We are solidly embedded in the Twelve Days of Christmas, the time between Christmas Day and January 6th, Epiphany. The natural world lies deep in early winter dormancy. We have had a few cold days. Today is warmer. A light snow falls.
Our neighbors are out on skis and snowshoes. Some access the trails by cutting through our yard, waving and shouting to us as they do. The woods are inviting; they seem to call us out, into the chill and quiet. A few birds twitter from the trees. The wind whistles, purrs, and occasionally, moans in the treetops. The snow crackles under our booted feet.
New Year’s Eve is Friday. Usually the night is cold, a challenge for those revelers out for Burlington’s First Night celebration. This year, the forecast is for record warm nighttime temperatures. New Year’s Day promises rain showers and highs in the mid to upper forties. Warmer nighttime temperatures is a trend in Vermont, a trend consistent with global warming models.
Another very noticeable change is the dramatic decline in fine arts events as part of First Night. This trend began a few years ago and seems to be accelerating. First Night began as an arts focused events, but now primarily showcases popular culture. For those of us who enjoy chamber and early music, this is a significant loss.
Thinking about First Night, I am reminded we seem to have misplaced our communal sense of balance. Traditional peoples, whether in the Americas or India, place a high value on finding the balance between innovation and tradition. (Did you know there are First Nations composers of new classical music!?) Of course, we do not always succeed, for the lure of the new is very powerful. There seems to be less of a focus on balance in Western cultures.
In the First Nations view of the world, the challenge is to find that illusive point or practice that keeps our lives, and the world, in balance. That task is passed from person to person, generation to generation. We are always losing our way, then, somehow, finding our way back to the path. Ritual and ceremony help both to right our imbalances, and illuminate the path ahead.
The Twelve Days of Christmas remind us the sacred dwells in the very corporeality of our lives, in the world’s very flesh and bone. So we live our lives, aware of our mortality and the transient nature of all being. Balance has something to do with our capacity to dwell in the sacred moment, and to feel gratitude, right along with love, sadness, and fear. From that dwelling sometimes comes epiphany. May it be so for you.