The Light Within
As the days grow shorter and the winter solstice approaches, the lights people use to decorate their homes and businesses nudge our deeper remembrances. Why do we use lights to celebrate at this time of year? There many explanations. A compelling narrative for me is the Festival of lights or Hanukah that had its origins in the second century BC when there was much darkness, instability, war, and upheaval in the Holy Land. In 164 BC the temple in Jerusalem was cleansed and rebuilt. A ritual practice required a lamp to burn for eight days, symbolizing the light of God in its relation to the human soul. But because of sieges on Jerusalem and lack of supplies, there was only enough oil for one night, but the story goes that faith and prayer prevailed and a miracle happened so the lamp burned for the full eight days and the temple was purified. The light prevailed.
The historical context of this miracle was more complicated. As told in the first and second books of the Maccabees found in the Apocrypha, narratives edited out of King James version of the Bible, these stories document how invading Syrian-Greek forces caused many to be slaughtered in contentious fighting for control of Jerusalem and the surrounding region. Jewish autonomy and religious practices were threatened. The Maccabees, a tribe of Jewish warriors led by Judas Maccabee and his four brothers, rose up and organized the resistance. They fought and slaughtered legions of foreign soldiers, which triggered counter attacks and more invasions as well as palace intrigue, betrayals, jealousy, and unrest.
The Maccabees, symbolizing goodness and humanity, always fought in the name of God and drew on their faith and the faith of their followers to prevail. Angels of light appeared as they went into battle. The way the stories have been told and retold emphasize the Maccabees fought with courage and faith to win, suggesting that belief in goodness love and spiritual practice is favored to win over forces of darkness. They defeated their enemies and regained their homeland and religious and cultural freedom.
This is not a new story. So many times in our collective history we have been surrounded or upended or destabilized by what we could consider forces of darkness. Sometimes those forces are natural events. But the more traumatizing and deeper divisions are often rooted in intentional conflict. This was so in the twentieth century when a series of events, trends, and personalities converged to incite the Second World War, that again sought to eliminate and diminish other groups and cultures that were considered impure or lesser than. The religious and cultural freedoms that we stand for were again threatened.
Here too we learned about the force of courage and faith and how people who were imprisoned or oppressed or starved or beaten were sometimes hidden or protected. How those who kept their belief and faith who kept going who joined the resistance and fought for freedom, personal, cultural and religious. During this time of darkness there were also collectives of people who understood the power of prayer and used it consciously in group rituals to overcome the darkness that threatened to take over the world. Ultimately darkness was pushed back, light prevailed.
And now we are at another time when forces of darkness threaten our freedoms, our liberties, our way of being in the world, our light in the world. In this season of light, we are called on again to invite the outer light to shine in and let our inner light shine out. The Festival of Lights and Christmas lights and the festivities of joy and giving and generosity of love of remind us of who we truly are, individually and collectively, and what we can achieve if we work together to spread love and defeat the darkness. Let the light of our Spirit prevail.