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In the darkest earth, smallest life teems

The urge to celebrate during the darkest part of the year - to feast, to sing and talk story about great stars (the sun), to burn candles for divinity or our own inner light - seems nearly universal. Our ancestors learned that the nights shortened as surely as they had lengthened, that the sun predictably returned to warm the hemisphere, and the seemingly dead plants arose in new green after that. What was not dead, only hidden, would come to light.

In some places the earth itself is hidden, after its autumnal stripping, under a caul of snow. In Mediterranean climates like ours - climates in which an interesting number of our locally predominant religions originated - rains are beginning to stir green life to visibility. The habit of faith, at least as old as the act of planting, gets quick reinforcement here - and as we learn to see what's underfoot, this is one sort of faith that gets some ground-truthing, as the mapmakers say, in the real world.

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