By Tim Hjersted
Dec 25, 2008
It’s kind of funny that for several years being an atheist I still celebrated Christmas because that’s what I’d always done. The last several years I’ve been gradually winding down my participation. I still love to gather and celebrate with family and friends, but each year I buy less. This year I have come the whole way – a total Buy Nothing Christmas. I haven’t bought a thing.
I also decided that, instead, I'm going to start celebrating the Winter Solstice and other sun, earth, and universe related happenings. Instead of paying homage to a person whose mythological birthday story has its roots based in astrology and the Winter Solstace, why not celebrate the real thing?
Connecting with the natural rhythms of life, the winter for me is a time to meditate on the fact that food and life doesn't come from the supermarket. It comes from the sun. The sun is the life-bearing force of this galaxy. Nothing would exist that we know today without the sun. The seasons, the crops, the plants, the animals, the evolution of a brilliant diversity of species of living beings - it's all tied to the near infinitely predictable rising and setting of the sun each day. Ancient cultures understood the importance of the sun, and they viewed the sun, the earth, and all life on the planet as sacred, the same way many cultures today believe in invisible angels and gods as sacred.
Coming from a mystic Sufi background, I've studied many religions and spiritual paths, and have come to see how so many of them share many beliefs in common. The teachings of Buddha and Jesus run parallel. They often say the same thing, but using different words to speak to different cultures and audiences. The story and mythology of Jesus is heavily based on Pagan beliefs and values, making this new religious paradigm more accessible to the people of the time. This, for me, speaks to the common truth that can be found in all religions. When you strip away the anecdotes and parables and koans that give texture to these teachings, the core principles of how to live a compassionate life are virtually the same. But this also speaks to how philosophical principles are taught and spread amongst cultures of vastly different time periods.
The worshiping of the sun is perhaps one of Homo Sapien's oldest spiritual beliefs and cultural rituals. Over time, these beliefs (often taught through stories) are reinterpreted and recast for changing times and peoples. Jesus Christ is a perfect example. The whole story of Christmas and the birth, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus into heaven can be understood entirely as a parable that personifies the Winter Solstice and the original worshiping of the Sun.
It seems kind of bewildering how the religions of the last 10,000 years have come to believe so wholeheartedly in belief systems centered around invisible godly beings and other dimensions beyond this life, while at the same time they have become utterly divorced from respect and appreciation for the natural world. Unlike god, heaven and hell, which we cannot see and which have no tangible influence on our lives beyond our imaginations and surrounding culture, the physical world actually exists. The sun, plants, water, and animals of this galaxy actually exist, affect our lives - give us life! But we pay virtually no respect to this fact. There is no mainstream holiday to mark the occasion.
We fill our time with man made objects, man made cities and houses and cars and TVs and little boxes we shuttle back and forth from in between work, school, and play. We find value in these anthropocentric artifacts. But nature - the sky, the sea, the wind, the soil, the seeds that are fertilized each year that miraculously give us life and sustenance - these things we do not relate to.
We relate to Christ, we relate to heaven and other worlds. We relate to American Idol. But we see no relation to nature. We do not see ourselves in the eyes of a bear, or the bees, or a bird, or a dolphin. We simply do not see the connection.
This is reflected in our economic system. It is reflected in our entertainment, our movies, our religions, our school and government and business institutions. It is a paradigm lived and breathed worldwide, a fundamental worldview so ambient and pervasive it is almost universally invisible. Nature is not us, it is apart from us. We are it's masters. And for the new hippy-mystic generation, we are it's stewards.
But we aren't nature itself.
This, this I think, has to change.
A new paradigm is possible. Reinterpreting our relationship to the universe is the inflection point where it all flips inside out, and a whole new perspective unfolds.
It's 6am on this quiet winter morning. I suppose I'll have to follow this train of thought on a future night.
Until then, cheers! and Merry Solstice!