June 21, 2020

Shine a Light on Summer: Summer Solstice

Universalist Unitarian Church of Santa Paula

Rev. Maddie Sifantus


The Summer Solstice happened yesterday at 2:43 PM here in California. The timing of the June solstice is not based on a specific calendar date or time; it all depends on when the Sun reaches its northernmost point from the equator. It is the longest day of the year, opposite the shortest day of year that we celebrate on December 21 with our Winter Solstice Celebration. We pay attention to the Solstices, Equinoxes, Cross Quarter days and the like here at the Universalist Unitarian Church of Santa Paula because we like to celebrate things, especially at times like these…but more especially because we draw from Six Sources as UUs, the sixth being the “Spiritual teachings of Earth-centered traditions which celebrate the sacred circle of life and instruct us to live in harmony with the rhythms of nature.

The Summer Solstice is celebrated many ways in many cultures but today we are celebrating it first this morning with the Calling of the Four Directions in a special way with four persons who represent the four directions: Ruth Ricards representing the East in Fillmore, Ellen Deeb representing the South in Orlando, Florida, MaryBeth East representing the West in Western Santa Paula and Janice Kreider representing the North in Anacortes, Washington. Please take a moment now where you are to locate the four directions. You may wish to stand and face the direction as it is called. Let us begin:


FIRST PERSON (Ruth: facing East): Spirits of the East, spirits of air,
Awaken us with warm summer breezes
Fill our lungs, and join us
In celebration of the endless renewal of light and life. (light candle)

SECOND PERSON (Ellen: facing south): Spirits of the South, spirits of fire,
Warm us with the sun
Quicken our hearts, and join us
In celebration of the unfolding of the Earth. (light candle)

THIRD PERSON (MaryBeth: facing west): Spirits of the West, spirits of water,
Wash us in gentle rain
Revive our longing, and join us
In celebration of boundless possibility. (light candle)

FOURTH PERSON (Janice Kreider: facing North): Spirits of the North, spirits of earth,
Surround us with your bountiful growth and flowering
Support our steps, and join us
In celebration of a world making its turn through summer. (light candle)

REFLECTION    Shine a Light On Summer             Rev. Maddie

Each year around June 21st, the first day of summer, as our Earth moves in its orbit, the northern half of the Earth tilts on its axis towards the sun and so it gets more sun than the southern half. This first day of summer, which for us this year arrived yesterday at 2:43 PM, has more hours of daylight than on any other day of the year. Our sun, spreading warmth and light, has always been important to people. Warm sunshine and more daylight hours make for a good growing season to supply life-giving food. And still we know that after this day, each day the sunlight lasts a little bit less until we arrive at the Winter Solstice, which we have celebrated in our Sanctuary every year since I arrived on December 21st. Would that we will again. So there is light shining through the darkness and darkness through the light.

With all that has been going on…perhaps especially with all that’s been going on these last months, what with the pandemic, the murders of black men, the election year, the economy and so much more, I feel strongly that we need to pay attention to the cycles of the sun, the seasons of the earth and the knowing we need to have deep inside us that this planet has been going through these cycles way beyond memory and one day, we hope soon, the scientists will find solutions, a vaccine, or whatever it takes so that we can take off our masks and be safe. And we can “get woke”, as they say, as a nation, as a world, about those vulnerable among us, about poverty, about the legacy of colonialism and slavery and so much more.

But meanwhile there is joy in noticing the waxing and waning of the moon, the movement of planets in the sky and the knowledge that peoples before us have lived through pestilence and war, uprisings and times of peace. And still the sun rises to its highest point, still the oranges, lemons and avocados grow in our valley, still children are born and one day graduate from high school, and we adapt our celebrations, just as we have adapted our celebration today to the current Zoom reality. And we will adapt the Winter Solstice Celebration to Zoom, should we need to do so. And we will step up to study and address what we need to do for this age we live in. But we still need to make a little noise and feel the joy here and there…in order to make it through. Stay tuned for the make a noise part.

The Summer Solstice reminds us that nothing lasts forever. We live in the cycles of living, dying, fading and growing realm of this earth. The earth based approach reminds us that whenever something is completed, we must find a way of letting it go, just as when we lose a loved one, we know that they—nor any of us—will not last forever…and so we must love fiercely while we are here, bring our compassion and wisdom to how justice calls us, and then let go of what we do not have the power to control.

So there is light shining through the darkness and darkness through the light. In these recent days, we have sometimes needed to focus more to see that light, squinting our eyes to see clearer in the increasing light.

As I was thinking of summer these last few days and feeling discontented…discontented to not be able to do what I like to do in the summer, attend our General Assembly catching up with colleagues and UU business, something I have done most years since 1986, travel to see friends, have a little more spaciousness in my days, walk around Ventura Harbor, go hear music outdoors and even sing outdoors myself… and while I have been paying attention to the news, Black Lives Matter rallies, Juneteenth this past Friday, the Poor People’s effort of Rev. Dr. William Barber this weekend, and on and on…the phrase the Summer of Our Discontent came to mind and brought that summer back to my mind, back to a time when I was a teenager just discovering racial politics. For those of you of a certain age, you may remember that Summer of Our Discontent. To remind you, here is a bit about it from an essay that appeared in American Heritage magazine in 2010 about another first day of summer and Father’s Day:

