Yesterday marked the Summer Solstice in the Northern Hemisphere. While we here in the north take our solstices seriously, my friends who live near the equator must wonder what all the fuss is about. After all, in the tropics days and nights remain more or less constant throughput the year, as variation in daylight is created by the Earth’s wobble, and thus becomes more acute at the poles.
Wobble is a marvelous word, a near perfect description of the attempt by living organisms to achieve homeostasis. We are a wobbly lot, constantly losing optimal conditions and reorienting ourselves. Thus, optimal becomes a range of values rather than a constant. Simply walking requires a sequence of balance, lost balance, and regained equilibrium at every step. Amazingly, we do just fine in maintaining equilibrium most of the time, only finding ourselves in real trouble when we veer too far off-balance. At the solstices we are reminded there are limits to growth; at some point, the pendulum reaches a peak and begins to swing in the opposite direction. This is true for seasons, cultures, and our individual lives. It is best to avoid too much attachment to the growth of the light, or the dark. Prophesy tells us we can expect a return to homeostasis, although the new norm may be very different from that to which we are accustomed. We are reminded that a balanced way of life benefits seven generations to come. Clearly we humans have lost our collective balance; yet there remains hope we will return to the good road. If not, perhaps our species will pass from this place, Pachamama will find a new homeostasis, and fresh forms of consciousness will arise to inhabit the Fifth World (or Sixth, depending on who is counting).
Yesterday, in order to mark the changing of the year we held ceremony. Jennie and I were up shortly after five in the morning to ready the house and yard for the 7:30 a.m. gathering. Actually, Jennie had to encourage me to awaken, then again to get out of bed. Still, all was in order by a few minutes past seven. Fortunately we prepared most of the food on Thursday which greatly simplified the morning. Others brought food, resulting in a marvelously celebratory breakfast.
When I went outside to prepare the fire and altar, there was a great fuss and racket abroad in the animal world. Worse, the mosquitoes arrived in great abundance. Jennie and I wondered what the fuss was about and whether we dared subject others to the hordes of hungry mosquitoes. Yet, when everyone had arrives and we went to the altar area, all became quiet and the mosquitoes largely stopped biting. As soon as the ceremony ended, and most everyone had returned to the house, the din and biting resumed.
We’ve been working on the outside altar area. Given the incessant rain of this spring, the area was not ready for the ceremony as we had hoped. No worries; we moved the altar and fire pit to the back yard. Soon the altar was festooned with gifts to the Great Spirit, spirits, and Ancestors. One of our Abenaki sisters called the Directions, for we are guests in the land of the Abenaki, and it is only right to honor them and to request their permission to be here. We then gathered near the fire and spoke together about our gratitude to Father Sun and Grandfather Fire, without whom our lives would not be possible. We fed the fire, remembering that feeding Grandfather also nourishes the fire within each of us, offered prayers to the Great Spirit, and acknowledged our debts to Mother Earth. We also took time to remember friends and loved ones who have passed on. Finally came the smudging and the opportunity to release the unnecessary burdens we carry unnecessarily.
Returning to the house, we gathered again to receive strawberry water from our Haudenosaunee brother, acknowledging these first fruits of the land. Strawberry water combines two first fruits, maple syrup and strawberries, into a luscious and holy drink. A young woman filled our cups, then we each gave public thanks for one thing in our lives before taking a first sip. Looking at one another gathered in our kitchen, we acknowledged all beings are sacred and there are innumerable paths to wholeness and the Creator.
Soon the clock showed nine and most of the attendees went off to work. A couple of folks stayed on to help us clean up, an act of generosity for which we are grateful. Gratitude was the theme of the day, as it is for most ceremony. During the fire and strawberry water ceremonies we were reminded that at the core of Native ritual and ceremony lie gratitude and community. We were also invited to remember that community gathering in a sacred manner supports healing. Yesterday it was so.