This month, we’re making space to consider how we can strengthen our own spiritual practice, by allowing time and effort in considering what is special to us — and how that connects us to all that is larger than ourselves.
Solemnity stops time. It offers us a moment to inhabit, a respite to get our bearings, a
chance to acknowledge a hardship or an accomplishment before we are on to the next one.
Solemnity can carry a memory of the past into the present or set an intention for the future.
But solemnity can also take us out of linear or historical time and give us a sense of
timelessness, or a perspective on what Julia Kristeva calls monumental time. In contrast to
historical time, monumental time marks the seasons and cycles of one individual’s life,
especially (she argues) in the experience of women.
When I start to lose touch with the seasons or start to say things like, “I can’t believe it’s
already December,” I need to stop time and catch up. And when this need for solemnity strikes
me, I often turn to the tarot. This is not something I have shared with many people in my life
because it seems like such a frivolity, especially the more seriously you take it. But tarot gives
me that opportunity to check in with myself, a mirror that reflects where I am and often a
narrative to explain how I got there. For me tarot is not divination of the future so much as an
external expression of internal processes, and I usually find that the craving doesn’t strike again
until I have either fully experienced or understood the last chapter of the narrative, or until I
have gotten myself out of joint with time once again.
Historically, tarot and playing cards share the same roots. Both have four suits, face
cards, numbered cards, and exceptional cards like the Joker. I associate each tarot suit with one
of the four directions and one of the four elements. The suit of swords speaks of air and of the
east, the place of the rising sun and thus of new beginnings. Swords are sharp like the intellect
they represent, and as an intellectual, I am less uncomfortable with their bite than perhaps I
should be. Wands, the suit of the south, may be depicted as torches, for they light fires of
creativity and passion, but as an intellectual, this is the suit that I struggle to understand the
most. Cups hold water and symbolize the emotions of the west. And north is the land of
pentacles, which are golden discs or coins that represent material needs like the health of the
body or security of one’s finances. Self, or spirit, as the integration of body, emotion, passion,
and mind is what I use the tarot to reflect.
Within each suit, cards are numbered from ace to ten, and each suit has four court cards
– king, queen, knight, and page. It can be a challenge to let go quantifying, categorizing, and
rationalizing, to imagine what these cards can mean. Some speak to me more clearly than
others, for example the ace of swords can represent a new thought that is overwhelming, the
nine of wands a time when one last push of energy is required to finish a project, the page of
cups an adolescent beginning to explore self-love, and the queen of pentacles a woman who
wants the best for her body. I assume that those I have not yet embraced I simply have yet to
A typical tarot deck also includes a couple of dozen cards called the major arcana, which
track the journey or self-development of the fool, the first of these cards, through to his or her
integration or completion in the final card of the world. And some of these cards feel familiar,
burdensome, or opaque to me. I almost never draw the fool. The hanged man makes me
uncomfortable because I hate to wait in limbo. The tower reminds me that facades were often
built to be destroyed.
Of course, the images on the cards also appeal to the imagination, and the deck may
have a motif or theme. Mine is the mythic tarot, in which each suit tells a famous story from
Greek mythology. For example, the cups recount the relationship of Cupid and Psyche, and the
wands Jason and the golden fleece. The cards can also be laid out in a simple or elaborate
spread. One of the most basic is to draw three cards: an issue, an action, and an outcome. But
whatever the details, tarot is a recipe for layer upon layer of symbolism, and inevitably
something is going to appeal to my own sacred confirmation bias. But tarot is only as
worthwhile a spiritual practice as it is taken seriously, as a solemnity. And that is something to
be experienced more than it is to be analyzed or understood.
And so I would like to offer each of you here today a blessing for the season, drawn
from my deck of cards. It is up to you whether I am wasting your time or performing a solemn
rite. You already know the answer. I can’t believe it’s almost Christmas, we all say, so let’s find
out how we got here and what we are doing here anyway. I have drawn three cards to generate
three points in a storyline. Each of us will have a different response to these cards, and the
three cards will produce a different narrative for every reader. Remember, you may find that
the cards tell you how you got here or where you’re at rather than what comes next.
I’m going to pose a few simple questions so that you can generate some context for
each of the three cards, and I will pause for a moment to give you a chance to reflect as we go
along. First, I invite you to take a moment to locate yourself in time, whether that means
winter, your age, Christmas, 2017, or an ending. What time is it in your life right now? (Pause)
And how do you feel about that? Merry, sorrowful, rushed, at peace . . . There is no right
answer. (Pause) Finally, what do you want for Christmas? What do you wish would fill the
season or the new year?
I wrote the words that I have said so far today on a Monday in November when I
needed to stop time by communing with the elements at Le Nordik. Because guess what – tarot
is not the only form of solemnity I practice. Then, on December 1, I gave the kids their advent
calendars, dropped them off to school, and came home to a messy but quiet house to draw the
three cards for this blessing for December. Because of how they resonate with me, I am afraid
that I have skewed this communal reading toward myself, but I hope that you will see a bit of
yourselves in this mirror as well.
For the first card, I asked, “What time is it in your life right now?” And the card I drew is
from the major arcana: the moon. Its central image is a full moon reflecting down on water
below. Various depictions may include a howling wolf, a crab emerging from the water, or the
goddess Hecate, queen of the underworld, but I think the most important symbol here is the
card’s namesake, that great full moon. It is a card that represents darkness, as we head into the
darkest time of the year, but it also speaks to cycles of life, the feminine, the unconscious, and
our dreams. “What time is it in your life right now?” is a question echoed by the card itself. But
the moon may also herald a time to get in touch with your intuition. Do not, I would suggest, shove the crab back into the water, because (like any repressed fears or desires that might be
trying to surface) it can pinch.
