A Solstice Gathering with The Clearing

Here at the Co-op, we strive to create an open, inclusive, and diverse store that welcomes our community. This also means that we strive to be good neighbors and partners to organizations doing good work in Durham – by donating food, offering resources about our Co-op and food accessibility, and promoting and attending events like this one, put on by The Clearing. Raafe, our Community Outreach Coordinator, attended a Winter Solstice event with The Clearing, and shared the following reflection with us.

Solstice with The Clearing: A Reflection

By Raafe Purnsley

I entered into darkness on a cold December evening to a space not fully devoid of light, not yet anyway. The room was amply lit with the smiles and energy of those who make up local community group The Clearing. We gathered during a monumental occasion, not just for spiritualists, but for our actual planet:  the Solstice is a natural marker of time that represents the turning point in the cycle of the earth’s rotation around the sun. We mimicked this ancient rhythm by gathering and rotating together, in and around each other, to honor this timeless tradition as a community.

Many of us have entered the doors of The Fruit, a local dance hall and multi-purpose warehouse, as it has featured the many artists, parties, and events that keep the night life of Durham thumping. This space has been a neighbor to many organizations, like The Clearing, who gather not to sell tickets or dance, but to hold space in honor of the sacredness of all aspects of life. Their members gather to hold space for the needs and concerns of their greater community.

As we entered the Fruit, there was an altar which was thoughtfully erected in the center of a circle of folding chairs, ones that wouldn’t be out of place at an event as serious as an AA meeting or as busy as a young child’s recital. The circle, not yet filled with the bulk of the awaited invitees expected, was already taking on other forms to fulfill the needs of the slowly gathering community. It was a playground for the few children present, who were not ready to fully engross themselves in the ritual, as well as the community members who (like myself) may have been new to the ways of The Clearing. And, of course, the circle was host to the many smiling members of The Clearing who shared in hugs and physical exchanges of warm sentiments that always accompany these seasonally colder months.

Mykal Slack, the democratically appointed  and gleaming-eyed leader of The Clearing, opened up the circle formally with a smile and warm heart, as all gathered were seated. The earlier level of darkness grew as lights were turned off to reflect the darkness of the season. We then took turns lighting votives placed under our chairs, a part of the ritual to provide a warm, but not revealing glow that was enough to reinforce the sense of center and unity we now shared.

As various leaders from The Clearing lead us in song, word, and movement, we held candles to reflect the growing warmth and light we created amongst us. The solstice is a time when we anticipate the days growing from shorter to longer and dream of the return of warm air that accompanies the hope of spring.

To witness this ritual was, I imagine, like spying on the invisible lines of the celestial bodies that govern us and cradle us in motion.  W are tenuously connected beings, not separate from each other, but tethered gently by the pull of a gravity of shared hopes. We who gathered were as many and as diverse as the bodies in the heavens, rotating around each other, humbly respecting them with our mimicry. Winding our paths, minds, and energies together like the cogs of a communal time piece, or like the heavens that govern the reality of our lives.

As the ritual came to an end, I sat thinking of how we all met in the darkness, bringing our own light and life into the space, to speak and sing words into a void. It is much like how I imagine life in our universe began,  and how the heavens, some day, will end. We few who gathered stood up for one last time to say our fare wells, before we adjourned to break bread with each other. In that moment, The Clearing materialized, not corporally, but as a shared mindset for those who had gathered that evening.  We were all welcomed in during the dark and the cold, and offered light to create warmth in our hopes for another year.  As the clearing leaders pointed out, this ceremony had been performed and shared before us and would be performed after us, either here on earth or above in the heavens.