I really like that compares the spiritual observation of the Winter Solstice with the observations of science:
Religion and science occupy separate and opposed spheres, no? Not to our distant forebears, from whom all of our illumination festivals derive. They could not afford the facile dichotomy between the sacred and the profane that defines thinking since the Enlightenment, when people of the West sought to free themselves from the bane of superstition. For most of history, though, religion was not taken to be a flight from rationality, but a mode of it. Noting the intervals of nature that repeated themselves gave the ancients their liturgical cycles, but also the natural clock. The natural clock gave them measurement, and eventually the mechanical clock, from which ordered thought took off. The infinite universe and the abyss of individual consciousness both required attention, and the mind evolved to reach equally toward the macro and the micro, a bi-directional measuring that has brought us to where we are. The Hubble Telescope. Nanotech. The novels of James Joyce.
In the beginning, though, the winter cults by which the gods were worshipped were part of a generalized marking of the calendar that served the immediate purpose of survival. When humans had replaced opportunistic scavenging (“hunters and gatherers”) with agriculture (planting and herding), close attention to the sun and other heavenly bodies became a necessity, since livestock take mating cues from the quality of light, and cycles of the harvest equally depend on celestial predictability. Knowing how the moon wanes and waxes, and where the sun is in relation to the horizon had become ways to fend off starvation. The creatures who honored the gods with light in winter were honoring their own ability to think. …
What prompted humans to imagine that religious impulses and the rational quest for insight are at war with each other? Once it became clear that the sun would “return” whether or not blessed candles were lit, why did the idea of prayer come to seem naive? When mystical wonder was walled off from measurable observation, science restricted its range, and religion anathematized critical thinking – disasters both. But the festivals this week, sparked by this morning’s dawn, call to mind the age-old spaciousness of informed imagination. Happily, it remains so. Knowledge is holy. ….
I particularly love the expression this author uses: “the age-old spaciousness of informed imagination.” For that is what is practiced here!