So, you were thinking about what time it is in your life right now, a question that may
now be inflected by the rise of the moon. The second question I asked was: How do you feel
being here in this time? Well, for the second card I drew the ace of cups, which symbolizes an
initial upsurge of feeling. Imagine a giant hand reaching down from the sky, holding out to you a
goblet brimming with liquid. Perhaps this dark time of the year, or perhaps your dreams,
whatever the card of the moon symbolizes for you, will bring to you a surge of emotion. Maybe
we need to let it flow. What might we do with this new feeling? The ace of cups says that you
are ready for a journey of the emotions.
So, let’s finish the narrative with our third card. By the light of the moon, a feeling is
welling up, and what are you wishing for, I asked. Our final card is the knight of wands. So
imagine a sun-baked desert, and across it rides a young man on horseback, dressed in red and
gold. My deck gives him a winged horse; some show pyramids off in the distance. He is on a
quest, because like many of you, he is a seeker. He loves adventure, and he may be more
inspired than reliable, but he’s easy forgive, because he may be a person you encounter in real
life these days, but he is also calling to your own inner knight of wands. Perhaps the emotional
journey heralded by the ace of cups will be guided by a seeker of inspiration, creativity, and
passion. Maybe it’s time I lay down my sword and follow him.
So, this is my December tarot blessing for all of us: in the dark of winter and the dark of
night, may you feel all your feelings, and may the new year bring new adventures. And if tarot is
not the solemnity for you, then may you find your own opportunity to stop time, reflect, and
welcome all the parts of yourself home.
Video – Solstices Explained
As we celebrate the approaching Winter Solstice, here is a playful explanation of their origin – along with appreciation of the beauty they offer to our planet!
Story Book – This is a Serious Book
Contributed by Andrea Young
A solemnly playful story for all ages!
December is a time full of festivals and holidays. These are opportunities to contemplate the passing of time, to consider our place in the world, and to spend with people dear to us – weighty matters that go to the heart of who we are!
These are solemn questions, balanced by the playfulness that go with them – we take these occasions seriously… and we have fun with them, finding joy as we seek deeper understanding.
Outside of Sundays, we can Take the Theme Home with these resources, as we share this search together.
Green things growing are a sacrament.
The tiny flower in this stray plant
Is just as catching to the soul or mind
As the roses that proud in the corner stand,
And green things growing have a stubbornness.
They say to winter, to drought, to time, to us,
Wait until summer, until next year. Wait.
Let us bless the Earth,
And all that is steady and firm.
Let us bless the Sky,
And all that is open and filled with light.
Let us bless their union,
Holy and without ceasing.
Let us bless their children,
The bounty of field and forest,
Stones, plants, animals, and all living things.
May the gifts of the Earth and Sky
Strengthen, refresh, nourish, and heal the peoples of the Earth.
Free Will – Sam Harris – ISBN 9781451683400 – suggested by Mike Jan
A belief in free will touches nearly everything that human beings value. It is difficult to think about law, politics, religion, public policy, intimate relationships, morality—as well as feelings of remorse or personal achievement—without first imagining that every person is the true source of his or her thoughts and actions. And yet the facts tell us that free will is an illusion.
Sam Harris argues that this truth about the human mind does not undermine morality or diminish the importance of social and political freedom, but it can and should change the way we think about some of the most important questions in life.
Choice Theory – William Glasser – ISBN 9780060930141
William Glasser’s choice theory begins with the idea that behavior is not separate from choice; we all choose how to behave at any time. Second, we cannot control anyone’s behavior but our own.
Choice theory posits most mental illness is, in fact, an expression of unhappiness. Glasser champions how we are able to learn and choose alternate behaviors resulting in greater personal satisfaction.
The Illusion of Conscious Will – Daniel Wegner – ISBN 9780262731621
Wegner argues that it is easy to show that people have the illusion that they are in control of events when actually they aren’t. Based on neurological research, he concludes that unconscious brain events cause both the intention to act and the action, but conscious intention does not cause actions.
You, me, the trees, the birds, squirrels, the creek, the air, the stars are all phenomena. There is a relationship between one phenomenon and another. If we observe things deeply, we will discover that one thing contains all the other things. If you look deeply into a tree, you will discover that a tree is not only a tree. It is also a person. It is a cloud. It is the sunshine. It is the Earth. It is the animals and the minerals. The practice of looking deeply reveals to us that one thing is made up of all the other things. One thing contains the whole cosmos.
When we hold a piece of bread to eat, if mindfulness is there, if the Holy Spirit is there, we can eat the bread in a way that will allow us to touch the whole cosmos deeply. A piece of bread contains the sunshine. That is not something difficult to see. Without sunshine, the piece of bread cannot be. A piece of bread contains a cloud. Without a cloud, the wheat cannot grow. So when you eat the piece of bread, you eat the cloud, you eat the sunshine, you eat the minerals, time, space, everything.
One thing contains everything.
With the energy of mindfulness, we can see deeply.
(from Going Home Jesus and Buddha as Brothers, by Thich Nhat Hahn)
Recipe – Simple Bread
Want to make more bread like we did this past Easter? Missed out on the service? Here is a version of the simple bread recipe we used for our “Flour Communion”!