As we head into December (and many of us recover from big Thanksgiving meals), I thought it could be timely to write about a motif found in multiple cultures during these times: Light.
In Genesis, God speaks light into being on the fourth day of creation. And, while there is enough theology in that passage to reflect on, I wanted to write about this topic from my own experiences.
As a convert into Judaism, light and candles as we often represent it, have a particular appeal and meaning. Darkness in Judaism is not necessarily linked to evil as it is often seen in the west. Therefore, to me, it is not about the dichotomy of good and evil.
Light instead is more about a window that connects the material with the spiritual at one instance.
And, Hanukkah exemplifies this. As brief reminder of the story, it takes place in Jerusalem in the 2nd century BCE, during a time in which the Seleucid Greek empire and its king Antiochus IV Epiphanes had outlawed Jewish practices and disregarded the sacredness of the Jewish Temple by installing an altar to Zeus Olympios and sacrificing pigs there.
A small army of Jews, the Maccabees, raised up to the religious persecution and regained control over the Temple, removing symbols of Zeus and rebuilding an altar to keep with Jewish law.
An important aspect of a Jewish temple, however, is the menorah. And, there was only enough oil to keep it burning for one day. But the flame stayed on until the Maccabees were able to find a new supply of oil--eight days later!
Ergo, Hanukkah is an eight day celebration represented by candles.
In this way, there have been moments in which the spiritual touches the human experience and brings light to my life.
Perhaps the biggest experience of this has come through being a mother. Seeing the light in my daughter’s eyes has a particular power to move my spirit.
And, perhaps that is what this time is all about. Lights and candles remind us about the inner depth of our being.
It is why the advent calendar has become such a useful tool in the western world, as it anticipates Christmas, but it also reminds people to use this window of time to connect their everyday lives with the miracle of life. It is no surprise, that this advent time begins with lighting of a candle.
In these times of uncertainty, two years into this pandemic, it may often feel as if we are running our of oil for our collective light.
However, growing up in New York, this time of the year has a particular magic for helping us to remain hopeful. I cherish the Christmas music and movies, ice skating rinks and hot chocolate. Everyone seems to be a bit kinder and more generous during this time.
I wonder what our lives would be like if we could keep the oil of our light running all year, every year. It would be worth exploring what the magic of faith could do with our world.