Here Comes The Sun

Sunday 21st March 2021

Yesterday marked the arrival of the Vernal Equinox. That day when the Sun aligns with the Equator bringing equal night and day across the world. It is the astrological first day of Spring. Some celebrate it as a day of renewal, of hope, transformation and of finding balance within ourselves. The equinoxes and solstices have, of course, been revered throughout time and across the globe by modern and ancient civilisations. Like solar and lunar eclipses, meteors and comets, our wonderment and awe at these celestial phenomena connects us with our oldest ancestors.
          I’ve always been very interested in the equinoxes (and solstices) and at times I’ve questioned whether they have more bearing on our lives than we, in the modern world, would give them credit for. For example, a couple of times a year, I lose my sleep in a debilitating few days of insomnia. These periods of sleep deprivation often seem to coincide with solstices or equinoxes.
          I was taught that the Spring Equinox fell on March 21st but actually, for most of my lifetime, that has not been true. So far this century, a March 21st Spring equinox has happened only twice (in 2003 and 2007) and the next time that the Spring Equinox will fall on March 21st will be in the year 2102; just two March 21st equinoxes in the 21st century. So why were some of us taught that it was on March 21st? Well, it’s understandable given that for our parents’ and grandparents’ generations it was true. In the last century, the majority of Spring Equinoxes did indeed fall on the 21st of March.
          With the passing of the Vernal Equinox, we now have the promise that our days will be filled with more brightness. That is a certainty, no matter how many vaccines are administered in the next three to six months, whether the numbers of Covid-19 cases fall or rise, the days will get brighter and warmer and that will make the challenges of lockdown more bearable.
          It has been a long cold lonely winter.
          It’s just over a year since our doors were first shut and we moved services online. The last full service in this church took place on March 8th 2020, a memorial service for our friend John Ward. The following week, the doors of the church were closed to the public and they remained so until the start of July when restrictions were eased and lower numbers were allowed back into the building with ‘no singing allowed’. I’m not sure John Ward would see the point of coming to church if no singing is allowed!
          We had eleven consecutive Sundays before we were forced to close the doors once again in September, actually on the Autumn Equinox; and they remained closed until the third week in December, when they were opened for just one more service. Since the Winter Solstice of 2020, the wooden doors have remained closed to the public.
          We live in a new world now.
          Do you remember those vivid dreams you had in the early days of lockdown? For many people it’s been a living nightmare – but a nightmare that we have mostly learned to endure. In the words of Beckett, ‘You must go on. I can’t go on. I’ll go on.’ Patrick Freyne, in an article published in yesterday’s Irish Times reported asking a member of the public whether they were optimistic about our current predicament. ‘Yes,’ was the reply, “I have no choice!”
          As much as I can despair about the new reality that we are forced to endure, I must admit that had I not been alive for this pandemic, I know I would probably have said, “That sounds fascinating! I wish I had experienced that!” I can think of plenty of experiences in my life that I really didn’t enjoy but then when I look back on them I say to myself, “oh it really wasn’t that bad. Perhaps I should have appreciated it more at the time.”
          Should I be appreciating what’s happening right now a little more? What are the best bits? As in Hillary Fannin’s op-ed, which I read earlier (The Irish Times, published February 19th 2021), I have little hesitation in answering. The best bit for me has been having the time to look after my dog when he became ill. Over the last few months and in his final days, I was able to give him all my attention and put him at the centre of my concerns – and what a gift it was for me not having myself to think about during that time!
          Having to stay home and isolate plays into the very worst aspects of my character. I am not good with nothing to do. Busy suits me. Even the most mundane of tasks I can get a thrill from completing; the achievement of a job done. But don’t give me time to think! And my concentration vanished this year. I couldn’t read for any great length of time; I lost interest in things which previously held my attention; I didn’t want to watch TV; Those Netflix series, why is someone always murdered in the woods and why would anyone want to watch that!? Theatre on my computer? No thanks.
          I spent a year thinking. Pondering. Ruminating. Beating myself with my mind. It’s been a year of waiting – and the difficult sort of waiting – it’s much, much easier to wait when you know how long you’ll have to wait for. Not knowing how long the wait is going to last can be a form of torture. Looking after my dog had been an antidote to the waiting and the thinking and since he’s gone I’m just not getting out as much for my walks.
          But yesterday I woke up early and went to the sea to watch the Sun rise due East as it does all over the world on the morning of the Spring Equinox. I expected it to be quite busy with crowds on the beach all with the same idea as me. I arrived there about ten minutes before sunrise and the beach was deserted. Nobody. Having the whole beach to myself in the half-light took my breath away. The sound of the ebb and flow of the waves, the sight of a flock of cormorants flying inches from the surface of the sea, the squawk of gulls, the crunch of pebbles underfoot; “Did any of these rocks come from other planets?” I wonder.
          I stand in awed anticipation as I await the golden globe to rise.

