December 25, 2011 by Bill
There was always one worship service, above all others, that I loved doing in my church. It was the Christmas Eve candlelight service at 8:00 and 11:00 p.m. with standing room only. In my Congregational church I made it a celebration of the human spirit, with song and dance, poetry and literature, meditation and joy.
I will never forget the spectacular ballet dancer doing Tai Chi to Gounod’s “Sanctus” as sung by Jessye Norman. The dancer said that the first time she practiced it she just stopped and cried, it was that moving for her.
We always closed with all lights out and everyone holding candles and singing “Silent Night, Holy Night” led by guitarists playing in the balcony, like the original Tyrolean alpine folk melody. The organ would then come in with such glorious chords we all had a near “out of body” experience. Some skeptics would always say to me “I can’t sing that stuff. I don’t believe any of that.” And I would tell them, and the congregation, “I don’t believe it either as factual or historical theological statements. That’s not what it is all about. You miss the point if you do not experience the beauty of the myth, a solstice myth that goes back by thousands of years before Jesus was ever born.”
Our bloodstream runs into the veins of the gods, Greeks and Romans, Egyptian and Persians and barbarians in the Germanic forest. For thousands of years before Jesus, Greeks and Romans sang their hymns in honor of their gods and goddesses at the winter solstice and celebrated with gifts and singing, drinking and decorations, with flowers, palms, mistletoe and holly.
I would suggest that the congregation see life as a poem and the solstice season as poetry, and suggest that they picture themselves as participating in the poetry through the celebration of ritual. That is the purpose of mythology and what it is all about. THEY GOT IT. They understood it and loved it as a celebration of families and love, sharing and joy, meditation and mystery, with a consciousness of the sacred in life and the holy dimensions of existence.
George Santayana, one of the most brilliant teachers at Harvard University, and one of the great poets and philosophers of our time, was an agnostic. Yet every Christmas Eve, he and his wife attended the midnight candlelight mass. His friends teased him: “George, you know you do not believe any of that Jesus stuff. Why do you go?” “Ah” replied Santayana “but it feeds my spirit.” He got it. He was not interested in the absurdities and stupidity of archaic doctrines and creeds. He was a poet, and he and his wife were participating in the poetry of life through a solstice ritual that could be over 25,000 years old.
D. H. Lawrence made the observation that there are two kinds of truth: a truth of facts and a truth of truth. A truth of facts has to do with names, dates, places and so forth. But a truth of truth is revealed to us through mythology, legend and folklore. The truth of truth has to do with the inner world of the imagination and emotions. They reveal the inner shape and contour of our minds, our longings, needs and our spirits and soul where we live and dream and hope and imagine and create. There is an inner world where we create our own truth. We take the myths, folklore and legends of an ancient time and rewrite them according to our own needs, hopes and fears for our own time. Truths of Truth will not qualify as facts. There are those who want us to live without myth and poetry and feelings and emotion. They want us to live only by the truth of facts. What they would substitute is technology, science and ideologies as a means of discovering meaning and celebrating values. To live only by truths of facts can impoverish and stunt our lives and as Carl Jung reminded us is “a disease of our time.” A virus of the mind. Read more
December 18, 2011 by Bill
We are buried this time of year in mythology, legend and folklore. How many hundreds of times have we been told that Christmas celebrates the origin of Christianity? This of course is false. Christmas was around for eons before Jesus was ever born.
For thousands of years the Winter Solstice (Dec. 22-25) has been the most special time of the year and the most important date in human celebration. The sun has started its long journey home bringing Springtime.
Celebrating this event in this month of Solstice I am part of the line of descent that has been uninterrupted almost from the birth of humankind. There has been no time when someone, somewhere, was not celebrating this date.
Long before the mythological birth date of Jesus in the solstice period, our bloodstream ran in the veins of sun gods and sun worshippers… Greeks and Romans… Barbarians in the Germanic forests… Northern worshippers of Thor, and Egyptians… Jews… Gauls… Persians and Indians. No wonder that human beings have celebrated the date of the Winter Solstice for thousands of years considering that our very survival depends upon the return of the sun.
No wonder that the birth of the gods in almost all religious traditions were said to have taken place during the solstice period.
Solstice comes from two ancient words, “sol” the name of a sun god, and “stice” meaning still, or the day that the sun stands still, the shortest day of the year.
Since all cultures have been so dependent upon the seasons, the four major festivals centered on the summer and winter solstice and the spring and autumn equinoxes. An equinox, “equi” meaning equal, and “nox” meaning nights or equal nights, occurs midway between the winter and summer solstice, when days and nights are equal in length.
Those are the four corners of the celestial year. But with the return of the sun to once again warm the earth and bring forth a resurrection of life, the winter solstice became the greatest of all the festivals.
