The Return of the Light
One can’t go wrong subscribing to The Mission’s newsletter. I appreciate the stories most of all. The one below is from their last one of 2018. Happy Winter Solstice!
A young boy stood in a crowd. He held the hand of his father and his small fingers squeezed his Dad’s palm. His father smiled and gave the boy’s hand two quick squeezes back. As they walked, the young boy peeked his head in between the hips of strangers, moving his head left and right, hoping to get a better look at the early-morning event.
It was too hard for him to see, so the father bent down to the small boy.
“Is it time yet?” the boy asked.
“Not yet, but soon it will be,” said his father.
“Why does it take so long?”
“Quiet,” the father said gently, “It is time you be patient and watch what is happening before you.”
The young boy and his father moved to an open space. His father put a finger to his lips to signal silence and the boy nodded. They stood in a clearing in the plaza and awaited the sunrise.
The boy knew little about why the people of his village gathered before the sunrise on this particular day. He had asked before, but no answer was given, so the mystery remained.
Finally, on this day, the boy’s father had told him he would find the answer. As the crowd stood in silent anticipation, the boy spoke again.
“But Father, why are we all here?” His father knelt down.
“Why must you talk during the ceremony, young one? Through the experience, you will learn the meaning.”
“Yes, but I don’t know why we stand to wait for the sun. It greets us every day, and yet for the last three days we haven’t eaten. And now we’re awake so early to wait for it?”
The father bent down on one knee, cupping the child’s face in his hands.
“Fine! I can tell you want answers, and maybe they will make this sunrise as meaningful as it should be. This is why we wait…”
The father explained that for three days, the Incas fast in preparation for the rising of the sun on this particular day. Once the sun rises, the crowd will crouch and kneel before it. Then two cups of chicha, a sacred beer made from corn will be offered as homage to the sun. The cup on the left will remain as an offer for the Sun, while the cup on the right will be shared amongst the Sapa Inca, the emperor of the Inca Empire, and his retinue.
Finally, the sun rose over the Andes. The people knelt with their golden cups and celebrated as Inti Raymi Rata had begun.
Soon the sun rose higher in the sky. The young boy watched in fascination as a mirror positioned in the piazza caught the sun’s rays and directed them to ignite a fire. This was the young boy’s favorite part. He liked the smell of brush and grass burning. It reminded him of the soups his mother made during supper, a time he always looked forward to when the darkness of night fell upon the land.
He looked at his father and he smiled. His father grinned, “It is important that you remember, young one, that this is a celebration of light, of a new beginning this time of year. Not all darkness is forever, and we remember that it passes by celebrating the light.”
The boy nodded his head in agreement one last time and replayed his father’s words in his head.
Since before recorded history, cultures around the world have hosted ceremonies like the Inti Raymi Rata to celebrate the return of the sun. This celebration signifies an appreciation of time, light, and new beginnings and takes place on the shortest day of the year - a day we know as the winter solstice.
Everyone faces dark periods in their lives - times where the seconds feel like hours and the darkness grows like a storm cloud over your life. Sometimes we forget that darkness will always end. When we forget this, the darkness can turn into fear, hate, and resentment. It can overwhelm us.
Enduring the darkness can be a powerful lesson, but it does not have to control us.
When we find ourselves in darkness, we can choose to go about our business like normal.
Or we can choose to make a point to get out and wait for the sun to rise. Light will always be present when we look for it. But it takes training and focus to wait for the light. It might take three days of fasting, getting up early on the winter solstice, and sacrificing those extra cups of holiday cheer you might want this holiday season. It might take getting up extra early to go out and wait for the sunrise.
The Incas remind us that holiday celebrations can be as simple as waiting for the return of the light.
For many cultures, the winter solstice signifies the beginning of a rebirth and a chance to start over again. What if we could stand in our own darkness and happily wait for the daybreak?
Darkness will always exist in our world, but remember that the sun will always rise.
Soon, the rays of light will emerge over the mountains, or through the clouds. When those rays come into focus they are strong enough to light fires.
When the winter or the darkness feel long, remember… the sun will return. We can stay mired in the darkness, or happily await and celebrate the return of the light.