Pastor’s Corner – Dec. 18, 2016

This week, in the midst of our Christmas preparations and activity, we observe the winter solstice – the longest night of the year.  There is also, of course, a summer solstice – a longest day – but it doesn’t seem to have the impact that the winter solstice has.  The longest night seems to beckon us to reflection and prayer.

              

One of my favorite ‘winter solstice’ poems was written in 1923 by Robert Frost. Perhaps you too remember reading or even memorizing these haunting words:

 

Whose woods these are I think I know.

His house is in the village though;

He will not see me stopping here

To watch his woods fill up with snow.

 

My little horse must think it queer

To stop without a farmhouse near

Between the woods and frozen lake

The darkest evening of the year.

 

He gives his harness bells a shake

To ask if there is some mistake.

The only other sound’s the sweep

Of easy wind and downy flake.

 

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,

But I have promises to keep,

And miles to go before I sleep,

And miles to go before I sleep.

 

Though I knew the poem, I didn’t know the story. Frost himself shared it with a young man named N. Arthur Bleau, who after a poetry reading asked Frost that standard and unanswerable question – Which poem is your favorite? At first, Frost replied that he liked them all equally. But after the reading, Frost invited Bleau up to the stage and told him that really his favorite was “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.”
 
Then, he shared the poem’s back story.

It was on a winter solstice when Frost and his wife knew they were poor enough that they probably wouldn’t be able to buy Christmas presents for their children. Frost was a farmer, but not a very successful one. He took whatever produce he had and took it into town with horse and wagon to see if he could sell enough to buy some gifts.

He didn’t sell anything. He didn’t buy any presents. He headed home as evening came and it began to snow. The coldness of the journey reflected his inner pain. He had failed as a farmer, but right then he had failed in some way as a father and as a provider. Frost told Bleau that he “bawled like a baby.”

Maybe his horse sensed his mood or inattention because it stopped in the middle of a wood that wasn’t near home. They were still. The snow continued to fall. They were in woods owned by someone who lived in town and might have been a wealthy landowner.  Then the horse shook and jingled its bells. A reminder of Christmas and a reminder to go on and get home to his family.”

The winter solstice often reminds us of such times in our own lives.  That’s why we celebrate an evening of interfaith reflection and prayer this week.  Join us this Wednesday at 7 p.m. for our Solstice Celebration:  Leaning Toward the Light.  Wilbur Rehmann and Friends will share Jazz, the young fiddler Brigid Reedy and her brother Johnny will share some tunes, Sarah Elkins and our choir director Jillian Newton will sing.  And we will light candles and share prayer with the members of Jewish community of Helena.  Together we will ‘lean toward the light’ on the longest night of the year.

 

               Grace and peace, Marianne