Winter Solstice

I am gathering up yards of fabric, wrapping it around my forearms, letting it move through my hands. It slips across the threshold of the sewing machine, changing before my eyes from simple yardage into the magic of a gypsy tent.

I gather the lengths up in my arms, run up the stairs to a room large enough for its spread. I measure and clip, and pin; then run down the stairs again to sew another long, almost-perfect seam. Through the din of an almost-ignorable migraine and the slight fuzz of vasoconstrictors, I watch as the purple velvet joins the blue-on-blue stripe knit joins the panels of mahogany micro suede joins the remnants of dark denim embellished with ivory ribbons. As the hours roll by they circle ‘round to join the bright blast of sapphire twill which holds the pieced work together around its supporting ring.

My gypsy tent. My portable tabernacle. The place where I will bless the masses at the Great Feast. May the blessing of light be upon you, I will say as I touch foreheads with lavender, or cypress, or sage, …light within and light without…, another touch, this time with color— red or orange or royal purple– leaving a mark upon the brow. I will place my hands upon their heads and speak true things into being: In the name of the One who birthed and created you, the One who is your sibling and Friend, and the Spirit who is your guide…”

It is the Winter Solstice — the light comes into the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it. I am giddy with the anticipation of it –stunned silly once again by the alchemy of spirit and art.

With family and friends I stand in a cold warehouse for over an hour, waiting word on where the tabernacle will stand. Another hour passes as we stand in line for an extension ladder, waiting our turn after the evergreens are hung and the lanterns are hoisted. Thirty minutes we spend, stringing lines, spreading folds, hanging an ornate lantern of shells and crystals, beads and teardrops. There are the last few seconds adjusting things – an artfully bent wire, a bowl full of glass beads, a tiny peacock arranged just so. Beautiful, people say, Just right.

And then, the fatal comment:

I can’t believe all those fabrics are natural fibers!

They are not, of course. These are bits of velvet salvaged from the stacks at our common workshop. Cost and stewardship would forbid this many yards of pure cotton, wool, silk. These are synthetics, blends, imperfect stand-ins for the real and more preferable thing.

And they are all against fire code.

No one told me.

No one got me the word.

I take it all down, in tears. Angry. Discouraged. Immensely disappointed. A dream deferred. An artistic and spiritual stillbirth.

People try to comfort me but I feel embarrassed, ashamed. I just want to pack it all in the car—all that wonder and hope—and drive away, pretend it never happened.

There are many suggestions from strangers and friends and housemates on how to make it right. We could buy yards and yards of plain muslin cotton. Sew up mismatched bedsheets. Find another way. But the Solstice is two days away and other things need me too — my house for instance, every room torn up from being painted. Or my child, “collapsing” to the floor at the grocery store out of emotional drama. And as always, my migraines nagging away like a symphony on a radio turned down low.

It ‘s not so bad, I tell my housemate, No one died. No one’s been diagnosed with something that requires chemo. There are worse places to be at Christmas — worse ways to spend the season.

But still, I am doggedly sad.


Of course, in the car today, Catie commented over the radio carols; It IS the most wonderful time of the year. That’s true! And just when I thought she was going to launch into a recitation of her Christmas list, or perhaps an inventory of holiday sweets, she added, …because of baby Jesus being born!

I would like it very much if I could say that her words launched me into a place that was sacred and holy, reserved for moments of wonder — like when a babe is born in a manger, when shepherds see the light push back the darkness. I’d like to be able to say that Cate’s declaration brought everything back into focus, that her words obliterated the ruined art installation, the heaps paint-spackled tarps, the body that was almost-healed-but-not-quite.

It didn’t. It hasn’t

But now, in the dark, with the house asleep around me and with slightly selfish tears drying on my face, her words about the time of year and its wonderfulness (or lack thereof) have cracked open a door. And a crack, even a small one, lets in a little bit of light, a little bit of hope.

