Winter Solstice: Sun Stands Still

By Judith Boice, ND, LAc, FABNO

Excerpted from Soul Medicine: A Physician’s Reflections on Life, Love, Death and Healing



The light is fading, and the sky is bending down to bathe the powdery snow with topaz blue. The moon has not yet risen; I’m watching for that light to spread pearlescent over the silent, waiting fields.

Each evening, when the boys are finally quiet, asleep beneath their quilts and blankets, I turn off all the lights except the strand of colored holiday lights framing the back window. I sit alone in the darkness, taking in the silence like soul-nourishing food.

I remember coming home from college for a January term and walking through the darkened streets to a local park surrounded by second-growth forest. Snow crunched beneath my boots on that subzero, windless night. The moon illuminated the open fields, but I sought the shadows of a stand of trees and waited, my breath billowing silver in the moonlight.

The night rewarded my silent watch. I heard an owl hoot in the woods to the north, and another answer from the trees in the east. Their calls volleyed back and forth, a musical exchange of passion during this icy mating season.

I listened for almost half an hour; then, I added my voice to the symphony. We made a trio, the owls and I, hooting across the silent, moonlit field.

I also found that deeply nourishing stillness during the Christmas-Eve service in the church I attended throughout my childhood. Returning home to visit my parents on Christmas Eve, I sat in the familiar polished maple pew and smiled with delight as I recognized the rich symbolism I had grown up with, now appreciated more deeply with an accumulation of diverse cultural and spiritual experiences.

A magnificent pine tree towered to the left of the altar, decorated simply with white ornaments, Christian symbols that adorned a much older icon – the evergreen tree, the one that never dies in winter’s most bitter grip, the life that survives the deepest inward pull.

I felt my own Celtic roots tingling, the older European traditions that had melded with Christianity as it surged north from Jerusalem and flowed even into the Irish villages of my ancestors. Christ permeated those older roots, spreading golden light among the craggy roots of the tree of life.

I followed responsive readings, quietly changing the patriarchal language to suit my own truths. I remembered the alto line of the carols without opening the hymnal.

And then my favorite moment of the service arrived. The lights dimmed to total darkness. The minister stood before the only light in the sanctuary, a single candle lit in the Advent wreath.

He lit the other candles on the wreath and then walked down the altar steps to where the choir members stood with their unlit candles. From the darkness, from the solitary flame at the darkest point of the year, the flame passed from hand to hand, from choir members to the people sitting in the pews, the glow traveling from the edges of the sanctuary inward, the light strengthening as people raised and lowered their candles in unison, with the refrains of “Silent Night.”

Tears rolled down my cheeks, and the solid alto line faltered. I’m not sure what the other parishioners were celebrating in their hearts, but I knew what was in mine:

Out of the darkness comes the strongest light.

Out of the longest night of the year comes the most potent seed.

I celebrate the return of the sun, the physical light that kindles the world.

I celebrate the rich, deep darkness that nourishes that seed of light.

I honor the point of light within darkness, the seed of yang within the greatest yin.

I honor the owls seeding life at the most inward time of the year. New life springs from the coldest, hardest ground.

I held the candle, with paraffin running over my waiting fingers.

The light is returning. Pass it on.

The light is returning. Tip your candle into my flame.

The light is returning. Pass it on.

We are the seeds of light.

Hear me calling on this moonlit, winter night.

We are the seeds of light.


If you are interested in reading more of Soul Medicine, click here.

Dr. Judith Boice is a naturopathic physician, licensed acupuncturist, and single mother of twin teen-aged boys.