So many times, when we’re busy, we simply forget. Perhaps we misplace our cell phone or car keys or credit card. Perhaps we “misplace” our minds. Our meditation group pondered the holidays and decided these things were especially difficult—busyness, grief, and money. We also talked about irritations, like the constant noise of “elevator music,” playing happy songs while we feel blue.
But, one wise member of our group declared: “I’m trying to replace negative feelings with core values.” She talked about re-focusing on friendships or music or the silence of the snow.
And, we can do the same when we pause to look at light. It is for good reason that Christmas comes during the darkest time of the year. It is for good reason that twinkling lights and candles change our perception of the “gloom.”
And, it is for good reason that a Menorah will be lit in the public square of Laramie. This is the first time. Wendy Berelson of the Jewish Community explains why: “We hope the light of our new giant Menorah sends the message loud and clear that we will respond to hatred with love and fight the darkness in our world with adding light.”
Such is the power that takes the darkness away. Einstein understood relative “values” but also hungered for constancy. He said: “All I want to do is study light.” A psychiatric nurse, Judy, was taught to counter depression by the light of only one candle. And, John, who felt the mystic force of Jesus, put it this way:
“The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.”
So it is with Chanukah—the festival that brings light in the darkness. This timeless ritual is intended for the home. But, its meaning is even more important for the public because we can feel trapped in the darkness of fear and hate.
It is in the lighting of candles that Jews recall the truth of God’s saving power. They remember the Maccabean revolt and the final victory for the Jews. In gratitude, they chose to rededicate their temple so that it gave honor to God. But, there was not enough oil to cleanse the temple from corrupt use until a miracle occurred. It was God Who provided oil enough to last for eight days.
This year, each of us can find a way to focus on what has meaning after all. We can focus on the nuts and bolts of getting things done, like a handyman I know. Or, we can stop, as he did, and remember the power of “uncreated light.” So, I give you wonder at sunrise and moonlight and twinkling stars. And, I give you candles.
Throughout the holidays, we can help those in need, but we can also practice the rituals which give us hope. Even if we misplace our cell-phone or keys, we can claim a wisdom which is wiser than despair. As a Jew wrote, even in the midst of darkness:
I believe in the sun even when it is not shining.
I believe in love even when I am alone.
I believe in God, even when He is silent.
Rev. Dr. Sally Palmer is a religious studies adjunct professor at the University of Wyoming and the former pastor of St. Paul’s United Church.