Friday, February 24, 2017

Lighting a Candle

     Last Sunday evening, I went with some students to Mile Hi Church here in the Denver area. Mile Hi is "New Thought" church, the largest of its denomination in the country. One of their occasional offerings is an Interfaith/Multicultural (I AM) Ministry where they highlight a different religious tradition (or sub-tradition). Last Sunday, the program was on "Kaballah and the Tree of Life", or Jewish mysticism. Having never been to Mile HI for a service of any kind, I was pretty interested in being there, not only for the mysticism program, but just to experience the congregation (about which I've heard a lot over the years I've been here). I was not disappointed in either.       One of the speakers during the service told an old Hasidic story about a man who was concerned about the darkness of his basement. He went to his rabbi and asked what to do. The wise rabbi suggested he might try sweeping out the darkness with a broom. That didn't work. "Try beating it out with this ruler." That didn't work."Try shouting the darkness out." That didn't work, either. Then the rabbi lit a candle and walked with the man down the stairs into the basement. It was no longer dark.  "We dispel darkness not by sweeping it away, or by violence, or by loud shouting, but by bringing light into the world." *
       The next day, I had cause to read a Surah from the Qu'ran,  Ash-Shu'arah ("The Poets"). Much of the surah stresses that there are many people who, regardless of the "evidence" or signs or persuasive texts they are given, will not end up believing. That, it seems to me to be suggested, is no fault of the one who would try to be persuasive; it is simply the nature of things. A refrain throughout the surah is, "Verily there is a sign in this, but many of them do not believe" (verses 8, 67, 103, 121, 139, 158, 174, 190).**        We seem to have come to a point in our society where sweeping, shouting or beating the "darkness" we are experiencing is having little success, except in tiring many of us out. In the words from the Qur'an we saw above, "there is a sign in this, but many of them do not believe". There certainly IS work to be done; I'm not suggesting otherwise. But I wonder if, instead of picking up a broom or a ruler, we quietly bring some light into the lives of those around us. The opportunities abound, if we only look. It may be as simple as what a friend on campus told me this morning: "I try to smile at everyone I see these days; we all need it."
        Work for justice, yes. But also smile. Light a candle.


* The whole service can be viewed at Mile Hi' Interfaith Multicultural (I AM) Ministry website.
** Translation by Ahmed Ali. Al-Qur'an:  A Contemporary Translation (Princeton University Press, 1993), 312-20.

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