Friday, December 23, 2022

"Don't let the light go out..."

 It is December 23 as I write.  The island is all aflurry with the expectation of high winds, heavy rain and, perhaps a sprinkling of snow.  The overnight weather last night has already produced the predicted coastal flooding -  and odd term for an island that is all "coastal."  At 2:30 PM the sky is already darkening - - not that unusual, after all, we have just witnessed the winter solstice and the days are already giving a bit more light.

That being said, the oncoming storm brings with it a premature darkness.

 Being the religiously "multilingual" family that we are, I have been thinking about the confluence of religious traditions and their embrace of light or enlightenment during this darkest season of the year - at least in the northern western hemisphere.

We've been lighting Hanukkah candles each evening - mostly on Zoom with our Jewish community - reminding us of the dedication to the struggle for freedom and justice our Jewish ancestors have faithfully endured.  Advent candles have been lighted each of the last four Sundays in church leading up to a candle light service planned for Christmas Eve in celebration of Light coming into the world in the person of Jesus.   

Earlier in the month, the Buddhist community observed Rohatsu, celebrating the Buddha's vow to sit under the bodhi tree until he received spiritual enlightenment.  The observance of Kwanzaa will see the lighting of 7 candles representing the  vision of unity, collective responsibility, cooperative economics, creativity, purpose, self determination, and faith.  Wiccan and Neo-Pagan communities celebrate the Winter Solstice and the return of the light of the sun as we pass through the darkest day of the year.

There are numerous other faith traditions that celebrate light in some way at this time of year.  It seems very old in the human psyche to want to move from darkness into light.

The prophet Isaiah wrote: "The people who have walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness - - on them has light shined. (Isaiah 9:2) Even taken out of its context, the line carries with it the yearning of humankind for light and clarity, for enlightenment, for a time when justice and equity and peace and lovingkindness will prevail.

2022, perhaps not too different from any other year, has witnessed its own peculiar darkness as the January 6 commission wraps up its work.  The daily and weekly and monthly statistics on gun violence reveal a persistent darkness in our collective ability to create safe gun laws.  Billions of dollars continue to funnel into manufacture of military weapons to be deployed in a war that seems endless in Ukraine.  Peace is elusive. 

The island witnessed the pervasive darkness of a broken immigration system when we unexpectedly found ourselves hosting migrants, lost and confused and afraid, who landed here, courtesy of the Florida governor.

We do still walk in darkness.  But the faith traditions practiced by so many millions of people speak to the hope for the light - - the enlightenment - - that has given hope to the world for centuries.

We sing "This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine!"   We sing "Don't let the light go out!"  We sing "It is better to light just one little candle than to stumble in the dark."  Like the Whos in Whoville transforming the Grinch, we are graced with the gifts of faith, determination, dedication, and with our small candles and our songs of light. So we keep on singing. The commitment to the work of justice and peacemaking, to compassion and lovingkindness, to cooperation and creativity receives a little more breathing room. 

 On Christmas, on the 8th day of Hanukkah, we'll venture out together to view the Christmas lights -expressions of the innate human yearning to dispel the darkness.  The magic of the lighted trees in Ocean Park, the delight of a neighbor's light extravaganza that draws crowds every year,  the lighted hanukkiah in otherwise dark windows here and there all dispel darkness and speak of hope

 In this darkest month of the year there is so much light.

Vicky Hanjian

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