We are assemblages of ancient atoms forged in stars – atoms organized by history to the point of consciousness, now able to contemplate this sacred Universe of which we are a tiny, but wondrous, part.
(Lunasa,* Lughnasadh, Lammas, or the Summer Thermstice: August 1)
Standing in a clearing in the woods one morning, with the air still cool around me, I felt the heat of the Sun on my back. I tell my kids, “Feel that Sun? It’ll be hot soon.” The cool nights are simply not long enough for the heat to dissipate, and the long hot days with direct sun mean it has been getting hotter since before Summer Solstice. Lunasa celebrates this heat at its peak: this is the hottest part of the summer. It is also the holiday to celebrate the fruits of summer’s heat with the first harvests of the year.
At Lunasa, the world is green. Plants that bloomed in the spring at Ostara and Beltane are now covered in green leaves. The leaves of the trees provide shelter from the sun. At the same time, those leaves that shelter were formed using the power of the sun itself. Lunasa is a time to lie under a tree with the cool grass beneath you and stare up into its branches. Take a moment to think about the trillions of pollutant molecules that tree is neutralizing every second, the trillions of carbon dioxide molecules being removed from the air, and the trillions of breatheable oxygen molecules being produced every second. Take a breath – you will have just breathed in some of the oxygen molecules produced by that tree – they fill the air for miles around it. The mitochondria in our cells will then use that oxygen to power your body. Just for a moment appreciate and be grateful to this one tree – then raise your eyes to look the many more trees around you. We are all connected in this web of life by so many millions of strands!
Plants also have the power to transform sunlight and common chemicals into a vast array of food – corn, squash, carrots, mangoes, and so much more. This connects to the early harvest – one of the common themes of Lunasa. One of our Lunasa family traditions is to experience this firsthand, by both an early harvest of hand-picked blueberries and a walk through a cornfield (plentiful in Michigan). We walk together out into a cornfield and submerge ourselves in a sea of stalks. We run through the rows of stalks that reach over our heads and it is like entering a different world where nothing else exists. Laughing, we celebrate the amazing fact that these plants used solar power to construct all of this from carbon dioxide and water in just a few weeks! Baking bread is another common Lunasa tradition as well, since wheat is one of the first harvests. Sprinkle some fresh picked blueberries over a braided loaf of bread and enjoy a fantastic Lunasa feast.
Lunasa reminds of power and also reminds us to respect that power. We have nuclear power plants that tap into the power of the atom using nuclear fission. Yet, they only produce the smallest fraction of the power of our sun. Our local star is awesome indeed! In fact, more power hits our Earth every day in the form of sunlight than humans have used in our entire history. Still, our Sun is less than 0.1% of the size of millions of larger stars, many of which are visible every clear night. Whether one knows that or not, the night sky still has the power to inspire us and fill us with wonder. Stargazing on a summer night away from the city lights is amazing and humbling. The sky seems to swallow you with its vastness. And if you go stargazing a couple weeks after Lunasa (August 12-13), you can get a glimpse of magic as “stars” streak across the sky, one after another, during the Perseids meteor shower.
If you find inspiration in Deep Time history, Lunasa may remind you of the awesome sizes and incredible shapes of the dinosaurs. To think that evolution can craft all of that from a lizard! Like the long and hazy summer, the dinosaurs basked in glory for over 100 million years, unaware of the asteroid on a collision course with Earth. (Time = from 200 million to 65 million years ago).
However you will celebrate this moment in our year, Blessed be!
* In our family, we use the name “Lunasa” for this holiday, partly because the Gaelic spelling (Lughnasadh) can make it difficult for kids to learn the name of the holiday. Lammas is another traditional name for this holiday.
The Authors: Heather and Jon Cleland Host
Dr. Jon Cleland Host is a scientist who earned his PhD in materials science at Northwestern University & has conducted research at Hemlock Semiconductor and Dow Corning since 1997. He holds eight patents and has authored over three dozen internal scientific papers and eleven papers for peer-reviewed scientific journals, including the journal Nature. He has taught classes on biology, math, chemistry, physics and general science at Delta College and Saginaw Valley State University. Jon grew up near Pontiac, and has been building a reality-based spirituality for over 30 years, first as a Catholic and now as a Unitarian Universalist, including collaborating with Michael Dowd and Connie Barlow to spread the awe and wonder of the Great Story of our Universe (see www.thegreatstory.org, and the blog at evolutionarytimes.org). Jon and his wife have four sons, whom they embrace within a Universe-centered, Pagan, family spirituality. He currently moderates the yahoo group Naturalistic Paganism.
Heather is a parent and a scientist raising her four children to explore the world through scientific understanding and with spiritual appreciation of the Universe. She has a Master of Science degree in Physics from Michigan State University, a Bachelor of Science degree in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Michigan, and a Bachelor of the Arts degree in English Literature, also from the University of Michigan. She teaches physics as an adjunct instructor at Delta College, runs the Math Mania program at a local elementary school, has worked at Dow Corning as an engineer and at NASA as an intern, and she has led science outreach workshops for K-12 students through joint programs between NASA and the University of Michigan. She is a naturalistic non-theist, whose faith has been shaped by her childhood within the Episcopal Church, her adult membership in the Unitarian Universalist church, and through Buddhist meditation. She has a passion for bringing science and spirituality to everyone in a fun way, both for her own family and for the wider community of the Earth. She is a co-author with Jon Cleland-Host of Elemental Birthdays: How to Bring Science into Every Party.