In the darkest time of the year, in many traditions throughout the world, we light flames to proclaim the power of the spirit to shine and reunite us in love, hope and generosity.
At Chanukah, we light candles for eight days to remember that, in the desecrated Temple, amid the rubble and the ruin, a drop of oil was found. There was only enough oil to last one day, but it burned for eight: the amount of time needed to find and prepare more sacred oil for the holy flames. The first drop of oil was lit not knowing what would be --and it burned brighter and longer than anyone thought possible.
The word Chanukah means "dedication." Chanukah implores us to take action when all seems lost, even as success appears impossible and all that is valued lies in ruins. Chanukah honors the sacred and declares that people dedicated to the spirit will rise.
This year we share the days of Chanukah with those who are honoring Christmas and Kwanzaa. The timing is a reminder of all that unites us and urges us to reach out to each other and join together to re-sanctify this holy planet and rededicate ourselves to the well-being of all.
It can be tempting this year to feel defeated by what has been laid to waste, to be trapped in the fear, anger, hatred and rage that swirls within and around us. We need to be strong and to take care so as not to become these feelings, to not become corrupted by all that we seek to change.
We spend the days of Chanukah rededicating ourselves to some of our highest values and ideals. We focus on what we love, raising up what is most essential. In kindling these flames, we bring strength to the spirit and direct our hearts toward actions that will shine lights of graciousness, compassion, justice and peace.
This year, I have chosen eight values that seem most relevant to this time, with a call to meditate on each and to engage in a practice that will bring them into our hearts and minds
1st Candle: Gratitude. Let us give thanks for the gifts we have given and received. Let us notice and name the good all around us. On the first day of Chanukah, we pause before each meal and give thanks to the earth, sky, water and hands that made the food possible.
2d Candle: Generosity. We recognize our own abundance and notice we have more than enough to share. Sometime during Chanukah, we give to another in person, making a direct connection.
3d Candle: Courage. We think of the courage of those who came before us and what we can do to make the next generations safer. We imagine one courageous act we can do and we take one step toward doing it.
4th Candle: Kindness. These times call for radical kindness. Let us move slowly enough to pause and notice when and how we can extend loving words and actions. And let us take notice of how it feels to do so.
5th Candle: Awareness. Calling ourselves present is a constant practice. Tonight, let us pay special attention to the Chanukah candles as they burn, noticing the light and shadow, the shape, texture and colors of the flames. We say Hineni: Here I am, present in this moment.
6th Candle: Community. Building community is a sacred act. One way is to offer help to someone in need. This year at Chanukah, we also ask a person for help for ourselves, which is a gift to him or her as well as to us.
7th Candle: Reverence. This year, the seventh candle comes on Shabbat. It also welcomes Rosh Chodesh Tevet. Let us walk gently upon the earth today and take notice of beauty and the many gifts of the natural world. Let us listen well to each other and to the stirrings of our own hearts. May we pause often and give thanks.
8th Candle: Responsibility. As we light all eight candles tonight, we call out the values we want to uphold and rededicate ourselves to living lives of service in harmony with each other and all the world.
The eighth candle of Chanukah comes on New Year's Eve. As 2016 becomes 2017, let us give thanks for the gifts of life and let us share our abundance. May courage strengthen us and may kindness spring forth with ease. With awareness, may we behold each other and the world and create sacred communities. As we walk with reverence and care, may we discern what is ours to do. And may our lights shine brightly, boldly, clearly, in goodness and in love.