As Chanukah celebrations draw to a close and we move steadily toward Christmas Day, I think it worthy of us to pause and give some thought to whom we are, and what we value. For starters, let’s remember, that it’s all about the light.
While I would in no way claim to be a theologian of any sorts, I do know that Chanukah, the festival of lights, is commemoration of the courage shown by the Maccabees during a time of political strife and upheaval, and the miracle of having only one day’s oil for the Menorah that shone for eight. This speaks to me of how the combination of perseverance and faith in what is right and just will always culminate in the light of reason. So, though this does not happen to be my personal faith tradition, I find beauty and truth in its content and see it as so consistent with our American Dream.
When we turn toward the Christian narrative of the birth of the Christ child, we also see the recurring theme of light. The wisest among us are led by a star to a place where peace and love are not accompanied by great wealth, power or prestige, but rather by truth, humility, caring individuals, and the recognition that families sometimes need the kindness and the support of others in the community so that the children born to those families can go on to fulfill their destinies, and shed still more light wherever they go. This too strikes me as a very American theme. We encapsulated those ideas in our New Deal legislation that provided a much needed safety net for the poorest among us.
Neither were these concepts relegated to Judeo-Christian practices. In the northwestern corner of Pakistan, a festival called Chaomos, takes place among the Kalasha or Kalash Kafir people. It lasts for at least seven days, including the day of the December solstice. It involves ritual baths as part of a purification process, as well as singing and chanting, a torchlight procession, dancing, bonfires and festive eating. Once again we find fire and light at the center of giving, receiving and living in joy and peace.
Whatever our theology or ideology may be, one thing is certain. Everything in nature needs light and heat to survive and remain healthy. The same holds true for our democracy. When we shine the light on our principles, most notably those found in our constitution, we can rest easy, for they are lofty, and in my eyes, unparalleled as guidelines for a nation. Now, it is incumbent upon us all to ensure that our practices can withstand the same scrutiny under the same glaring light.
For if we do not, we will lose all hope of America ever becoming what Ronald Reagan so often proclaimed it to be, the “Shining City on a Hill.”