Lighting the Darkness

Season’s Greetings…

Here in the Northern Hemisphere it’s the astronomical season of late autumn with winter soon upon us…The Winter Solstice, the longest night of the year, is approaching, and the darkness is lengthening and deepening.

It’s also a holiday season, both secular and religious.
And the Christian liturgical season of Advent.
And a US political season.
And, also here in the US, a season of fear and violence.

I am appalled at the vile, fearful, and hateful things that are now passing for “acceptable” among wa-a-a-ay too many Americans, and among wa-a-a-ay too many people who claim the label “Christian.” Not everyone who reads this blog is one or both of those things (American, Christian) – but I am, and I am compelled to challenge the proliferating and fear-fueled narratives of xenophobia, exclusion, bigotry, and violence.

It’s so very easy to feel helpless. And hopeless.

What power or influence does one person have? I don’t know about you… I’m “just” a freelance storyteller, a private citizen, a long-distance grandmother, a caregiver to a geriatric dog, a sometime writer… I sit here in my home in Colorado and see an increasing number of frightening and appalling things pass across my computer screen and TV…gun violence, systemic white privilege, violent religious fundamentalism (NOT restricted to just one religion, ahem ahem), xenophobic bullying being accepted as political rhetoric and perhaps policy, the throwing out of both American and Christian values by fear-and-ignorance-based clamoring against accepting desperate refugees… One of the worst (of many) for me so far is the president of Liberty University in Virginia, a supposedly-Christian institution, urging student to carry guns to kill Muslims – God in heaven, there are so many levels of wrong to this.

We must speak up, find ways to not let the hatred go unchallenged, not let the fear rule and guide the prevailing narratives.

I find some strength in the themes of Advent…

From my faith tradition: Advent is the Christian liturgical season between Thanksgiving and Christmas that marks the days of darkness with the hope and expectation of the coming of Light. This Christian embrace of the Light of the World also aligns at this time of year with the Jewish celebration of Hanukkah – the Festival of Lights; as well as with Pagan Yule celebrating the rebirth of the sun; not to mention the scientific reality of the Winter Solstice… Though there is darkness, the Light exists, and WILL return!!

candle flameIt is a time for the lighting of candles.

Spiritually, liturgically, celebrationally (is that a word?), and metaphorically.

“For it is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness” – You’ve heard that before. And it is true.

And the more individual candles that are lit, the greater the light…and the darkness shall not overcome it.

What candle(s) will I light? What candle(s) will you light?

One candle those of us who are non-Muslims would do well to light is to find ways to be an ally to Muslim neighbors; here are some suggestions.

And whether it’s this epidemic of gun violence in the US, or systemic racism, or hateful political rhetoric, or the turning away of homeless refugees, or just “my way or the highway” stances rather than caring, adult conversation about differences (and the list is much longer than I’ll keep typing here) – somewhere, YOU have a “candle to light,” I’m sure of it.

menorah candlesWho knows, you might even be a shamash: “The shamash is the candle that lights the others (of the Hanukkah menorah). Be a shamash.” – Rabbi David Wolpe

And even if or when we only have little candles, we must light them and join with others to grow the light.

And: “Thoughts and prayers” are not enough. Not enough.

Teresa of Ávila wrote (slightly adapted by me): “God has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which God looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which God walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which God blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are God’s body. God has no body now on earth but yours.”

And, for those of us who use the internet:
“God has no online presence but yours,
No blog, no Facebook page but yours.
Yours are the tweets through which love touches this world,
Yours are the posts through which grace is shared,
Yours are the updates through which hope is revealed.
God has no online presence but yours,
No blog, no Facebook page but yours.”
(also slightly adapted, from Meredith Gould of The Virtual Abbey; you can find hers here, along with a great video by my friend Jason Chesnut of The Slate Project)

I like the way Elizabeth Eaton, Presiding Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (the ELCA – my faith home), puts it: “Advent deepens the tension between what the world was created to be and what it now is, between what God has done and what God will do.”

What God will do…with our hands, our voices, our bodies, our blogs and posts and tweets and updates. Us.

Group of four candles lights in a side in darkness with copy space for textThe stories we tell with our voices and our lives to challenge the hateful narratives. (For me, that would include a seasonally-appropriate story of a certain Middle Eastern family traveling and seeking refuge…)

May we find ways to bring Light.

Thanks for reading – Pam

Recommended blogs for further reflection:

Bullies, Terrorists and Anxiety: A Sermon on Defiant Hope – Nadia Bolz-Weber

Advent Reflection in a Time of Terror: God is Waiting for Us – Kimberly Knight

America’s Flirtation with Fascism – Jim Wallis