Tomorrow (well, actually today) I will don my seasonal finery. The many-paneled skirt with mirrors, the fringed scarf, the false lashes. I will toast the long night with red wine and dance in the dawning of the light. I will say to myself again and again, “the people living in darkness saw a great light.” I will stand. I will clap. I will cheer. I will hope.

A Blessed Solstice to you all. Praise be to the Light!


10 Responses to “Winter Solstice”

  1. jen lemen Says:

    oh rachelle, i’m so sorry. someday we will sit under that gypsy tent and smoke cigarettes and say fire marshall be damned. i love you and wish i could spend solstice with you in all your finery. i have false eyelashes in the drawer just waiting for the perfect occasion.

  2. sonja Says:

    rachelle, this made me sooo very sad. Your tabernacle sounds gorgeous, magical and wondrous. Perhaps it’s not a stillbirth, but a not yet birth … perhaps the time of birthing has not yet come. You did not have that vision of light and the tabernacle for naught. There will come a time for it’s use.

  3. Rachel Says:

    Thank you so much for this post. It took me on a rollercoaster ride of emotions — a little bit of awe and envy that you’re able to live and celebrate in a way that allows for this kind of practice, transmuted into regret and empathy when the story turned and you had to bundle your creation up and stuff it back in the car. Delight at Catie’s words, and empathy for where you’re at that her words could barely make a crack to let light through. But gladness that the light is here, and that it’s shining through whatever cracks we can make in our armor, in our hearts.

    A blessed solstice to you. Wishing you light and healing in the days to come.

  4. bobbie Says:

    i too echo sonja’s thoughts - the gypsy tent is awaiting it’s true incarnation, ready at a moment’s notice to be a shelter from the springtime sun, outside and free from nasty old fire marshals!

    happy solstice to you too!

  5. benjamin ady Says:

    Rachelle–you are a gatherer-in. See how your lovely crafting of words to describe your experience pulls all those who read into a lovely together belonging place. Thankyou.

  6. Ray Says:

    Hi Rachelle…

    Thinking of you, on today, the shortest of days and longest of nights. There was a magnificent sundog effect in the sky over the stark whiteness of the tundra just for the occasion.

    Tonight is my last night here in the tundra and then I move on to another chapter… how appropriate that this is a time of waiting, here in Advent, for me in the next phase of my life and of waiting in yours for your dream of extravagent flowing materials, gypsy tents, and tabernacles. I pray that these next few days, the Light of hope in Christ soothes your restlessness and gives you the stillness of joy with abandon. :-)

    Peace to you!


  7. AllenReloaded Says:

    “In the name of the One who birthed and created you, the One who is your sibling and Friend, and the Spirit who is your guide…”

    that is the most beautiful naming of the trinity I have ever heard. happy solstice, merry christmas to you and thank you :)

  8. Rachelle Says:

    Thank you all for your kind and treasured words.

    The Feast was wonderful last night. We had loads of fun and a few ‘holy moments’ as well. I’ll post pictures eventually.

    The light as come into the darkness. Praise be the Light!

    Happy Solstice,


  9. cousin.of.zuzu Says:

    Just found your this site. It helps me. (you can guess why if you look at my own posts). In particular your posts on Mark Driscoll and all that. . . this one as well.

  10. Magpie Girl » Blog Archive » Creating a Family Shrine Says:

    […] - St. Catherine of Alexandria’s card from last year’s zine - an incense burner Emily and Iz brought back from Greece - a pretty glass jar from Helene, and another from Yan, Kim, and Mia (a blended Danish/Chinese family) -apples and berries from dear Barbra and Ron, ex-pats from S. Africa (they also brought me a hard-to-find butternut squash!) -a stone from Sharon and Bruce’s dream trip from France, found at the foot of the Eiffle Tower -little tags with words of gratitude - the battery operated lights I bought for the ill-fated Winter Solstice tent of ‘06, now redeemed. […]