Summer in Minnesota is finally here, in temperature at least! Astronomically, summer officially arrives on June 21st – the Summer Solstice. As you may recall from high school science class, solstices are the longest and the shortest days of the year. After June 21st, the days will get shorter until we reach December 21st and the process reverses itself.
Solstice, from the Latin sol (the sun) and sistere (to stand still), is the name given by our ancestors to times in the year when the sun appears to hover, unmoving, in its yearly pilgrimage. Many rituals and landscapes became associated with the stilling of the sun’s movement. Places like Stonehenge, the Sioux Tribe’s elaborate Sun Dance, Maypoles, and more – all focus on the sacred time, place, and providential benefits of the sun’s warmth and light.
As I get older, and as the father of a newly-minted first grader, I have begun to relish opportunities for standing still, quieting my inner voice, and reflecting on the world around me. Since this month of June also contains Father’s Day, it is the perfect way to wrap ritual and reflection together and celebrate the power of fatherhood, of nature, and how our cities bring these together.
Religious historian Mircea Eliade made famous the idea that there are essentially two modes of being in the world: the sacred and the profane. The profane constitutes our natural, secular lives, while the sacred represents fascinating and awe-inspiring mystery.
As Eliade puts it, rituals allow participants to “separate themselves, partially if not totally, from the roles and statuses they have in the workaday world” and cross a “threshold in time and space or both.” In this, rituals add not only more mystery and magic to one’s life, but also a greater feeling of texture. Rituals allow us to move between the ordinary and the sacred, opening ourselves up to richer dimensions of experience.
Just as the sun has its bi-annual ritual of stillness, so must we. By learning to still our endless inner monologue, we become more receptive to our surroundings, our family. I have many silly “rituals” that I enact with my daughter, but they have meaning to us. They open a fascinating window into the mystery and magic within my daughter’s mind; they offer glimpses into her soul’s personality and the threads that will shape her as she matures.
When I was kid, summer brought the ritual of after-dinner games of Kick-the-Can with my friends. It went on for hours (because it could!) with daylight stretching out its long shadows to our advantage. That twilight was great for hiding, but also good for listening. That stillness engendered by the close of the day: birdsong settling down, wind gently softening – it allowed my senses to heighten and more easily hear the scuff of shoes running towards the Can, allowing me to save it just in time!
This same sense of heightened receptivity can allow us, as Dads, to tap into a rich vein of experiences. Perceptions and contextual understanding, that were previously drowned out by wave upon wave of noise, arise and heighten. This noise has reached a fever pitch in our digital age, so our listening skills as parents are needed desperately to help cut through the clatter of social demands to find what is truly critical for our children’s development. We owe it to the next generation of Kick-the-Can kids to usher in a new era of stillness and create places for play.
As a child, I could run free from morning ‘til evening coming home for lunch and dinner, but then heading right back out. I explored, with my curiosity burning, and tested myself to experience place in my own unique way. On this Father’s Day, I would love to see more places for positive, thoughtful encounters and exchanges; places that elevate and celebrate the rhythms of life. Places where fathers can take their children to share a ritual and moments of stillness. We need these rituals now to help us listen deeply – to ourselves, and to each other – so we can create places of renewal for the good of all humanity.
David Motzenbecker, thought partner for remarkable leaders; a landscape architect reconnecting humanity and nature. Follow him on Twitter @motzradio.