longest night, full of light

It’s the Winter Solstice tonight, the longest night, the moment when the earth is about to turn.

It’s been getting darker and darker since the summer solstice back in June, but after tonight, the light returns.

I’ve never made much of the Winter Solstice, although many cultures have through the ages.

I first began paying attention a couple of years ago after we visited the Newgrange passage tomb at Bru na Boinne, Ireland.

Newgrange Passage Tomb, Bru na Boinne, Ireland (photo: Andy Bruner)

Newgrange Passage Tomb, Bru na Boinne, Ireland (photo: Andy Bruner)

Anybody who’s heard me talk about Bru na Boinne knows that I’m just the tiniest bit crazy about the place.

Whenever I started talking about it, Libby would just laugh and shake her head, like, “Uh-oh, you don’t know what you’re getting into, friend.”

Some of my basic Bru na Boinne blather is this:

  • It is 5,000 years old, making it 2,000 years older than the pyramids at Giza. It’s still standing.

  • It is an engineering marvel, with stones weighing up to 10 tons floated in from quarries 40, 80 kilometers away and moved up the hill to the site.

  • There are many similar, smaller tombs aligned to this tomb throughout the valley.

  • The interior of this tomb is built in a cruciform shape, the exact shape of every great cathedral in Europe.

  • This particular tomb is perfectly aligned to the Winter Solstice so that when the sun rises each morning on the five days around the solstice, a beam of light will shoot down the passage of the tomb, illuminating a three-spiral carving at the head of the tomb.

This is a tomb, a place of darkness and sorrow, heavy and thick and sturdy with labor, carefully constructed to bring light into the darkest days.

The wisdom of this, when I went there and stood inside it, struck me dumb for an hour.

After I cried a lot.

Just weeping in the darkness of that tomb with its beam of light.

So tonight is the Longest Night, the Winter Solstice, the Great Turning of 2018.

This is a rare year, as the solstice coincides with a full moon, and also the peak of the Ursid meteor shower.

That’s a lot of light in the darkness of 2018, a lot of love beaming into the pain and chaos and sorrow, from the distance of light-years and the deepness of space, coming at this one dark time in my life.

There is wisdom in this darkness, wisdom in this turning, wisdom in this light.

I don’t know all this wisdom.

Yet, or maybe ever.

But I feel it today, like I felt it that day at Bru na Boinne.

And I will light my little survivor’s candle to that ancient and present wisdom in this Longest Night.

Looking away from the tomb, view over the Boyne River Valley with standing stones (photo: Andy Bruner)

Looking away from the tomb, view over the Boyne River Valley with standing stones (photo: Andy Bruner)

“The sunlight now lay over the valley perfectly still. I went over to the graveyard beside the church and found them under the old cedars... I am finding it a little hard to say that I felt them resting there, but I did. I felt their completeness as whatever they had been in the world.
I knew I had come there out of kindness, theirs and mine. The grief that came to me then was nothing like the grief I had felt for myself alone... This grief had something in it of generosity, some nearness to joy. In a strange way it added to me what I had lost. I saw that, for me, this country would always be populated with presences and absences, presences of absences, the living and the dead. The world as it is would always be a reminder of the world that was, and of the world that is to come.” Wendell Berry, Jayber Crow

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