Winter Solstice Morning at the Sacred Stream

Blog: Reflections on the Winter Solstice

By Isa Gucciardi, Ph.D.

I have what has become an annual ritual. I arrive at the Sacred Stream Center close to dawn on the morning of the winter solstice, after the longest night of the year. As I enter the garden, I see the silhouette of a great redwood tree. I remember the long, hot summer days and fogless nights where I fretted about its well-being and offered it water and prayers. The last of the leaves from a Japanese maple fall before me as I push the gate closed and start down the stone path to turn on the fountains. Immediately, hummingbirds arrive for their winter bath. Not far behind them is a mother raven with her beak full of dried bread, looking to soften it in the fountain’s waters. The light is dawning, and it touches the fat rose hips and the ripening lemons around me, a dance of pink and yellow in the semi-darkness.

One of the many magical aspects of the sanctuary of the Sacred Stream Center, first built as a Lutheran church, is an arched window high on the east wall below massive chestnut beams. The window captures the morning sun each day as it travels from north to south and back again. I enter the sanctuary and see the dim light shining through the stained glass the Lutherans placed in the arch in 1916. As the day arrives, I watch the chestnut panels on the far wall glimmer and burst into a play of light, the sun streaking through the window.

As I begin my tasks of caring for the building, I am overwhelmed with gratitude that we have this beautiful place to care for. I reflect back over the year on the events and moments this building has held – the transformative classes, our summer solstice drum circle where the setting sun’s rays shone through the stained glass into the center of our circle, and the long-awaited rain beating down on the arches of the roof as Thupten Jinpa shared teachings from his book, A Fearless Heart: How the Courage to Be Compassionate Can Transform Our Lives. I think of all the people who have passed through the center to draw sustenance and inspiration from this sacred space.

As I sweep the walks, I try to visualize the shell mound that lies under the ground the Lutherans built their church on. I think about the enormity of some of the mounds that lined the estuaries and the bays, the product of thousands of years of Ohlone people being nourished by the bounty of the waters. I think about Strawberry Creek running just north of the Center, now underground, still filled with the life-giving water of the year-round springs emerging from deeply cut canyons to the east.

As I burn sage in every part of the building to clear and set the space, I find myself before our Christmas cactus. Normally taciturn and non-intrusive, it is now adorned with a riot of crimson and scarlet blossoms, pointing in all directions. As I move through the rooms, I can almost hear the Christmas carols that were sung here for almost a hundred years. I am fully present to the beauty and grace so many people have been touched by as they have rested in this place, finding sanctuary and purpose in the spirit of this land.

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