The Festival of Lights
I’m smack in the middle of a wonderful holiday, and I love it. After all, it’s Chanukah, the festival of light. How can one not fall in love with a holiday that contains every imaginable strategy to lighter daily living? Happily, my holiday is right in sync with a season of light, joy, miracles, and thankfulness for many worldwide. How do we let the light in? This is the key question that my festival seems to ask of me. How about yours?
Chanukah, or my tradition, for those who may not be familiar, is a celebration of an event in the history of the Jews, when one night’s supply of oil, and so not enough until more could be found, lasted a miraculous eight nights during the re-dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem. This is why candles to this day are lit for eight joyful nights, one candle to start with a helper candle to help light it, and then an extra candle each night broadening the expanse of light, until the nine spots on the menorah are all filled.
Long ago, in this story, a little band of brothers, the Maccabees, resisted the Greeks on behalf of the many. With but bows and arrows and rocks from the terrain against a full-fledged army, their primary armour of support was a faith and a sure, calm mindset to get through things; and they prevailed no matter the external noise that tried to avail them.
Chanukah, then, has as much endured as a means to express, as a collective, our thanks in an unforeseen miracle, and so a reminder of the unforeseen miracles about us each day that we tend to overlook as we go about our goals and personal life challenges. This is something we all share in the human story. We never know the conclusion, but if we stay dedicated to our goals without an over anticipation, so with a kind self-belief and faith, some kind of victory eventually arrives, in its own timeline. Just remember to keep working hard to your goal is the message, but go easy with yourself or else you will get burned!
And so, legend tells us that the Maccabees, on a great many levels, never knew if there was enough light around the bend to reach their goal. Yet without negative prediction or complaint, and just trust in themselves to problem solve within a higher order and holding out for good while finding their way, their attitude of standing brave and contained anyway merited a divine miracle. More, the Maccabees did not set out to change anyone but themselves. They focused only on being their own best examples; and, so the Maccabees made themselves a container, or a vessel, of what could be in their world, and by being a container, they produced a change.
Naturally, producing this change did not come overnight.
Personally, I can’t really imagine that Judah Maccabee, the lead brother, and for all his strategic prowess, expected flow in his goal while inspiring others. I imagine though that he felt safe in his love, talents and strength, and not threatened either in his faith. In fact, facing abyss and making of it a grace, or how we forge light and dark, seems to be a common thread that connects many of our holiday stories. Abyss is a definite situation we will all face at some point in our life. How will we walk through it? Grace is another situation we all will face, and it seems the far easier one. But often it is not.
Do you know someone who has not been very graceful to every opportunity and challenge? Hey, I plead guilty here. I also plead guilty to anticipating too much this past year and losing presence, which is also another way of demonstrating a lack of faith in things. How about getting lost too much in the opinion or approval of others such that I denied my true essence and lost track of the confidence in my own goals? But to arrive at their goal, the Maccabees did none of this. In fact, they did just the opposite.
This is one strong, joyful reason why each year at Chanukah, as I watch the candles successively grow, I am thankful to be reminded of that story, and to see my shortcomings and what gets in the way of my own light. How lucky am I to even notice what doesn’t really apply healthily or successfully any longer! Do you have any coping strategies you can leave go now and also do without for better, lighter ones?
On the first night of Chanukah, I can apprehend that one solitary light, even if sitting alone, still burns bright of a hidden strength. I learn in two flames that support between companions goes a long way and how greatly a kind gesture of light to another also holds a priceless weight. In the shining bodies of three, I see that moving ourselves to create light in and of itself arrests discouragement so as to empower an encouragement within.
On a timid night four, I watch how a smallest ray of love redirects the heart from struggle to a forgotten sense of home. On night five, I see that hope can be kindled at our will despite any inclement in weather. The light of six candles radiates a calm to me, and a reminder that calm in and of itself is a kindness to our souls from which we can create stronger joys and a warmer more enduring meaningfulness for ourselves and those around us.
Something about the strength and beauty of admiring seven lights has me take pause across the full breadth of all the light I encountered along my way across, over, under and through the week. And in that pause of smiling and gathering count, it amazes how the heart can somehow see unspoken blessing for many divine miracles that have come your way anyway.
The cycle of light now complete, the breadth of all God’s days and nights we “lived” in eight flames reflects back to us the illuminations we can birth and master of our own lives — so long as we let it.
The family of eight candles is then, for me, a reflecting container for what is possible in this world, a vessel of radiating love and what could be.
Contemplated more deeply, any holiday of light at its heart really asks: How do we hold and go about enjoying the miracle of light in our lives? And do we love others broadly? Or, do we love with a closed fist?
Chanukah simply put is about being present. The opposite of not anticipating is presence. And this holiday is here to announce that your presence and how you choose your presence to situations and to others is the greatest gift you can likely offer to yourself and to the world. The art of spiritual wealth then is not that complex: keep it simple and your heart broad and open to what is and it’s all around you, those miracles— if not everywhere well within your grasp.
Watch the lights. They just are. Watch the lights. Look how they relate. What if we could be as mindful in our roles and to our day as a light? What if we stepped up to challenges radiating with a faithful love and a calmer acceptance of things being what they are even when it feels counterintuitive? After all, light is a power that does not speak back. No matter what is going on around it. It hasn’t any need. It just radiates and warms the space it inhabits without any emotional attachment to the day. Light neither defends or competes. It just is. Neither do the menorah lights explain or justify. They, as a family of light, just shine. Amazingly, they grow taller and sharper. In a peaceful quiet, candles bloom anyway. And watch what each candle does: each candle steps up welcoming responsibility for its own contribution simply and anyway.
You can’t hide from light is the affirmation of this holiday. So, trust it. You will never be lacking, so long as you can bring your light into the equation, too. To light your way, give light to yourself, says the holiday. Optimally offer a light of freedom to others, also, that knows no bounds. Yes, it is a muscle work to create light in our lives, but we can do it, if not by being your own best example of what it is to be a good force in the world anyway.
And sure, the menorah lights light imperfectly. I see that. The lights curve. Nothing about it is a straight line. But they are perfect anyway. So, too, your life. To perfect things in our own lives, we also need to be okay with all its imperfections, and this includes forging the shadows and the dark. Just connecting to that truth helps the light get in.
So, says my menorah, a good start is to live each day one at a time. Know that enlightenment increases gradually and that faith is never to be abandoned. Another simple yet powerful imparting is to teach yourself that you are reborn each day like the light. In fact, we truly are. That is life’s gift to us. Appreciate that you cannot apprehend or see everything possible about light at all times. And yet, in relation to infinity, we are all light.
Light, to me, is a refraction of our soul’s internal wisdom and we all have it. Light enjoys being teachable and inspiring others. Let us inspire each other. Let us take pride that we have the ability to welcome light.
At the root of most every holiday is a primary commandment: To appreciate life. To be thankful for it. To enjoy. It is the aroma of joy and pleasantness between people and the simple miracles that fashionably create our more joyful being that is to fill house and home.
Your holiday of light, like mine, is an offering of hope and contemplation. Taking stock of what light you can bring into your life, what I, as you, need to cast off and what I, as you, hope to achieve, is something anyone of us can do. It is not rooted in any religion or creed to do so. At its most basic, even the approaching winter solstice asks: What shortcomings can we remove to expand the light? And at the opposite sphere of our world, a summer solstice asks: What can I do to lengthen my days in how I practice my daily life? That to me is the miracle. You set the pace.
Hey, why have yourself travel so far? God said, “Let there be Light,” and there indeterminably was.
Wishing you a happy holiday.
May your year to come be filled with light.
Photography by Marina Mashaal