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Dear hearts –
Here we are, the week of United States Thanksgiving, or perhaps Thanks-Grieving, or perhaps ThanksGaia. Or perhaps this holiday is not one you celebrate at all. For others, it is the most important family holiday of the year.
That importance certainly shows in the number of people who travel for the holiday. More, even, than for secular or religious Christmas.
And this year, the question of whether or not to travel makes a holiday that is already fraught even more so. How safe it is to travel, to spend time indoors, to hug those we have been longing to be close to for months? How safe do we think we need to be for other loved ones, for our communities, for ourselves, and for the most vulnerable among us? And how much do we long to be together with our nearest and dearest, our truly beloved ones, our Families of Blood, Choice, or Spirit?
I pray for your good health and whatever peace or disquiet your heart requires.
There is another holiday, though, one coming soon, that is both very dear and very clearly full of love, light-and-dark lessons, peace, and tenderness.
While in years past and in contemporary witchy circles, it is known as Yule – just as one might say, “Yuletide” to mean the whole time around the solstice through the secular new year – we can also just acknowledge it as the moment, the time when Earth/Gaia passes closest to the sun/Sol, and when the Northern Hemisphere is tilted furthest away.
Every year on the solstice, the only electric lights my wife and I have in the house are the twinkly lights of the season. Otherwise, we light the house with candles and lanterns. Sometimes we make cookies – and oh, in the morning, do we lament that we have no dogs anymore and Julie cleans the kitchen floor herself! We pay attention to the setting of the sun, and we read Tarot cards for our celebration of the new year together. We honor what has passed with celebration, lamentation, or merely observance, and we watch the light diminish.
And there is something else that happens for the solstice. Five times it has happened, five years in a row, and now we are onto the sixth turn around the sun.
On the Saturday before the solstice—this year, that Saturday is the 19th of December—The Way of the River folks gather on Zoom for Going into the Dark, a day of peace and tenderness. (Yes, it has been on Zoom for the last six years. This is no Johnny-come-lately Zoom event, though it does intentionally have no bells and whistles.) We gather in our pyjamas. We gather and knit in rocking chairs. We gather from our beds. We gather with our video off. We gather lounging on sofas. We gather from our offices. We gather together to feel together, connected, tenderly held, and whole.
Especially in this year when so many of us yearn for connection, long for the company of people whose company we cannot have, pine for the touch of beloved family, especially now we need this event.
At least I do. Do you?
Going into the Dark is a retreat during which we explore what it means to move through the darkness (both metaphorical and physical), to prepare for the solstice, to make a journey in which we learn to see in the dark. In the Charge of the Star Goddess, She says, “Seek me in the Light that is in the Darkness, and seek me in the Darkness itself,” and so some do that. Some of us seek encounter with the holy. Others prepare to mark the holiday of the shortest day as “the reason for the season.”
Others of us just desperately need to feel held, safe as we can be among other tender minds and hearts, comforted (even in challenge), and in the presence of magic.
Meister Eckhardt said that if the spiritual life is a journey at all, it is a quarter inch long and a mile deep. That is the approach of Going into the Dark. To spend time with our own hearts going deep, deep into unexplored territory, and yet to go while being held in a loving, careful, caring “container,” if you will.
That container is built and maintained by the care I take with setting up the calls for the event. Not only that care, but also the tenderness of those who share the retreat with you, all of you together.
We will come together and inhabit four calls (It is my sincerest hope that our time is neither spent, nor wasted, nor killed, but rather, “inhabited.”) over the course of Saturday the 19th. We begin at 11 am Eastern and end around 6:30 or 7 pm Eastern. Each call is accompanied by an (entirely optional) PDF with journal prompts, images, and queries based on the content of the call just previous. Some people really enjoy using the PDFs to continue the work of retreat time, to journal, write, draw, go for a walk, or take a nap. And yes, taking a nap can be an absolutely perfect way to integrate material. <smile>
However you integrate the material can be perfect because Going into the Dark is, as I like to say, “an empowerment-based event.” What do I mean by that?
I mean that your participation need be led by your heart. Dip in and out. Spend time between calls taking care of family responsibilities that really need doing.
Or maybe you can find a way for someone else to take the kids for the day, let the dogs out, make lunch, so that you can give yourself the gift of a spiraling day of reflection and care.
Empowerment-based retreat also means that even if I pose a question to the group, you are free to say that you would rather pass. It also means that you are always free to ask for what you need, though I cannot promise I can fulfill that need, I will always listen.
That said, every year, Going into the Dark goes deeply into our hearts. This year will be no different. This year, though, we do not go to the center of a horizontal labyrinth. This year we will not discover the secret magic enclosed by a copse of trees in a cemetery. This year, we follow a traveler from the third millennium BCE, on her quest to know, to learn, to find her realm and her tools.
This year, we will encounter both threats and assistance.
This year, we will relinquish what we grasp until there remains so, so little left that we can gather all we need.
All that said, I invite you, as Rev. Deanna Vandiver says, “No matter what your calendar tell you,” to come to Going into the Dark. Join us. Join me. Join our 5000-year-old friend as we travel so far that when we make our way home, we can know it for the first time (Thank you, T.S. Eliot, for that lovely turn of phrase.)
Come and learn to see in the close and holy darkness.
Come and learn just a bit about the miles-deep spiritual life.
Come and go into the dark with me.
If you’d like to know more about the “flagship event” of The Way of the River, simply click on Going into the Dark, and then if you have questions, you can always contact me directly.
Blessings of the close and holy darkness, my friends, blessings.