This time of year, it is easy to remember the cycles of nature in which we live. In the north, (setting aside for the moment, with apologies, readers in the southern hemisphere) it is dark, and consequently many cultures have developed great festivals that involve light – we kindle lamps and lights and fires and torches and candles and enormous firework displays to celebrate Hanukkah, Christmas, and the New Year, to name the most well known.
Make no doubt, the physical is an illustration of the spiritual, especially in this case. The lights with which we festoon our houses, the hectares of glitter on greeting cards, eyelids, clothing and window displays, and the innumerable stars and ornaments hanging and sparkling everywhere are meant to remind us that when the world grows dark, the real light, the inner light of the spirit remains. What is more, it is all the more beautiful for the darkness that surrounds it.
But light alone is not enough. It is easy to fall into the sensorial hysteria of the season, seeking ever more dazzle and material flash, ever more physical stimulation. But if that is all we experience, then when the tinsel is swept up and thrown away we are liable to suffer from a materialistic hangover. After a few days or weeks of excitement, we may find ourselves back in the same gloom as before. If a festival is based on a spiritual truth, though, it should produce a lasting effect in our life. To make a reality of the lesson of the light, what can we do?
The nights get longer and then grow shorter; the darkness comes and goes again; but what is the more persistent darkness that all humans face? Each life has its own version of the universal story – but everyone must confront the difficulties of limitation: illness, sorrow, heartbreak, disappointment, hardship, loss. And the more we understand about life, the more we see that this applies to every single person on the planet, including, of course, those close to us, and those whom we see in our community. Many are aware of their own pain, and, looking no further, assume that others are all right – but it is not so. Everyone faces hardship, sometimes physical, sometimes mental, sometimes emotional, sometimes spiritual.
Being aware of this darkness, where is the lamp that will give us light? Where else could it be, save in the human heart? When we feel compassion for the world – not an abstract, conceptual world, but a world made up of billions of individuals, every single one with their personal pains and tears – it must kindle a spark of compassion in the lamp of the heart.
What light could we bring into the darkness if not the light of compassion?