Imbolc

Today is Imbolc, and we’re halfway between winter solstice and the spring equinox. The days are continuing to grow slowly lighter though its still dark and cold. It certainly is here in Hamilton, New York, well below freezing when I’ve been out for my early morning runs and afternoon walks in the woods. But today, its warmer, up near thirty and the trees talking to each other in sharp crackling, warmed by the sun and warmer temperature. 

I’d never heard of the ancient Celtic holiday of Imbolc until last month when archaeologist Martha Yates mentioned it in her lecture at Ghost Ranch on archaeoanthropology (yet another word I’d never heard of.) She explains how ancient people here traced and tracked the cycles of the sun and moon, equinox and solstice in petroglyphs and stone formations. Noted the path of moonrise from its most southern to northern point on the horizon. 

“Does anyone know how long that takes?”, Yates asks. 

One hand raised.  

18.6 years. Who knew? 

Why did they do this? For sure, they were scientists of their day and curious. But for all we don’t know about why they marked the growing and fading cycles of light, we know that alignment of their ceremonial life with the celestial and natural cycles and seasons mattered. They knew bad things would happen if things got out whack between the cycles.  

Alignment? I don’t even think about alignment until my car starts easing to the left. Alignment of ceremonies with the stars and seasons? It all sounds very New Age-y and perhaps it is. But it’s also, Yates reminds us, very old, as old as our ancestors in Africa, Ireland and the Southwest.  

Today, I’m quick to think I can overcome and outsmart the cycles of stars and nature herself. Perhaps with track lights and central air we’ve proven we can. And of course we can see as well today the dire consequences when we’ve forget that we’re not really that separate from cycles and seasons larger than ourselves.

Alignment matters. Can we remember our way back to it? And if we did, what might it mean for how we mark our days, for what we pause and notice? What might arise if we recovered ancient festivals to pause and celebrate, reground and reroot?

In the Southwest, the wide open landscape and sky, the absence of light and not a heck of a lot of other stuff going on, makes it a natural place for me to notice such things as sunrise, sunset and moonrise.

I notice with thanks the difference the growing light makes in seeing the potholes and ice when I’m out on my morning run. Grateful for the gift of the light of the Wolf Moon that helps me see my way back down to my room. 

I call out to my workmates to come see the dark clouds of the storm coming up the valley. Step out into the immersive cold chill of this dark morning, wonder on the slow warming of the day as I shed my jacket and gloves. Yes, get slippery red mud tracked all over me and around my room as a reminder that I’m actually not that separate from all this muck and majesty.  

What is happening here is of course happening everywhere, its just that so often I don’t notice. Or I notice it sometimes and then forget. Already, I’ve lost track of the moon today (New Moon to Waxing Crescent).  

Alignment with what is happening out there in the world and in here in us and our life together feels very earthy and incarnational, very Christian to me or perhaps the possibility of what Christianity could be again. The kind of alignment that Jesus knew who speaks of the care of lilies, stands in a boat to speak to wind and sea. 

So today, bright light,

And tomorrow, a snowstorm. 

Winter, not done with us yet. 

Today, trees cracking,

The sound of a turning. 

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