These are the darkest of nights, the darkest of mornings. Walking poor Zac Doodle the Dog by flashlight, both in the morning as well as the evening, shining a tiny circle of light in front of him, together we find our way. The light squeezes out of the day so early. I speed home from work, trying to beat the sunset, to walk in some last fragments of daylight, to behold the setting of our glorious sun, not from my office, not from my car, but from the earth herself. In a race against the sunset I lose daily, as the days shorten, and my rushing intensifies.
And from the darkest of times, with no moon to guide us, come the Chanukah lights, just in the nick of time! Our collective world has darkened as ethics and morality seem squeezed out of the very air itself, shaping and reshaping the world we inhabit. Come on, Chanukah lights! Remind us of the miracle, the relevancy of this ancient story.
I’ve had the privilege of participating in The Chanukah Retreat for Organizers and Activists, led by three remarkable rabbi’s, Myriam Klotz, Sheila Weinberg, and Rachel Timoner. I don’t like teachers; I am uber-cautious about with whom I sit with, to whom I listen. Having been burned by a certain guru once, and having taught for 47 years while having (the illusion of) control of the metaphoric microphone, I have high and unwavering preferences. When invited to assist in this program, somehow, I could not say no, although I did valiantly try, since it came at the end of my run of twelve- straight teaching days.
Like Chanukah itself, the program has been a miracle.
Here are a few insights that have whooshed open my aching heart, released tears from my exhausted eyes, and softened my stressed body, with profound gratitude to Rabbi Mariam, Rabbi Sheila, and Rabbi Rachel. Notice if any of these Chanukah lessons from the second century, B.C. are relevant for you today, right here, right now.
It’s not about the good guys vs. the bad guys!
As a kid, both little and big, I always thought Chanukah was about exactly that, the bad Greeks against the good guys, the revolutionary Jews, the Maccabees. In this current national moment, I find myself aggressively committed to this model of good against bad. (How many times in the past year have I moaned, “The bad guys won,”?) Yet, as I restrict my perspective to this paradigm alone, I am unable to see any goodness in the people over there and any badness in any folks over here. In fact, the Maccabees were far from good guys, having descended into coalition politics in yucky and slimy ways. This paradigm over-simplifies the situation, while blocking connection and healing.
I’m not saying I know how to do this, nor am I saying I fully understand the concept. But somewhere, something in me responds to this deep truth; only connection will carry us through. By making somebody else wrong, I am denying the wrong in me.
I think of my childhood Chanukah memories; they all return to the candles dancing with delight, dancing with an abundance of light, if even for their few minutes of life. I think of the cold winter outside the window, the warmth of my mother’s kitchen, the casual care she took in lighting the candles. The gifts were small, yet their presence remains alive today.
The candles bring back to me the safety and touch of my mother’s caring.
Perhaps the most socially active and spiritually aligned thing I can do today, in the midst of the great unraveling around us, is to sit and remember, sit and feel, sit and breathe into my mother’s kitchen at Chanukah, the dance of the candles, the light of her love, the safety of her fully unconditional regard for me.
Perhaps the most socially active and spiritually aligned thing I can do today is to connect with myself from this place of internalized love and safety.
And from that place, may I move into the world.
And from that place, may I be present in the world.
May it be so.
May each of us find that place of tender loving light inside.
May we each sit wrapped in the love that has been offered us.
May we each breathe and relax, one breath at a time.
May we each carry that love and that light into the world.
Happy Chanukah—and happy Solstice.
The light returns.
Dear Readers, please share with me any holiday memories, Chanukah, Christmas, whatever, and their evocative echo in your life today. Please do share, also, any strategies you have cultivated to walk through the darkness around us.