opportunity, many more women of my generation are realising that when we were told that we could have it all, when we were encouraged into education and careers, it was still assumed that, when it came to having children, we’d be the ones expected to compromise.

Violence against women, exploitation and inequality in the workplace, the sexualisation of young girls, the demand for perfection so that we can still be consumed, the continued legislation of our bodies…. I’m looking toward 2018 and thinking, this cannot go on. Everything must change.

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The Winter Solstice begins the festival of yule, the 12 days of Christmas and the honouring of the Goddess in ancient cultures. How fitting then that at the centre of the Christian story is a young woman whose song of liberation is rung out year after year. A young woman of questionable status, giving birth to a child without her womenfolk nearby, witnessed only by those lived on the margins of society. A woman who consciously allows love to become incarnate through her so that the hope of liberation from oppression can become the light we cling to.

This is the song she sang and this is the hope she instilled in her boy, that the God she believed in would not look away from those who are ignored, oppressed, downtrodden. That this new way of being human that he would grow to model, when the Spirit and the Body are beautifully united as they always should have been, could become a powerful, transformative movement that would speak up for the voiceless and show what real love truly looks like.

I know the church doesn’t look like this a lot of the time. I’m in the heart of my own struggle to give expression to a faith that has been hijacked by power hungry, woman hating men. But Christmas is the time to focus on the hope that one day, it could be beautiful.

So in honour of Modraniht, Mother’s Night, and thinking of all the women, with or without children, who are longing for liberation, I give you Mary’s Song.

I’m bursting with God-news;
    I’m dancing the song of my Savior God.
God took one good look at me, and look what happened—
    I’m the most fortunate woman on earth!
What God has done for me will never be forgotten,
    the God whose very name is holy, set apart from all others.
His mercy flows in wave after wave
    on those who are in awe before him.
He bared his arm and showed his strength,
    scattered the bluffing braggarts.
He knocked tyrants off their high horses,
    pulled victims out of the mud.
The starving poor sat down to a banquet;
    the callous rich were left out in the cold.
He embraced his chosen child, Israel;
    he remembered and piled on the mercies, piled them high.
It’s exactly what he promised,
    beginning with Abraham and right up to now.

Gospel according to Luke 1:46 – 55  The Message

 

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