21 June 2011 a post by Steve Hollinghurst

Fullness of Life in Midsummer

Celebrating and going deeper with the Summer Solstice. Thoughts for reflection at the start of the festival of Midsummer.

Firstly – strange as it may seem Midsummer Day, the longest day and the Summer Solstice may all be different dates. The Solstice at least clearly falls at some time on the 21st June currently in the northern hemisphere. The traditional Midsummer Day is however, based on the Roman calendar 24th June. Due to planetary movement the longest day may be any day from the 21st to the 24th creating a four day Solstice/Midsummer festival which is how it is celebrated, if not for longer, in some parts of the world. This creates a good parallel to the Winter Solstice, which occurs on the 21st December and its relationship to the Roman solstice on the 24th December leading to the festival of Sol Invicta, the unconquered Sun on 25th December which under Roman Christianity became the date of Christmas, the light of Jesus born in the darkness. We do not know when Jesus was born, but this linkage based on the powerful symbolism it offered, links the Christian year, quite intentionally to the natural seasons and northern solstices. john the baptist The traditional Midsummer Day of 24th June became St John the Baptists Birthday and feast in the early Christian world. John of course was the one sent to announce the coming of Jesus so here the 24th June parallels Christmas Eve on 24th December linking both Roman Solstice dates to the coming of Jesus, announced at Midsummer born at Midwinter. In Britain another significant Christian festival falls in this season on 22nd June, the martyrdom of St Alban, Britain’s first recorded Christian Martyr. Alban lived in the Roman city of Verulamuim and gave shelter around 250 AD to a Christian missionary having himself become a follower of Jesus. This was a time that the Christian faith was suppressed by Roman authorities and so Roman Soldiers came seeking the missionary. Alban allowed him to escape by pretending to be the missionary giving himself up. We cannot know his reasons, though this was very brave to do as it lead to certain death. Perhaps he realised that just as he had found hope in that missionary’s message others would too and offering his own life would enable that to happen again and perhaps again and again. As is so often the case Christian, Pagan and seasonal themes weave together. The Summer Solstice is a point of balance between increase and decrease. The time when the growth of the year looks forward to Harvest. A time of hope looking forward but also often in some cultures of fear leading to sacrifices to ensure the harvest as the year began from this point dwindles. So John the Baptist the Lord who comes in Summer says of Jesus the Lord who comes in winter ‘I must decrease that he may increase’. And yet Alban’s severed head, echoing a common theme in early British and Celtic saints, rolls down the hill and new life in a sacred well springs up, naming the street there to this day Holywell hill. I am glad both contemporary Pagan and Christian faiths share in not advocating physical blood sacrifices at such seasons, but the concept of sacrifice alongside celebration remains I believe at both Solstices. This is because they not only speak of the turning points of the year, but also speak to us of the turning points of our lives – life turning toward death at midsummer; death turning toward life at midwinter. If in nature these themes are a repeating cycle like the Christian year, in the Christian life they are linked to the expereince of each life as a once only process; birth, growth of life, decline, death and resurrection being its path. I am personally very aware of such themes as I have been spending the days leading to mid-summer with my dying Father-in-law alongside my wife and her family. Life is gift and there has been much to remember and there will be a time for giving thanks for that gift. Now however, is the difficult time of letting go, for us but also for him; handing back the gift of life to the God of life who gave it. Wise people often remind us that the secret of living well as about dying well; that to live fully facing and accepting our fragile mortality is essential. We need to face our death and accept it and not be afraid of it, though the process of death can be traumatic, in order to really understand the gift of life and live it fully. In a way midsummer is midlife. This is the time of greatest potency, of fullness of life, yet also the time people can as they look forward have mid-life crises. The mid-life crisis seems to be so often about regret over what has or often what hasn’t happened in the past coupled with a loss of dreams for the future. Midsummer is perhaps therefore a time to reflect in a way that whatever life’s season is for us we learn its lessons and do not get stuck in the depression that can set in at mid-life whether we have reached there or not. One of the things that celebrating this season offers us is the celebration of the now, of the goodness that is. To focus on the good things that have come our way however small they may be and give thanks for them. It may even be good to keep a tally of such good things, noting them down as a memorial to the fact that there is good in life to be found even in some of the most difficult places. In Britain as well as the time of the most daylight it is also the time of lush greenness of verdant life and it is good to spend time out in nature enjoying that and becoming part of the celebration of bird song and insect buzz that fills the air at this time. It is also a time for activity and so a days walking as a pilgrimage of celebration may well be good for the quieter or a big party for no reason but to celebrate life and creation and friendship. Most of all it is time to realise we are owed nothing in life; everything is gift. As well as being thankful being generous ourselves is a way of celebrating this and breaking free of the power of the voices that may look forward to the declining years ahead with fear and tempt us to become closed in and self-absorbed. As these days of midsummer move forward and we reach St John’s day, the Roman midsummer on the 24th it is good then to welcome the reality of decrease as well as the celebration of fullness but like John to look at this as the gateway to future life and blessing. Looking toward autumn calls for trust that the one who has gifted in creation will not abandon us and so it may be good as we have begun the midsummer celebration by looking at thankfulness we move on through it into late summer by noting down our dreams and desires for life to come, and then offer them to God however we may understand that. This too is an act of generosity, but also an act of wisdom. The dreams that should fire us in life so easily can become our future regrets. They, too, need to be held as gifts not possessions as we move forward through life’s seasons. And this perhaps leads to the most important lesson we all have to learn from the solstice mid-point; that we must not become too focused on what we do, it is who we are that is most important. It is in the surrendering of our lives that we thus become totally free. This is something in the Christian tradition we associate very closely with the call to become followers of Jesus. The one who says to us in the midst of life you must live as one condemned to death, but also that if the Son sets you free you are free in deed and that he came that we might have life and have that life in overflowing abundance. I hope these thoughts may inspire some personal spiritual practices for this season and some thoughts on which to reflect and meditate. May every blessing be with you and the gift if life fill you. It feels very much a season to be aware of blessing so may I also share in the common Pagan greeting celebrating life and its sacred vitality? Blessed Be. Steve Hollinghurst, midsummer 2011.

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Your comments:

Do you know the painters name that made the piece you have referenced here?

#1. By John on October 31, 2014


OK i didn’t add the picture but guessed it was by Hieronymus Bosch - and then Googled it - i was right - see this link on Wikipedia

#2. By Steve Hollinghurst on October 31, 2014

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