by Elaine Breckenridge, Pictured Above: 2021 Summer Solstice Sunset, Camano Island, Washington
On June 21, we mark the official beginning of summer in the Northern Hemisphere, coinciding this year with the summer solstice. On this day we will experience the longest day of the year, that is the day with the longest period of sunlight. It has been a cold and dark spring where I live in Northern Washington. I am hoping to see Brother Sun make an appearance!
Many cultures, both ancient and modern celebrate not the sun as much as we celebrate the movement of the sun. The sun had reached its most northernmost point and will soon begin its journey back south ending at the winter solstice in mid-December.
My education about the importance of the solstices began when I first visited Ireland in 2007. It was there I learned that solstice means “standstill” and refers to the way that the sun appears to rise and set in the same place for the days around June 20 and 21 (and at the winter solstice in December). I learned from our guide in Ireland that summer solstice celebrations were and still are common in Europe, particularly in the Celtic landscapes of Ireland, Scotland and Wales. The guide, Dara Molloy explained that the eve of June 21, or midsummer’s eve, was a night of magic and feasting. Bonfires dotted the countryside, especially where we were staying on the island of Inish Mor. Mara Freeman in her book, Kindling the Celtic Spirit, writes,
“The power of fire was especially important at midsummer. People lit bonfires to celebrate the sun at its height of power and implore it not to withdraw into winter’s darkness. Fires ritually strengthened the sun to swell fruits and ripen grain, and it protected both humans and livestock from insect-borne disease.”
It was also believed that midsummer’s eve was a “thin place,” when the walls separating the worlds of the spirits and humans became as thin as tissue paper. The spirits of field and forest, of river and stream—all the inhabitants of that inner world—were free to pass back and forth between those walls and play among humans.
We might prefer to think of thin places as where the veil between this life and eternity momentarily lifts, and we experience the nearer presence of the Trinity, God, Christ, Spirit. I think of a thin place as any moment when our hearts are opened to receive the love and peace of the divine.
For me, I have discovered that marking and celebrating the solstices can be occasions for me to experience the presence of God in a more potent way. Perhaps this happens because I come to special holy days with an intention to allow myself to be opened either by being in nature, or by participating in an intentional ritual.
Since my awakening to the importance of the solstices, I have created and participated in both personal and communal ritual celebrations of the solstices since 2007 (Pictured is one such occasion). Each time, I am changed, even if only for a short time. I experience the lifting of the veil that often separates me from my True Self and the Divine.
At such times, I am reminded that as a human being I am only just a small piece of a greater whole. I find that celebrating the solstices is a way to affirm that I am a part of the cycle of moving from light into darkness and back again into light and into darkness again and again. It helps me to live into what “is.” As a part of creation, I know that my coming into this life was in the wind as the breath of God, and leaving this life will be in the wind as dust of the Earth. I find it comforting to know that I am part of the greater cycle and rhythm of life, just like the solstices.
Many of you probably have your own practice for observing the summer solstice. But if not, you might light a candle or small fire to give thanks for the fireball that keeps us alive. I like to burn last year’s lavender sticks in the fire symbolizing that my prayers are like incense rising and are being offered in gratitude for both the Creator and Creation.
A favorite prayer of praise of mine is this.
Holy is this fire of midsummer’s eve, and holy are you, O God, who from your burning heart drew forth a fiery ball and flung it into space.
Your laughter shook the empty cosmos and echoed again and again until the darkness of space resounded with your love and with fire.
You reached in again and drew forth fire and seeded it like yeast in each atom, plant and animal, each bird, fish, man and woman.
And you gave us a special star, our sun, aflame with a life-evoking energy to make our planet green and fertile, sun-soaked in your love.
As we celebrate this magic feast, open our eyes to the countless wonders and to the sparks of fire-life that you have planted in each of us.
May this holy and magical night be aglow with star-fire and God-light as we once again begin the sacred season of summer.
Prayers of a Planetary Pilgrim by Edward Hays
Blessed Summer Solstice to you all!
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Available as an online course, sign up here to gain 180 days of access while you work through this retreat at your own pace. Join Lilly Lewin and Christine Sine in the awe of the broad array of summer symbols that can gain spiritual significance for us when we stop and think about them. Everything from beachcombing to putting on suntan lotion can be the inspiration for practices that draw us closer to God.
Ground yourself in the earth and its summer season where you live and find the ways that God is speaking through it – all the details can be found here!