Giving Light

Every time I looked around yesterday, really looked, joy was present—in the light on the pepper trees, in my home office, in the soccer game at lunch. But surely, at those same moments, many beings on Earth felt far from joyful.

Some family friends, Bella and Henry, were in the concentration camps during World War II. They met and married after the war. I met them for the first time for lunch at Red Robbins when they were in their eighties.

At one point, Henry said, “I couldn’t have imagined all this,” he waved his hand, indicating his entire life, the restaurant, grown children, a career, “when I was in Auschwitz.”

We wait, during this Advent season, for the birth of Light in the darkness, the light that “draws us outward into the world and inward into the depths of our hearts,” as Barb Kollenkark says. It draws us to these places because it is there. We and all creation are the light of the world. We are waiting for our own birth, our awakening to the reality that everything is Christ.

A friend recently reminded me that the only way we can be light in this world is by showing up where we are as who we are. All we can offer is the gift of our own becoming responding with love and joy to the reality in front of us at that moment.

“The world is shot through with poverty,” Jim Finley says. Any person we meet today may need a witness to joy. That doesn’t mean false cheer or telling someone in pain that they’re OK. It means embodying “I couldn’t have imagined all this” while being present to their suffering.

“If we want to be spiritual, then, let us first of all live our lives,” Thomas Merton wrote in Thoughts in Solitude. Our lives will contain darkness and light, and the darkness for some will be incomprehensibly deep. At the same time, “The people in darkness will see a great light.” May we be that light.

The Movement of Light

If you’re longing for a “mind blown” moment, consider all the ways we’re moving every nanosecond of our lives. Earth spins around its axis and orbits the sun; the solar system rotates around the center of the Milky Way; the Milky Way travels through space. Our cells move and divide; molecules cross cell membranes; we cannot pinpoint the exact location of the electrons in the atoms that compose us.

Welcome to finitude, where being is a verb. No wonder there are so many coffee shops.

And yet, we constantly grasp for some sort of arrival. We want to locate ourselves on a continuum of achievement or progress, and we think there is a point, always in the future, where we will have enough of whatever we’re striving for, where we will be complete. We want to know we are getting somewhere, but inevitably when we reach that place, the “thereness” fails to satisfy for very long.

We are always works in progress, particles of a greater process that’s pushing fourteen billion years now. The scientific jury is still out on what will happen to the universe, but there’s no question that during this lifetime we will never come to a resting point.

Still, we yearn for peace, so how can we be at peace with the reality of never being at rest? Maybe, as with electrons, we can understand ourselves better if we stop trying to define ourselves as a particular point. Maybe we can think of ourselves as both particle and wave.

Right now, I am this moment’s self, with all my gifts and shortcomings, all I’ve done and all I’ve failed to do, but that’s not the sum of me. Considering my life as a wave, I stretch back to my childhood and forward to the unknowable future, and all of that is inseparable from all the rest of it. As a wave, I am—we all are, our lives all are—movement.

The movement of what? Energy. Light. Each of us embodies a particular frequency, so to speak, but we are all composed of Light.

The Light Returns

Tonight is the eighth and final night of Chanukah. I’ve always loved everything about Chanukah, from cleaning the wax out of the menorah’s candle holders to eating gelt (chocolate coins) to guessing which candle is going to burn out first. My dad, the Catholic, always seemed to guess that one right.

But it’s light in the darkness, watching the number of candles grow day by day, that is the most enchanting.

Menorah on a table full of stuff

I inherited my growing-up menorah from my mom this year because her childhood menorah returned to her when my uncle died. I’ve never owned a menorah as an adult—unless you count the one I made out of a box in China—so this was the first year for me to light the lights at my house.

During the weekend that fell in the middle of Chanukah, I decided to paint my kitchen. Only I didn’t finish because of course it took longer than I thought, and my deconstructed kitchen is still occupying the dining table, the only place to put the menorah.

I restacked things and cleared a spot for it in the middle of the table and commenced worrying—that I was being disrespectful, that I would burn the house down, that it would look ugly amidst all the clutter—but I grew to like the symbolism. Even in the midst of the most chaotic disarray we can create, the light will still grow in the darkness.

And it was just as beautiful as ever, even surrounded by mixing bowls, pots and pans, and a few stray onions.