Walk with light.
Who doesn’t have a story about that sign? An old English professor of mine found poetry in it. A Quaker friend says that when she came here from Earlham College, she was convinced it was put there for her. Such is its staying power in the imagination that when I posted a photo of it on Facebook, some people didn’t realize it had been missing for years.
I missed it terribly. I had chalked up its downfall to a mundane decision in the town’s Public Works department. The truth of the matter–well, the truth of the matter may never be known, but credible evidence suggests that the sign had been stolen, more than once. Perhaps Public Works gave up on it. For now, at least, the sign is restored, and as we approach the winter solstice in a dark year, we’d do well to pay attention.
“Solstice” = “sol” (sun) + “sistere” (to cause to stand still). For the ancients, the sun seemed to stand still at its lowest point, and its return was open to doubt. Vigils were kept, rituals honored to ensure that the great cycle of life would continue, that light would return. Though today we can calculate the timing of the solstice down to the minute, a residual uneasiness abides. As Lutheran theologian Gordon Lathrop writes,
The immense popularity of Christmas among us is probably due to the dominance in North America of people whose ethnic origins are in northern latitudes where the solstice is an impressive and still powerful event, as it is in much of North America as well. Most of what has been added to Christmas over the ages can be interpreted as solstice phenomena: feasting and greetings and greens and the light-tree and lights against the darkness and the yule-log and nostalgia for the recovery of old memories and, for us especially, gift-giving and consumer over-spending–all are attempts to secure the return of light and summertime wholeness, are mid-winter protest.
These solstice phenomena are powerful metaphors for us. The darkness does stand for our fears and the feast does awaken–perhaps more than we would have them awakened–our hopes. These metaphors ought not be easily maligned. The pastoral intention of the origin of the feast may be recalled. The human feast of Christmas needs a good deal of sympathetic interpretation and loving support.
As we travel through this season of reflection, celebration, and renewal, mark the admonishing sign in the middle of Franklin Street. It invites our most expansive reading.