It has been our custom at Rolling Ridge to gather in the Meditation Shelter on the Eve of the New Year for a time of quiet reflection, poetry, sharing, and candlelight. In the past, visitors have joined us. This year we had no guests. We wore masks and opened the windows and door of the Shelter to the night air. While we were few in number (five adults, three youngsters, and one dog), we were full in heart. The young ones in particular offered original poems, story, and a hauntingly lovely song. It was a sweet time. Below is the opening reflection from that night. It begins with a quotation from Rainer Maria Rilke:
Let us welcome the new year, full of things that have never been.
One year ago this evening, a group of New Year’s pilgrims walked in silent procession from the Retreat House to this small, round building, as others had done for many years. Tonight the moon is just past full, though hidden behind clouds. Then it was a slender crescent in the night sky, winking between the dark, bare silhouettes of the trees. The Shelter welcomed them as it does us now with candlelight and a glowing fire. That was the last time a group gathered in this space, in the embrace of stone and fire light.
Even as we sat together on that first night of a new decade, with little inkling that we would soon fall out of the world to which we had grown accustomed, we sensed in our inarticulate bodies that Nature and Culture had perhaps reached a tipping point, that much was at stake. In the year that followed, we and our kin, all creatures and beings in our Earth family, suffered the devastation of a formerly unknown virus, the loss of species and habitats, and a climate in peril. We witnessed the fragility of democracy and the betrayals and injustices of our social contracts and institutions.
Yet while we may be profoundly tossed and troubled, we have not been abandoned. In moments like these, there rises in the human soul a saving instinct to seek the places where our roots drink deep in the aquifer of belonging and relationship. We are drawn to gather in communion and ceremony, however simple, however tiny, to remember what matters most and our place in the family of things and even, if we dare, our place within the unfolding story on the far side of the end of the world we have known.
So we have returned again, as we do every year, doggedly and courageously gathering on this first night in this small shelter from the storm, to make our gestures and our prayers; to honor the wonder of human imagination in the form of poetry, or story, or song. We come in gratitude for this moment, inside of which we breathe and are alive, surrounded by the velvet night beauty of the forest and all her creatures.
This year, just as we were lighting our Solstice fire and as the sun set, the two largest worlds in our solar system, Saturn and Jupiter, appeared spectacularly close to one another in the dome of the twilight sky. They created a star, which we glimpsed only for a moment amid the tangled branches of the surrounding trees, a bright, oval jewel in the violet sky.
It is worth recalling that on this night not so very far from the Solstice, the light is still returning. The world is full of miraculous beauty and punctuated by moments of splendid visions. The dark can be revelatory, and in all cases, dances with bright fire. As Padraig O’Tuama declares in his poem “A Solstice Blessing”, “In all nights there is light.” And, while much in this moment is dark and uncertain, uncertain is a profound space filled with possibility in which anything can happen: a new year filled with things that have never been.
In the time that followed this reflection, we sat in the quiet candlelight, heard poetry and song and personal sharing. Josh noted that side by side with the year’s griefs and turmoil, there was evidence all around of courage and sacrifice, caring and service, selflessness and generosity. To close the evening we danced, each holdng a candle in a stately movement of grace and beauty. We held our candles up, the light falling on each masked and beloved face and traveling out through the open windows of the tiny Shelter, to the world and all we hold dear and hope for. Then the candles were put out, the fire banked, the windows and door softly closed. As we walked home through the night, the full moon sailed out from behind the clouds, her silver light falling on the dark trees, making moonshadows on the forest floor, an intricate pattern of light and dark.