Gathering to share warmth and light- PA IPL at the Winter Solstice

December 21, 2019
Winter Solstice

It was the longest night. People gathered from near and far, in small groups and large,
to share their fears and grief and the darkness in their hearts. A year like no other, this was, 
Testing us beyond what we’d ever imagined.
Day after day, week after week, we found ourselves growing and becoming sturdy because there was no other choice.
And the solstice fire was lit and the candles passed and the light of the new year’s dawning lifted our heavy hearts and brought us brightness and hope.
— The Longest Night, Julie Middleton

Over eons, as we have insulated ourselves from the natural world, it has ceased to mystify or worry us in the way it did our ancient ancestors; it also ceases to amaze us nearly as often.  
In letting the solstice pass by, we do more than leave behind some of our ancient history.  We also turn our backs on the season of winter. The media portrays the winter season as an enemy to be feared, fought and defeated.  Winter, we are told, is to be endured. Yet in wishing away the season of winter, we also wish away the time when we humans might view the world from a different perspective, even marvel at its mysteries, and re-awaken our quiet awe.  

Once in our collective history the winter solstice was a time when ordinary people gathered in the dim and dark.  They came together for support, and for comfort. “And then the Solstice fire was lit and the candles passed and the light of the new year’s dawning lifted our heavy hearts and brought us brightness and hope.”  Might this solstice be a marker of winter within as well as without — a time to gather, to hold the memories of all our human forbearers who faced the dark places in their own lives and the larger dangers of their time in history? 
May their commitment to follow the light be the spark to our own hopes today!

As we seek to gather our lights in the darkness, to nurture the Spark, we hope you will mark your calendar to join with us in community

  • Our conference The Long Journey: From Extracting the Past to Cultivating the Future takes place on Sunday afternoon, February 9th, in Scranton, Pittsburgh, or Philadelphia.  
    Learn more and register.
  • A “bookgroup plus” — a series of virtual workshops will allow participants to share and experience resources from The Work That Reconnects.  This series of six, 75-minute virtual, participatory workshops will take place on Tuesday evenings from January through March.  The virtual workshops will draw on the book Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We’re in Without Going Crazy
    Learn more and register.

Gather with us, and welcome the returning light,

A Solstice Story

Whenever we feel pessimistic
concerning the future of humanity
upon this troubled planet,
we can always remember this:
that with all their fears and failings,
human beings have yet somehow managed
to put the brightest of their festivals
in the darkest part of the year.

When it is darkest, we celebrate the light.   [A. Powell Davies, adapted]

Rev. Alison Cornish writes:
In my years as a parish minister, I was struck by the longing that arises in so many people during this time of long shadows, short days, cold winds and bare trees.  A yearning for connection to the rhythms of nature, the simplicity of timeless stories, and a word of hope.  I searched long and hard for a solstice story to offer them – and finally wrote one myself.

And now I’m giving it to you.   I’m giving it in honor of all you’ve given to PA IPL across the years; in honor of your grandchildren and great-grandchildren; in honor of the other-than-human creatures amongst whom we live; I’m giving it to you for telling today and tomorrow; for honoring the mystery of the Earth which we share as our Common Home.  

Here is the story of Solstice Black Cat.

Once upon a time, long, long ago, there was a black cat.  He was a black as the bottom of a coal bin, blacker than a starless sky, a jar of India ink.  Even his eyes were black.  His name? BLACK CAT!

Black Cat lived with his People in a cottage on the edge of the forest.  It was OK, but his People were old, and they worried a lot, and they didn’t play enough for Black Cat’s taste.  They fed him, and let him sleep in all the warmest and softest places in the house.  But they didn’t venture far from home.  They didn’t explore, and they didn’t seem to be very curious about the world around them.  But Black Cat was.

Sometimes Black Cat explored far from home, following his nose, and his ears, and his very sharp eyes.  But Black Cat always made it home before the darkness of night folded itself around the little cottage.  He may have been adventurous, but he still liked to be safe and warm come nighttime.

One winter’s day, Black Cat was exploring in the woods.  It was a gray day, just right for a snowfall, and he kept moving to stay warm.  One thing led to another – chasing a squirrel led to a stream, where he found icy water to drink.  Climbing a tree led his eyes to wonder what would be over that next hill, and through that grove of trees.  On and on Black Cat explored, not noticing how early the dark came in the woods.  And then, quite suddenly, he found himself in darkness, and quite a ways from home.  Black Cat began to be a little nervous.  Thoughts of dinner flashed through his growling belly, and the cold night crept into his thick fur.  Black Cat was feeling a little scared, and alone. 

Then he saw something up ahead – a light inthe dark.  He decided to investigate, very cautiously.  As he drew closer, he saw the light came from a window in a stone cottage.  It wasn’t a steady light, but the flickering light of a fire.  As he crept up onto the windowsill to peer through the glass, he saw the most amazing sight!  The room was filled with animals, all kinds and all sizes, and they were dancing together!  The flickering light came from a great stone fireplace in the middle of the room, and around and around the animals danced, Bear with Wolf, and Squirrel with Chickadee.  “How extraordinary” thought Black Cat.  And as he thought, his tail swished from side to side.  Bear, who seemed to be in charge of things at the dance, saw the movement outside the window, and went to the door to see who was there.  Black Cat shrank into the shadows, afraid of Bear’s great size, but Bear could see him even in the dark.  “Come in,” he said, “you are welcome to join us.”  Shyly, Black Cat tiptoed into the warm, bright room, and sat in the corner to watch.  He was still in awe of what was happening – all these animals?  Together?  Dancing?  It seemed too incredible!

