Friday, December 13, 2013

All the Little Lights

Just so you know - our holiday cards are not yet on the way. In fact, they haven't even been ordered yet. But this post contains a lot more than I could include in a card anyway. It's my humble contribution to the holiday spirit that surrounds us - the feel good videos on facebook; the glow of decorated homes in the neighborhood. Now, a piece on grief & darkness that I recently shared at a candlelight remembrance service might not be your primary idea of holiday cheer but I hope you'll read it anyway. Because, most gatherings of family & friends usually have at least a minor bittersweet element, right? Each year brings change - much of it welcome. But each year, too, brings absence, unwelcome change. An uncle too ill to travel this year; a friend with whom we are no longer on speaking terms; a parent or child that has died. And holidays have a way of accentuating those voids in our lives. So, as we gather to break bread, tell stories, reconnect & laugh - let us cry together, too. Because all of it - the good & the bad, the pretty & the ugly, the joy & the sorrow - are what bind us together. 
All The Little Lights
Gilda's Club Nashville
2013 Night of Remembrance

And so we gather together to contemplate the darkness – by sharing the light. Just as the glow of the candles now illuminates our space & your faces, so the lives of our loved ones are reflected in who each of us is. Of course, there are sentimental recollections of good memories – of poignant & tender encounters – of infectious joy. And yet, we must acknowledge, too, that it has not always been easy – or pretty – and yet it has been real. As Leonard Cohen reminds us, “Love is not a victory march. It is a cold & it is a broken hallelujah.” It is our shared experience. It is your story. It is a flame that will not be extinguished.

“Light & Dark” as a metaphor permeates our culture, our process of meaning-making, our faith traditions. Perhaps you recall as a child singing, “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.” And there is the lovely concept of Tikkun olam which calls for humanity to work together to “heal the world” by “gathering shards of divine light.” And many of you are likely familiar with the Sanskrit salutation, Namaste, which has many interpretations - one of which is “the light in me honors the light in you.”

Recently, I heard theologian & Princeton professor, Dr. Elaine Pagels, speak at Vanderbilt. As she talked about the shared creation story of the world’s three Abrahamic faith traditions she caught my attention with the observation, “Darkness is, light must be created.” Darkness is, light must be created. We are that light. Of course, all the faith traditions have their brightest of lights - a messiah, a prophet, a guru - but, I believe we, too, contain & create that light. Our loved ones have created that light for us. And so we gather tonight to create, gather & reflect the light - the love - that we need.

I heard a song recently called “All the Little Lights” that describes this process of creating light this way:

“We’re born with millions of little lights shining in the dark
And they show us the way
One lights up, every time we feel love in our hearts
One dies when it moves away”

“Darkness Is.” Thankfully, for most of us, Darkness is not all of our reality but it surely is a prevalent component of this strange & difficult & beautiful thing we call life. And it is a part of life that we, too often, are tempted & encouraged to avoid, ignore, even deny. I heard an interview recently with Paul Bogard – an English professor at James Madison – about his book, “The End of Night: Searching for Natural Darkness in an Age of Artificial Light.” Now, he speaks of our literal “fear of the dark”; how we are illuminating every room, every stoop, every street corner of our planet to the point that stars are rarely seen in the night sky of our urban areas. Our fear of the dark is driving us to the delusion that we may be able to eliminate it. And it seems we are encouraged to approach emotional darkness in much the same way. But in Bogard’s book he talks about how two English poets of the Romantic Movement, Samuel Taylor Coleridge & William Wordsworth, would meet in the middle of the night to walk the streets together – talking, taking in the sky & stars.

Night Walking – what an interesting metaphor for what we are doing here. And if we allow ourselves to enter a dark space we are quickly reminded, of course, of how our eyes adjust – opening wider to accentuate whatever light exists. We begin to see familiar things in new ways. As priest & writer Henri Nouwen explains, “As soon as we feel at home in our own house, discover the dark corners as well as the light spots, the closed doors as well as the drafty rooms, our confusion will evaporate, our anxiety will diminish, and we will be capable of creative work.”

So, given this darkness-avoidant/grief-avoidant milieu in which we find ourselves it is particularly important to acknowledge & affirm how courageous each & every one of you is for being here tonight. I mean this sincerely. It can be hard to allow ourselves the room to grieve, much less find the oh-so-critical public spaces like this to mourn. Having a safe space – to question, to explore, to lament, to grieve, to mourn together - is what makes Gilda’s Club so special – so unique – so essential. And even as we continue to care for so many important people in our lives, we must continue to make time to care for ourselves.

So I invite you to consider your presence here - the grieving process - as a spiritual practice; it is an important act of self-care; it is an expression of gratitude & tribute; it is an important step toward meaning-making.

May your presence here - to contemplate your darkness – help you see in new ways. As we reflect on the light of the lives that have touched us deeply, as you rekindle the light within you, as we honor the light in those around us – may each of us find healing; may we together – heal our world.

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