This evening exactly 31 years ago, I participated in a retreat in the Pyrenees. We were on the French side of this glorious mountain range separating France from Spain – stretching all the way from the Bay of Biscay one end, to the Mediteranian in the other. The indigo mountain night was filled with a myriad of bright stars, and they all seemed such a short distance away that it would be sufficient to stretch an arm towards the sky to be able to pluck them down with no effort at all, one by one.
The retreat was being led by Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan, one of the many great men and women I’ve had the privilege of meeting in my life. To this day Pir Vilayat remains an inspiration to me. A devout and devoted, knowledgeable and deeply moral human being, he was a man to whom I feel increasingly indebted to as years go by and I grow older and wiser.
A silent retreat, we had not spoken a word for twelve days – not until this night, June 23rd, when we celebrated the breaking of silence gathered around a huge bonfire, feasting not just on food, but on words, music, dance and song. Pir Vilayat played the cello – yes, there, way up in the mountains – and we sang Pachebel’s Canon, a capella and in the round.
Suddenly Pir Vilayat stopped right in his tracks, pointing towards the horizon, exclaing: “Look! Tonight is the eve of St John and the heavens are celebrating, just like we are!” We all turned, only to behold a spectacular sunset creating a colourful light show of incomparable splendour in the evening sky. Awestruck, we momentarily retreated back into silence as we were admiring this spectacle of nature, before exhilaration and a genuine party spirit, bit by bit, regained its rightful positioning amongst us all. It was an unforgettable Summer night, right on top of the mountains.
Sunday was Summer Solstice, marking the shortest night of the year. The summer solstice and tonight’s celebration of St John the Baptist are linked: they both mark the celebration of the Light.