May The Light Keep You

May The Light Keep You December 18, 2018
All Alight. Photo by Rebecca Seigel (2010) cc.

Now is the time when the light wanes, and darkness grows, and people come together during this time of year to reconnect with one-another.

When I look at our major holidays and celebrations during this time of year, I find in them this theme of light and illumination.

Lighting the Menorah

Though we were not Jewish, my mother always lit the Menorah.  I think because Hanukah marks the re-dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem, a moment of illumination and hope in the imagination of a people.

Ancient Jewish Historian Flavius Josephus writes in his book Jewish Antiquities XII:

“..And from that time to this we celebrate this festival, and call it Lights. I suppose the reason was, because this liberty beyond our hopes appeared to us; and that thence was the name given to that festival.”

It is hard for me to think of traditions about light and darkness this time of year without remembering the beauty and faith expressed in the Jewish faith.

There are so many varied traditions at this time of year, the Winter Solstice, the shortest day and longest night of the year.  Most faiths, pagan or otherwise, share a tradition related to light and hope this time of the year, whether that tradition be a bonfire, a yule log, a tree of lights or something more secular.

Here in Salt Lake City

I know of one luminary tradition where schools provide paper-bag luminaries along the roadways of a cemetery, so that many people can drive through to remember, reminisce, and gaze upon the lights.

Light has often been a metaphor for the places in our lives that uplift us, and in the heritage of this time light holds our hopes for warmth during these darkest nights.

This metaphor is also spiritual; there is a spiritual illumination that comes from being with one-another.  Maybe that is part of what has created so many gathering traditions among many faiths this time of year.

Both themes of lighting candles or luminaries to hold light during the darkest night, and the gathering together around flames remind me of spiritual illumination.

Whatever beliefs we hold, it seems fitting to me that during this time of the year, when we seek illumination to help us face the longer nights, the difficult times of winter to come, that we come together and celebrate, share stories, revel in one-another’s presence, and allow both all the lights we bring, metaphorical and actual, to hold the light for us during the darkness.

May the light keep you during the darkest night; whether that be the light of a candle upon your altar or the light of a loved one upon your heart.

So may it be.

About Rev. John Cooper
John Cooper is a Unitarian Universalist minister and a chaplain. His faith journey has led him on a wide path, including natural spirituality, rationalism, shamanism, Buddhist studies and Kung Fu. You can read more about the author here.
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May The Light Keep You

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  • I. H. Hagar

    Here where I live luminarios (luminaries) are a Mexican tradition. Many people decorate their homes with these paper bags with sand and a candle instead of the colored strings of lights. Some people poke a hole on the bottom of the paper bag and place them over the bulbs on traditional strings of lights. We have a winding scenic drive along one of the mountains we are surrounded by. Social Clubs and other charitable groups sell luminarias and depending on how many an individual pays for they light them along the winding road. You can buy them to honor someone or just as a donation. They light them all along the winding road on Christmas Eve. It looks magical from a distance but they also close the road to car traffic and you can walk the path on foot and enjoy the luminarias and see the whole city below with all the holiday lights laid out in the valley below. Some years they have had to cancel because of high winds or rain but they light them when the weather permits. The money collected goes to various charities that the clubs and organizations contribute to like homeless shelters, battered women and children homes, and other charities. When you take the walk they also have food trucks selling coffee and hot chocolate, churros (a Mexican sweet bread like a long donut) funnel cakes and other goodies. They charge these vendors a fee that is also used for charitable purposes. They have choirs from various schools singing carols and costumed carolers. It is very festive but it also helps many charities. It certainly brings the Light in more ways then one. Happy Yule may you and yours be blessed on the Solstice.