“On the first day of summer in 1964, three young activists piled into a blue station wagon in Meridian, Mississippi, and headed into Klan country. Across America, it was Father’s Day, a lazy holiday of picnics, barbecues, and doubleheaders. Transistor radios blared early Beatles hits. TV commercials urged motorists to “Put a Tiger in Your Tank.” High above in Air Force One, President Lyndon Johnson flew home from California, content with the state of the union. The economy was booming, inflation was at 1.2 percent, and gas cost 30 cents a gallon. Two days earlier, after the longest filibuster in Senate history, the civil rights bill introduced a year earlier by slain President John F. Kennedy had finally passed. But Mississippi was on a hair trigger: it was on the verge of a savage summer, a violent season so radically different, so idealistic, so daring, that it would redefine freedom in America.”[1]

I won’t go through the whole story of that summer and what transpired in the years following but will say, although marred by the grisly murders of three young activists, the Freedom Summer of 1964 brought revolutionary changes to Mississippi and the nation. I guess my hope is that a lot of the upheaval that is going on now and so many different fronts will once more bring much needed changes. That we can see the light shining through and we can bring our own lights to address what needs to be addressed.

When I was still running the Golden Tones elder chorus in Massachusetts, I was very involved in Interfaith work since my senior singers belonged to many different congregations and synagogues. So it was that I got to know and became friends with the Rev. Dr. J. Anthony Lloyd who served and still serves the Greater Framingham Community Church, a predominantly black congregation.. Rev. Lloyd was interviewed this week in his local paper about Juneteenth. He said that it is especially important as a day that acknowledges what he called “the other side of American history.”

Juneteenth is often called Emancipation Day or Freedom Day, and memorializes the day in 1865 that enslaved people in Galveston, Texas, learned they were free.

As you may have heard in the extensive coverage Juneteenth has gotten this week, the news came late, a full 2 1/2 years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1, 1863. Juneteenth is a joyous day in many respects, a day to celebrate and revel in freedom. But it is also a somber day, a day commemorating the lateness of that freedom, and the disconnect between the laws governing the treatment of Black Americans and the actual treatment of Black Americans in this country, Lloyd said. He went on to say a number of other things in this article, reflecting on George Floyd’s death and much more but I was especially moved by the end of it:

“For the African-American community, this event, this devastation, is a continuance of this point of not having your voice heard,” he said.

For Black Americans, the experience of watching Floyd’s death, recorded on cellphones by bystanders who pleaded with Officer Derek Chauvin to take his knee off Floyd’s neck, was visceral, not intellectual, Lloyd said.

“This is something which, as a Black or brown person, I wake up every day and I live with,” Lloyd said. “I do not take it on as an agenda. Some folk live to protest. I protest to live, because it’s a survival mode. Every day I go out of my house and have to take it and deal with all these kinds of encounters of overt and subvert racism.”

Lloyd goes on to say that this week he participated in a conference call with seniors in his congregation who cannot gather in person because of the ongoing pandemic. The seniors, some who grew up in the South and marched for civil rights in the 1950s and ’60s, wanted to talk about the protests. They lived through and participated the Summer of our Discontent.

Lloyd heard an exchange between two congregants that stuck with him, partly because of its seemingly contradictory nature.

They were discussing the hope they felt at watching footage of thousands of people marching for racial justice across the country, from major cities to small towns. But then, the hope was tempered.

“Here’s one senior citizen to the other: ‘So you know, we ain’t going out these days because of the virus, but when we venture out, it means you need to be careful. You need to be watchful,’” Lloyd said. “So they can articulate an attitude of hopefulness, that change is happening, but at the same time, they live with the tension.”

Lloyd said he wants more Americans to understand what it means to live with that tension, the hope and the fear. And perhaps those of us who identify as white by learning more about Juneteenth, white privilege and much more will help. [2]

I think we come back ourselves to living with that tension in the world today, although we who identify as white don’t have to live with the fear that my friend the Rev. Dr. J. Anthony Lloyd expressed. We do feel the hope when we see some of the footage passing on our screens…but for many of us our hope is tempered by having lived through earlier days and marching, marching, marching. But it is important also to look for the joy, look for the hope, know that our earth keeps on turning, we can mark the solstices, see the beauty in nature.  and each one of us can contribute to building up our corner of the world, even while singing the medieval tune Summer is A’Coming In. But instead please join me in shining your light on this the longest day of the year, when the sun seems to stand still.

SONG: This Little Light of Mine



FOURTH PERSON (Janice): We give thanks to the Spirits of the North. Help us as we leave this circle to manifest our dreams. We give thanks to the earth.

THIRD PERSON (MaryBeth): We give thanks to the Spirits of the West. Helps us to hold our deepest hearts desires strong as we leave this circle. We give thanks to Water.

SECOND PERSON (Ellen): We give thanks to the Spirits of the South. Keep our fires of fertility and creativity strong as we leave this circle. We give thanks to Fire.

FIRST PERSON (Ruth): We give thanks to the spirits of the East. Help us to move into a new phase of life and speak our truths. We give thanks to Air.

MADDIE: As we open our virtual circle, we give thanks to the Spirit of Life for our gathering. We give thanks to this congregation which finds a spiritual source in earth based theology. We pledge to support our care for the earth and its beings wherever we go in the world.

[1] Watson, Bruce, “The Summer of Our Discontent”, American Heritage (2010) Vol. 60 Issue 2

[2] Lloyd, J. Anthony. 6-20-20. https://www.metrowestdailynews.com/news/20200620/rev-dr-j-anthony-lloyd-meaning-of-juneteenth-is-perhaps-more-important-this-year-than-ever?fbclid=IwAR0kdQUijM0TcRK4ppfO83R5DyyBzx0s7HngXVSZemue8HGX3AyMDtAZmvY