The ancient festival in Rome was known as the Saturnalia. The emperor Aurelian established an official holiday called “Sol Invicti,” meaning “unconquered sun” in honor of the sun god. It was held December 24 and 25 and established December 25 as the official solstice. All the other religions that worshipped sun gods also took December 25 as their fixed date for their festivals.
A major one was in honor of the Egyptian divine mother, Isis. Early Christians used to worship in front of statues of Isis suckling her divine child, Horus, the babe that she had conceived miraculously.
In 350 A.D., Pope Julius 1 decreed that the birth of Jesus would be celebrated on the same date as all of the other solstice sun gods – December 25.
Other major birthdays celebrated December 25 included those of the gods:
Marduk… Osiris… Horus… Isis… Mithra… Saturn… Sol… Apollo… Serapis and Huitzilopochtli.
One of the more interesting myths, obviously related to the Christian myth, is that of Mithra. Mithra went to heaven until he returned a savior for all of mankind. A star fell from the sky when Mithra was born. Shepherds witnessed the birth and Zoroastrian priests, called “Magi” followed the star to worship him. They brought golden crowns to their newborn “King of Kings.” His birth was celebrated on December 25 and was called the “Mithrakana.”
Now, when someone tells you that we just have to get back to the “true” meaning of Christmas, please do remember that the “true” meaning of Christmas is a celebration of nature, the sun, and a return of the sun to warm the earth for resurrection and new growth. This has been the major festival in the life of human beings for thousands of years, and our bloodstream still runs in the veins of sun gods and sun worshippers. It is no wonder that in the mythology of the gods they were all born in this magical time of the Winter Solstice, including Jesus.
I like knowing where our celebrations fit into the large picture of our human family. I like knowing that the quest for religious literacy is finally finding its way into our high school classrooms. I like knowing that the traditional Christmas stories are today being taught as mythology in my grandson’s class in Northern California.
Christmas started at the formation of our solar system with our little planet, the third one out from a minor star named Sol, spinning on an axis that is tilted at a slight angle to its orbital path around the sun.
December 11, 2011 by Bill
A very dear friend of mine, living in another city, has over the years built up a significant “thinking” person’s library. As he is now moving into his “golden years” he is ready to scale back his collection of books. He contacted me and asked if I would like them for my Sunday Symposium people. I almost responded so loudly he could hear me, without writing. YES, YES, I said and they started coming. So far, six packed boxes sent UPS, with more coming. It is just impossible to tell you of the joy I experienced as I went through those boxes. It was truly “treasures in a book box.”
A library inscription in Trajan’s forum in Rome reads: “Dispensary to the Soul.” Barbara Tuchman wrote: “Without books, (real pages) history is silent, science is crippled, thought and speculation at a standstill.”
I will never forget my first day at the University of Colorado, where I did my graduate work. I stood in front of the library building, reading the inscription at the very top of the building: “TO HAVE NO KNOWLEDGE OF MAN’S PAST, IS TO REMAIN A CHILD FOREVER.”
My books – how much I love them. I sit back in my desk chair and let my fingers slide off the keyboard. I pause for a moment in writing this column. I let my eyes once again caress the walls of my study, feeling their energy that feeds my spirit. The book-lined walls, how I love them. My heart pours out a “thank you” to all of the great and magnificent spirits whose thoughts and words fill these shelves and offer a feast, waiting only for my mind and soul to partake.
Goethe is there, with Albert Schweitzer and Meister Eckhart. There is Jung, Bertrand Russell and Whitehead. The energy that radiates out through my study and into me from these book-lined shelves transcends language. Loren Eiseley is there as well as the great Zen Master Suzuki, and next to the bust of Thomas Jefferson are three feet of books about this brilliant genius, and then comes James Madison, followed by Learned Hand and Oliver Wendell Holmes. My eyes move into the poetry section with e.e. cummings, and Carl Sandburg, Stanley Kunitz and Mary Oliver, Gary Snyder and Jim Harrison, and hundreds more waiting to once again fill my spirit and soul with food that is timeless.
Keith Richards, the brilliant guitarist with the Rolling Stones, knows exactly what I am talking about. His book-lined study keeps him sane, he has written. It is his ultimate retreat and sanctuary. He oversaw every aspect of the library, the size, kind of wood, furnishings. His reading is eclectic, from music to art and history. He said, “I work in front of hundreds of thousands of screaming and raving people. It is in my library where I find rest and peace and no one, I mean no one, not even the children, can walk in. I have a sign on the door that says: DO NOT ENTER.
Even Bill Gates has said that when he wants to absorb something, he has “to read it printed out.” Read more