Sacred Fire: Letting Go on the Summer Solstice

Stonehenge on a bright sunny day with text against a blue sky that reads: "Sunlight, firelight, heat, flame - they last for a miniature eternity, piercing through all darkness bringing healing, illumination, and life."

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It’s time again for the summer solstice — Litha, Alban Heruin, Midsummer. The axial tilt of our earth is the nearest to the sun as it will ever be during the entire year.

In Celtic lore, the four albans mark the two solstices as well as the two equinox days. Alban Heruin marks the celebration of the peak of summer — crops are ripening and spring is passing away. In Canada, indigenous people mark the warmth and brightness of the northern hemisphere’s longest day. When we live with such long winters and dark days, long hours of sunlight are reasons to offer joy and gratitude.

I prepare my solstice bonfire carefully. This spring we had a long stretch of dangerously dry weather followed by a few days of torrential storms. I’m not under a fire ban anymore since the storms, but a heat wave has swept across the region. While fire is normally a welcome way to observe the seasons, creating more heat to add to the swelter doesn’t seem like the wisest idea.

Perhaps just a small one then.

After all, light banishes the darkness and demons on this day.

Ah, demons…

As I shifted out of my childhood faith traditions, I began to discover wounds caused by these traditions I never knew to call wounds. So normalised were they that I simply accepted their impacts on my life as a regular part of the process with God. Why question them?

So as I identified these hurting spaces, my anger grew just as my pain grew. As my anger and pain grew, my belief that I had a right to hold onto them also grew. No one could tell me that I had no right to be angry. I was never allowed to be angry at others and certainly not at God. For years, any anger I experienced was turned inward and speared against myself.

It was only natural that anger would rise up like a tsunami.

And it was necessary.

Anger as Comfortable & Comforting

What shocked me was how comfortable anger became. It wore itself out on me like a old sweater — stained, filled with holes, but soft, comforting, and perfectly shaped to my form. I woke up in the morning and slipped it on. Often I would forget to take it off before going to bed at night, falling asleep in its familiarity.

I couldn’t think of old churches I’d attended because my stomach would grow cold. Social media was a nightmare to scroll through, especially when I witnessed other people going through similar experiences to mine. Evangelical phrases would trigger anxiety attacks:

  • “Be perfect just as your heavenly Father is perfect…”
  • “Learn to be a Proverbs 31 woman…”
  • “Are you a sheep or a goat…?”
  • “If you were to die tonight, where would you go…?”
  • “If you spend more time doing other things than in prayer, how much do you really love God…?”

The words are laden with mystical imagery and aren’t bad in and of themselves. But anyone who has been raised in conservative Christian traditions will be well acquainted with the guilt-ridden, shame-laced doctrines behind the poetry. Comments after my departure, even if they weren’t specifically directed at me were like salt on those wounds:

  • “Mainline churches have been deceived by a soft gospel (or false, ungodly)…”
  • “We need to pray against them (LGBTQ2S+, Muslims, refugees, progressives)…”
  • “You can’t be a true Christian if you reject any of these core doctrines (insert “X” here)…”

I would have thought that such outlandish comments would have lost their grip on me once I began walking a different path. How wrong I was. Breaking away from damaging teaching also meant breaking away from community. Having said some of those things myself when I was much younger, believing them to be truthful and righteous, I know the baggage they are all weighted down with. These words are meant to judge and exclude under the guise of love.

(When Bishop Michael Curry delivered his homily at the recent royal wedding in London, I’ll confess I experienced a good deal of nausea at the number of would-be theologians judging Curry’s words as soft, limp, unorthodox, or even evil.)

Is it really my job to care about such nonsense?

Having said that, I was just as critical of anyone who mocked or derided the evangelical community, especially if they had not spent any significant amount of time those communities. Without understanding the scope, breadth, and depth of the evangelical world, it’s hard to really make any sort of statement without intimate knowledge and relationship. Anyone who sneered at evangelicals in my presence often ended up receiving an earful of frustration.

Anger Nurtured By Pain

As I grew in my faith traditions, the terror I experienced was labelled as a healthy fear of God. Very few people knew about — even fewer understood — how damaging these doctrines were to me and so many others. Any movement outside doctrinal lines was termed as heretical. Heretics went to hell. Heretics blasphemed the Holy Spirit. Why would I ask for help? More importantly, why would I ask for help outside of that tightly knit doctrinal bubble?

Faith such as this is destined for destruction.

Without it, resurrection would be impossible.

Of course I was going to be angry!

But in my anger I lashed out at others.

In my panic to flee all that was weighing me down, I criticised and shamed those who remained in traditions I was trying to escape. In my effort to find some measure of justice, I debated in the same fashion evangelicals are taught to do for the sake of the gospel. People who hadn’t experienced religious trauma had little ability to understand the fiery anger I kept. How could they?

I met fire with fire.

And I caused hurt.

Healing, Humility, & Other Terrifying Things

Trust me, I’m not trying to justify fundamentalist teachings here. Such teaching continues to harm the world, and they need to be challenged.

What I’m trying to say is that I wish I had been better able to see the humanity in those who I saw as my enemies. It may have tempered the rage I felt so entitled to; it may have been a healthier healing balm for own pain. Hurt people hurt people. We know this. Like every other animal, when we’re cornered and hurt, we fight. My anger was burning me up to the point I couldn’t see anything else. I was a living, breathing, human candle quickly burning herself out.

Hindsight is not only 20/20; it is calm and rational outside of the painful moments. Of course it is.

There are some spaces I won’t be able to return to. Not simply because my identity and beliefs are considered heretical, but because my own lashing out caused hurt and pain. Anyone who looks to the healing journey as one that is all extraordinary and mild isn’t looking for true healing. They’re looking for Hogwarts.

Healing demands humility.

And repeated letting go.

Sacred Fire & New Beginnings

My summer solstice fire is as high as I will allow it burn these hot days. But it is more than enough. Light is here to banish the dark — the pain that was inflicted on me, and the pain I inflicted upon others. More than that, I can strip off that comfy sweater of anger, toss it in the flames, and watch it burn. So much healthy fruit is ripening on the green branches in the garden, in the woods. Getting rid of anything that would poison that bounty is a good thing. I know, too, that I can return to this space — just as the wheel of the year will return to this longest day — and heave that sweater on the fire again, should it become just so comforting once more.

I can be in the world without being cloaked in anger and pain. This choice doesn’t deny all of what happened, but rather releases me to be the best version of I’m created to be. It’s not the easiest decision,, but it’s certainly the most powerful and the most courageous.

Sunlight, firelight, heat, flame — they last for a miniature eternity, piercing through all darkness bringing healing, illumination, and life. Legend has it that when lovers jumped over the bonfire, the better the harvest would be as would their chances of childbearing. The higher the fire, the higher the jump; the higher the jump, the greater the bounty.

I wonder what kind of life will grow if I jump over these flames on the this, the longest day?

 

 

 

 

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