There’s no line on the horizon, the sea merges imperceptibly with the sky and it’s cloudy. I realise that the chances of seeing the rising sun are probably not that good.
          Still, I’ll see the glow won’t I? The clouds will glow with pretty colours. My mind wanders to the people gathered this morning at Cairn T, the passage grave at Loughrew, Co. Meath where for thousands of years, the rising sun on the Spring Equinox has illuminated the chamber (on a clear day.) Today’s pilgrims will be much more disappointed than me if the Sun doesn’t break through the clouds. I went there with my Mum many years ago. It was a dull day like today, colder though. My lasting memory is that you had to walk a very long distance from the car park and we were disappointed that there was nowhere open to get coffee.
          You can’t plan to have a spiritual experience, can you? It doesn’t work that way, does it?

Where does inspiration come from?

Is inspiration something we can cultivate, develop?

Or is it something over which we have no real control?

We talk about inspiration striking us. Is it like that? A bolt of lightening? Can we stand in a place more likely for lightening to strike? Does it strike? Or does it emerge or reveal itself gently, like a rising sun?
          To borrow from the Seneca quotation, ‘Luck… is when preparation meets with opportunity,’ inspiration comes to me when Struggle meets with Surrender. When I let go.
          (The main stained glass panel of our beautiful Wilson Memorial Window 1918 has the word Inspiration below the central image of Jesus Christ;. Discovery, Truth, Love and Work are the four other panels left and right)
          I have been forcing myself to be inspired – to try and say something inspiring. I had committed some time ago to leading a service on this day (on themes of hope and optimism) but it’s very difficult to speak about hope and optimism when you’re feeling anything but hopeful and optimistic. So, in the hope of kick-starting some inspiration (and in the words of the first hymn we heard today, I Took My Spirit to the Sea. I waited for the Sun to rise… and then I realised that it had probably already risen. I have an app on my phone for these kinds of occasions so I was able to point my phone camera’s lens at the horizon and see that yes, I was indeed looking in the right direction, due East and yes, the edge of the Sun had indeed broken through the line of the horizon, not that I could see it, it being blocked by clouds. It’s bright now and what is before me seems like nothing more than any other ordinary day.
          The glorious ordinary.

I make a small arrangement of stones, my own monument (though mine won’t last beyond high tide.) I write in the sand, “Happy Equinox” and I prepare to take a short video for my friend Nancy who lives in Florida. Almost daily, she sends me a photograph or a video of the rising sun with a quotation written in the sand. I think about how unimpressed she will be by my pale imitation. Her photos are resplendent and glorious. The Florida sunrise is far from ordinary.
          Before I get a chance to finish my photography, my solitude is interrupted by a friendly woman saying hello. “What a stunning morning!” she says. I don’t really know what to say at first but I agree – I mean it’s only polite. “My goodness,” she continues, “it‘s all one…” she struggles for the words, “…it’s just white and blended together, the sea and the sky. Wow!” …. “That’s why I love the sea”, she says. “You never know what you’re going to get. I mean I love the mountains too but you don’t notice the changes there as much. At the sea, every day is something new.” She wandered off, taking a few photographs herself. Maybe she has a friend in Florida too?
          Yesterday morning’s sunrise was… blank; a blank canvas on which you could see whatever you wanted to see. Seen from my eyes, with my expectations, it wasn’t spectacular.
          I’ve been a bit glass half empty recently. And I’ve just met a woman whose glass is half full. And every day she chooses to see something new.
          We are living through extraordinary times. If our glasses are half empty, that would be entirely understandable. In these challenging days, if we are just, to use the phrase, ‘middling’, then maybe we are actually doing really well.
          Would the world be a better place if we stopped championing the best. If we celebrated middling a bit more? Imagine watching a race where the first prize went to the person who crossed the line in the middle? What would happen? What about if we started boycotting the companies who were the market leaders? Would that promote better ethics in industry? Would the workers be paid a fairer wage? That’s a debate for another day but whatever about this thought experiment, we would definitely do better by ourselves if we celebrated what was middling in us. If we smiled and gave ourselves a pat on the back for being just average.
          We have survived more than a year of this uncertainty, this waiting and our survival in these circumstances is something to be celebrated. This time last year, things were very uncertain. They remain uncertain but perhaps… less uncertain? We are further now from the beginning and maybe not as near the end as we would like or would have expected. We are in the middle. Is there something to be appreciated about still being in the middle?
          If you were to wake up from the bad dream tomorrow and the pandemic was over, just like that, what would be the first thing you would do? If there were no restrictions, no danger or fear anymore? Hug your loved ones tight? Would you go on holiday? Would you throw a party and invite everyone you know? Would you book your favourite restaurant and dine out with your closest friends? Or would you step out into the garden and have a good cry?
          It’s been so hard not having things to look forward to. Maybe we should now all make a plan to have at least one thing each day that we can look forward to; even the most simple of things; A cup of tea and a biscuit at 4 o’clock? A walk by the sea or on the hills with a friend?
          Let’s start imagining some of the wonderful things that we are going to do when this is all over, and it will be over. Now that we are in (or around) the middle, can we start looking forward to the end?
          When I practised this exercise I imagined being squished tightly in the London Underground or New York Subway or Paris Metro (I will never complain again about being squashed on a train) on my way to see a show in the West End, or on Broadway or maybe in the Théâtre du Soleil in Paris. The thoughts of this give me an instant hit of the happy hormones.

To imagine the wonderful things that I will do…

is just the Sun I need…
                                        to melt the Ice…
that adds a little Water…
                                        to my half empty glass.

Will O’Connell
Dublin Unitarian Church