Bear lumbered up to Black Cat, to ask him of his origins, his home, his People.  Black Cat told about himself, and then ventured a question.  “What is all this?  Why are you all here?  Why are you dancing?”  Bear solemnly replied, “Tonight is the Winter Solstice.  It is the darkest and longest night of the year, and it is the one night when all animals come together in peace to celebrate our kinship with one another.”  Black Cat was puzzled – “Why have my people never told me of this?”  His people, he thought, knew everything.  “Well,” Bear sighed, “many people have forgotten about the celebrations of the natural world.  They are so busy in their lives with other people, that they forget the ancient rhythms of the earth and the planets.  They mean no harm, but they are forgetful.”  Black Cat felt a little sad.  This seemed such a wonderful celebration, and after a while, he joined in, dancing with Mouse and Dog, as if they had been friends for life.

As the night wore into morning, and light began to appear on the horizon, the animals started back to their homes in the forest and cottages in villages.  Black Cat didn’t want to leave – he wanted to stay with his new friends.  But Bear came to him and said, “No, you must go back to your people.  They will be worried about you by now, and they need you.  You can come again next year.” “But how will I remember,” Black Cat moaned.  “I never knew about this, and you already said people forget.  How will I know?”  Bear smiled, and told Black Cat to look in the window to see his reflection.  “Do you see something different about yourself?”  Black Cat did, for where his eyes were once as black as his coat, they now glowed as yellow as the fire in the center of the cottage.  “All you will need to do,” said Bear, “is take a look at yourself, and you will remember this night.”

And off Bear went, back to his cave to sleep off the rest of the winter.  And off trotted Black Cat, back to his people.

Some people say when we look into each other’s eyes, we see windows to the soul – perhaps, just perhaps – when we look into the eyes of animals, we see the memory of the world around us, its rhythms, darks, and lights. [Cat image credit: Jirmut Center Papyrus, Egypt]

On this, the longest night and shortest day of 2017, we wish for you the remembrance of kinship with all creatures, and the possibility of peace and joy embedded in the promise of a new day.  With you, we celebrate the returning of the light, and the persistence of hope even in the darkest season.  And we thank you for your generous support of our work through all the seasons of the year.

DONATE               To support the “persistence of hope” persistently, you might consider an automatic recurring donation.  They can be made to recur monthly or quarterly, and they provide financial stability which is vital to our planning.

HUNTINGDON — Riparian Zone Work Party

MEET: in the far end of the parking lot past the playing fields at Detweiler Park, 400 Standing Stone Road, Huntingdon, PA.

SUPPLIES: Dress to get dirty. Gloves and clippers provided, or bring your own. If weather is too dangerous or wet, Greg will cancel. Call to confirm.

THE PROJECT: Standing Stone Creek’s riparian zone needs the protection of native plants so we’re removing non-natives.Detweiler Riparian Nature Trail progress

LEADERSHIP: The project is led by Greg Williams, a PA IPL board member with decades of environmental education and habitat care experience. Greg also leads work parties at Walnut Springs Park in State College and on the Lower Trail, where 35 different people have logged almost 200 hours of work. Get on our email list and get updates. Greg invites church and community groups to join us or contact him and he’ll organize a work party just for your group.Detweiler Riparian image

RSVP: to Greg at 215.242.0854 or

SHARE: get flier to print and post.

Lots of climate work can be pretty conceptual and long-developing. In these work parties, by contrast, we will do physical work that actually improves resilience in the face of climate change.

These work parties are part of the work of Pennsylvania Interfaith Power & Light, ( We also pray, educate, advocate, weatherize, and bring a moral and religious perspective to climate change through the work of over 50 church communities and other individuals.

everywhere and PHILADELPHIA area: Global Earth Exchange

Ellen Weaver and Alison Cornish will be offering a Global Earth Exchange opportunity (explained below) at the edge of Carpenter Woods, South Mt. Pleasant between Greene and Ellet Streets, on Saturday, June 17th, 4:00 pm.  All are welcome! (0r, feel free to create your own Exchange event wherever you are … just remember to register it here!

Every year, on the Saturday closest to the Summer Solstice, Radical Joy for Hard Times sponsors the Global Earth Exchange.  This is how they describe the Exchange:

No matter where we live, there are places we love that have fallen on hard times: rivers that are polluted, meadows paved over to make a mall… even the tree in your own backyard killed by invasive insects.

 There are many ways to make a little beauty for a wounded place. You can sing for it, bow to it, say a prayer for it. You can hug a tree, place flowers on the locked gate of a contaminated site, or paint a picture of this wounded place.

 You can give your gift of beauty to this place alone or with a group. You can do it spontaneously or plan weeks in advance. You don’t need to be an artist, you don’t need to haul in materials, you don’t need to mobilize. There are many ways to make beauty for a wounded place and, as we like to say, 10 Ways You Can’t Do It Wrong!

 Click here for the Toolkit, filled with ideas and information for making beauty at a wounded place you care about.

One way to give beauty to a place is to do a simple process called an Earth Exchange.

These are the 5 suggested steps of an Earth Exchange:

  1. Go, alone or with friends, to a wounded place.
  2. Sit awhile and share your stories about what the place means to you.
  3. Get to know the place as it is now.
  4. Share with the others what you discovered.
  5. Make a simple gift of beauty—often a bird made of materials the place itself provides