Letting Go and the Summer Solstice
The irony of the seasons is such that as one reaches its height, it is already beginning to depart. In winter, the lengthening of the days in midwinter is a promise of light to come. In summer, the irony always seems more poignant. That the summer solstice brings with it shorter days and longer nights has always seemed to me the symbol of mortal beauty: golden and abundant, and gone in a flash. It is the time for letting go: falling into the grass, the ocean, into the flow of life.
Last summer solstice, the women of Kohenet (the program in women’s spiritual leadership I co-facilitate) gathered at the Camp Isabella Freedman in Falls Village, Connecticut, to celebrate. We chanted. danced a spiral dance, then stood by a lakeshore to place flowers in the water and think about letting go. We watched the flowers float away and I found myself in tears, thinking of the ways I needed to give in to loss and accept new opportunities. I told the story of Dumuzi or Tammuz, an ancient god of shepherds and the grain, who was taken to the underworld and then returned. This story is connected to Joseph, who descends and ascends many times throughout his life (and even after his death, his bones are brought up again and carried to the land of Canaan). The Hebrew month of deep summer is named Tammuz, and the summer solstice is called Tekufat Tammuz, the season of Tammuz. The day of the summer solstice is also connected to Moses, who in one legend struck the rock on the summer solstice, and was forbidden from entering the promised land.
After the story, we conducted a naming ceremony for a woman who was taking on the name Inanna (the mythic spouse of Dumuzi). It was a beautiful ceremony, though, not having permission to share about it, I’ll keep the details confidential. We ended with havdalah, the Jewish ceremony that ends Shabbat. Shoshana, my partner, drummed as others danced and sang. Sacred candles flickered above the lake, and through the bugs were thick, the moment was nearly perfect.
Little did I know that around the time of this ceremony, our beloved cat Angel was dying. He’d been playing with a new cat companion, a younger and more energetic cat who was staying with us temporarily, and his heart gave out. The catsitter called us in tears the next morning, after finding Angel motionless under the dining room table. We went home from our wonderful retreat, not to rest and relax and reconnect with Angel, but to mourn over him and bury him. The next day, my spouse Shoshana and I drove Angel to my parents’ house to bury him under a flowering stewardia tree. My father carved his name into a memorial stone.
The loss of Angel’s affection and constant soft presence is still intense for me. As I look back, the mourning for Dumuzi/Tammuz, mourning that Hebrew women did long ago in a less theologically consistent time (according to the book of Ezekiel) echoes painfully in my mind. The grief of midsummer has been brought home in a way I hadn’t expected and didn’t want. It seems all the more unfair since the summer solstice is the anniversary of the day Shoshana and I got together, and also the anniversary day Tel Shemesh was founded. Now the day will be a day of both joy and sadness for me, as, I suppose, it was for the ancients.
I was pregnant that solstice; our daughter Raya was born six months later, just a few days after the winter solstice, at the dark of the moon, on Chanukah. So the winter held light for us even in the dark and cold. Raya’s vitality and independent spirit hold wonders that make it hard to feel sad about anything. But Angel still comes back in my dreams, and I am always glad to see him there.
The thing about winters and summers is that they are our winters and summers. Their inherent qualities are colored by our experiences as we live through them. I wonder whose life experiences colored the calendars we have, Jewish and otherwise. I feel connected to them as I continue to chart my way through the seasons of my life.
Rabbi Jill Hammer, Tel Shemesh Director
Blessing and intention for the solstice:
As the light of summer now shares itself with all, may I share my own abundance with others. As the hours of night increase, may I seek the peace of my heart and be inspired by my dreams. As the seasons gracefully change one to another, so may I gracefully change as each moment reveals new possibilities to me.
Beruchah ein hachayyim, meshanah itim umachlifa et hazmanim
potachat she’arim umevarech et hashanim.
Blessed is the well of life, changing times and shifting seasons,
opening the gates of time, blessing the years.
Congratulations to the Kohenet women who will receive smicha (ordination) this July 18/26 Tammuz as kohanot, priestesses, facilitators of sacred ritual and earth-based, embodied spiritual life. I wish each one of you joy in serving others and deep grace within yourselves to be open to your truths. (For more information, see www.kohenet.com)
more tammuz wisdom