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Fire, Drums and Dance: Dispatch from the Earth Rhythms Winter SolstiCelebration

So, as I walked up to the Cathedral of Hope on Friday evening, I smelled ... "incense." If a three year stint in Cambridge, Massachusetts afforded me anything, it was a nose finely attuned to the distinct aroma of "incense." Hippies. I love them.

A couple of months ago, Katie Toohil mentioned that we should check out the Earth Rhythms Winter SolstiCelebration, in which she was performing as part of the Miriam Project. I admit that I envisioned the event involving a dark, deserted pasture with a bonfire and howling. In case you're as ignorant as me, the Cathedral of Hope is a UCC worship center at Cedar Springs and Inwood that, among other fun facts, is apparently the "world's largest liberal Christian church with a primary outreach to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer/questioning people." A'ight. That explains the tremendous cross embedded into the wall above the altar.

I don't go to church for a reason, dog. You know, patriarchy, among other things. But, they also don't kick off Sunday Services at First Baptist Dallas with costumed women giving "winter blessings" by passing a shimmering, garland festooned tree branch over your face, so I reckoned I could keep an open mind.

Once I figured out what the hell was going on - the Cathedral supports the program, but it is produced by Earth Rhythms, a 501(c)(3) that started the Winter SolstiCelebration in the early 1990s and has since added additional seasonal festivals to the roster - I settled in for the show. The next two hours and fifteen minutes - yes, two hours, nonstop - were filled with fire, song, drums, dance, and comedy, celebrating both light and darkness, the end of a year - and those lost during it - and the rebirth of life, all pointing to the question, "can this mammal be redeemed."

Which, if I may wax philosophical momentarily, seems particularly apropos in this day and age of Facebookery and the Schadenfreude it stirs within our collective American soul. I digress.

Earth Rhythms was so kind to offer a plethora of fantastic photos from the evening that supersede the necessity for much description here, though magician Bryan Lankford - who made waves back in 2000 as the first Wiccan to be invited, then disinvited and finally reinvited to lead invocation at a Dallas City Council meeting - deserves special note. His paper butterflies act - in which he appears to "drop" a fluttering piece of paper that he has been keeping afloat with a Japanese fan only to "recover" it, causing it to multiply into many colorful "butterflies" - elicited a palpable emotional reaction from the surprised crowd, preparing us for the intense journey of grief and rejuvenation that the program held in store. And, he also played with fire. Double-props.

If I could lodge just one tiny complaint with the program, overall, it would be that it was too long, with too little audience participation (we did get to howl, after all, but just momentarily), or without an intermission. However, that said, I do feel as though I got my money's worth. A $15 ticket initially seemed a bit steep, but the quality of the performances, the diversity of the various acts and, particularly, the uniqueness of the celebration as a whole was well worth the cost, all of which goes into funding other, similar events that I'll gladly attend.

I won't shit a shitter: if you find uncomfortable the idea of a heavily pregnant woman prancing about a stage in nothing but a nude-colored bodysuit and an earth painted over her fecund belly, you might pass on next year's event. It's not for everyone. But, if you're like me and the news of a Kardashian moving to town sounds more like a Lewis Carroll poem than something that is actually happening, in real life, to us, then the SolstiCelebration is both exciting and worthwhile, not to be missed. Just arrive early for an aisle seat, should you need a restroom break or in case your leg falls asleep.

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Brentney Hamilton