The holiday season is filled with images that either enclose us with stress or offer new insights on being fully alive. There is much to be gleaned for your journey from several traditions.
As we approach the longest and darkest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere the festivities of Chanukah and Diwali are festivals of light. They each offer images that transform the pressures or stress that many feel about the holidays.
My friend Lori accepted an invitation to celebrate Chanukah. For each of the eights night of Chanukah she participated with her Jewish friends in the lighting of a candle on the nine branched Menorah. Beyond the Dreidels, gifts, the filled doughnuts or potato pancakes known as Latke, Lori discovered unexpected rich meaning in the imagery and mystical understanding of Chanukah.
Lori was transfixed by the Jewish mystical understanding of the lighting of the candles scattering “holy sparks” of light throughout the Universe. Lori and her friends spoke about what it means to be part raising holy sparks in the world.
It was another interpretation that transformed Lori. As she sang “Kadosh, kadosh, kadosh” rising into the air on her heels with each singing, she was being invited to think of being like an angel. The movement symbolized people rising to the level of the angels. With it comes the invitation to think about you as a partner with the Holy – you joining the angels in actions that are part of “God’s to-do-list.”
Lori’s stress about holiday gifts was transformed by this new image. Now she gives copies of Ron Wolfson’s book God’s To-Do-List: 103 Ways to Be an Angel and Do God’s Work on Earth to her friends. Instead of buying gifts at the holidays Lori commits herself to taking one action a week in the name of a friend to spread some holy sparks of light in the world. She approaches the holidays differently because of the unexpected truth she gleaned from a Jewish tradition.
This gleaning opened Lori’s eyes to the traditions of other friends and colleagues. Hearing her speak about her Chanukah insight, Lori’s Hindu neighbors invited her to participate in Diwali, the Festival of Lights that is a major celebration for Hindu’s and Sikh’s.
Beyond the fireworks, the lighting of candles, the new clothes and feasting on sweets, Lori discovered that the festivities pointed to celebrating the triumph of good over evil. Over the five days of celebrating Diwali for the first time Lori understood that this light is about the inner light in each of us; a light illuminating the oneness of all things. Lori understood that Diwali is an invitation to reflect this light through being compassionate.
Acts of compassion, angel to-do-lists combined with light scattering holy sparks and rekindling your inner light – these were the gifts of Diwali and Chanukah. Lori wondered where all she had gleaned connected with the reading from John’s Gospel about the “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”
Lori talks about her own spiritual tradition renewed and strengthened by all she has gleaned. Her experience of the holidays has been transformed. The enclosures of anxiety and stress have been opened to life-giving images. Isn’t that what the holidays point to?
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