I have hot friends in Seattle. They’re hot all year in that cool sort of way that folks in Seattle have, but this summer they are REALLY hot. Temperatures have been over 100 degrees, and the cool moist ocean air seems to have disappeared. They send me emails about how miserable they are. The dog days of August have been barking along the Pacific Northwest coast for weeks this year.
We know there are a lot of factors that raise and lower the daily and seasonal temperatures, but the sun usually gets blamed. And yet the sun is always burning at about the same rate, doing what it’s meant to do, not the least of which is keeping our planet in existence. I’ve never felt completely reassured by astronomers who assure us that the sun won’t burn out for billions of years. That’s supposed to be comforting, and in a way of course, it is. And yet.
Many cultures have honored the sun with prayers and ceremonies at dawn and dusk. In some cultures they say that if the people did not perform their sun rituals the sun would not return each morning. Skeptics scoff at such notions, even when you point out to them that there has probably never been a day when someone somewhere on the planet is not performing some kind of sun rite so how do we know that this is not true. I wouldn’t want to organize a boycott of sun rituals all over the world to find out.
In the western isles off Scotland people used to uncover their heads when they first saw the sun in the morning, according to Alexander Carmichael who collected such practices in the late nineteenth century. “They hum a hymn not easily caught up and not easily got from them,” he claimed. He knew one man “extremely old who would make adoration to the sun and to the moon and to the stars.” When he saw the sun coming up over the peaks, he would take off his cap, bow his head low, and give “glory to the great God of Life for the glory of the sun and for the goodness of its light to the children of men and to the animals of the world.”
When the sun went down at night into the western ocean, he would take off his hat again and say to the sun, “I am in hope that the great and gracious God will not put out for me the light of grace even as you leave me this night.” Speaking from a deep stream of mysticism, he recognized a correspondence between the sun and his own life. He said he learned this prayer from his father and from the old men of the village when he was a small child.
Another prayer to the sun that comes from the Scottish islands and highlands goes like this:
Hail to you, Sun of the Seasons,
you climb into the skies with a strong step,
you fly across the heavens with a steady wing,
you are the glorious mother of the stars.
You lie down in the dangerous ocean
without fear or injury,
you rise up again on the peaceful wave
like a young queen in the bloom of life.
Yet another Celtic sun prayer refers to the sun as the Eye of God that “pours upon us at each time and season, pouring upon us gently and generously. Glory to you, You Glorious Sun.”
The Great Song of the universe has many voices and melodies, many chants and songs that accompany us each day and each night. Perhaps we should all be singing songs to the glory of the sun and the goodness of its light.
Sing out, Seattle!