Placing the candle between us, we both put a hand on the lighter. We held in our hearts our intention for the lighting of this flame, and then said the words together: “We commit to bringing the light to the world.” The wick burst into a warm glow and the lone candle shone forth, a reminder of our own inner spark of the Divine.
December is a season of light. Each tradition during this month inevitably integrates the lighting of candles or lamps as a reminder of this – for the darkness looms outside in the chill of early evenings and long nights, and we may forget our true selves in the fall of these outer shadows.
Light through the dark night
Hanukkah in particular is a powerful reminder of the need to find the inner light when all appears gloomy, and to trust that we are sustained through the dark night of the soul. Every year in December, eight nights remind us of a miracle of light during a very dark time that applies to all of us.
Here’s a very brief telling of this sacred story (and if there are errors in this, please forgive and correct me!): It was a time of Greek rule in much of the middle-east. The Jewish people were oppressed and forced to worship the Greek gods, doing all manner of things that were considered to defile their temples and were against their traditions. A group of Jews, who became known as the Maccabees, rose up in rebellion and defeated their oppressors, once again returning their temple to the practice of their religion.
However, in order to rededicate their sacred space, they needed oil to burn in their Menorah, the candelabra that must burn all night, each night in the temple. Only one day’s worth of oil remained, and it took eight days to prepare a fresh supply. Amazingly, this small amount of oil lasted those eight nights, and the temple was once again restored. The lighting of a new candle each of the eight nights commemorates this miraculous event.
The light of hope and inspiration
When we light the candles, we feel inspired. We light a hope within the darkness. The light is a reminder when we are grieving a loss; that even in a painful moment renewal is at hand. From death comes life again, the cycle of the seasons. Although the temple had been desecrated, it can be renewed once again. We light the candle to remind ourselves that every ending creates a new beginning.
This celebration also reminds us that no matter the difficulties, it is possible to overcome them. The Maccabees were far outnumbered by the Greek rulers, and yet they prevailed. Strength is not in numbers but in our inner empowerment. Hanukkah gives us the opportunity to discover and renew our inner strength, to affirm its power over whatever is dark in our lives. Our physical conditions, emotional states, or financial debts do not have power over us – as we practice opening to receive the abundant support that Spirit gives us continually, we are sustained. What we need comes to us when we trust and open to receive it, just as the Maccabees trusted that by lighting the lamp, somehow what was needed would show up.
When we light the candles in the Menorah, we also evoke our ability to be inspired and to inspire others. We have that light within each of us – the light of higher consciousness, of joy, of love, of upliftment for all beings.
Sustained by something greater
It’s no coincidence that Hanukkah comes during the darkest month of the year. At a time when depression can increase for many from the cold, long nights, we are in need of inspiration. We need to know that when we’re in our darkest moments, there is hope. When we feel we are out of options, empty of resources, and don’t know what way to go, the miracle of Hanukkah affirms that, in a mysterious and profound way, we are guided through the dark night of the soul. Somehow, out of almost nothing, sustenance arises. The oil lasts and lasts – when we open to and trust that something greater will hold us. Light the candle and affirm that you are held, supported, and carried through whatever troubles you.
It is not our own personal resources – the one night’s worth of oil – that carries us through: it is the transcendent, that which is beyond physical or mental limitations. The Infinite, the Divine – only the source of all can truly sustain us. The question is; how do we access that? The story of Hanukkah itself reveals how. We need to light the flame within, the spark of our inspiration. Lighting a candle takes something to create a spark, and then a substance to burn. Once it is lit, we then hold vigil and trust that it lasts.
Igniting the spark
We must spark our inner connection to the Universe, to something greater. And what creates a spark is friction. Whether you dash two pieces of flint together, intensely rub wood against wood, or strike a match against the matchbox, it is friction that creates the spark that lights the fire. Fire was first discovered from lightning strikes, setting trees on fire. Lightning happens when liquid and ice particles above the freezing level collide, building up intense electrical fields in the clouds. When these fields grow large enough, a huge spark of electrical charge releases between them, like static electricity. This creates the phenomena we know as lightning.
Something within us rubs up against itself, creating resistance, intensity, internal heat, and finally a flash – of insight, inspiration, or release. Our desperate, hopeless sense of loss or loneliness calls out against our longing for something greater, and intensity builds within us. The longing for meaning, for a vision, or for Union with the Divine rubs against our resistance – laziness, lack of confidence, fears, ego, etc. An internal struggle ensues. And this is what ignites the spark within.
Setting the soul afire
If you are feeling that internal struggle, that conflict between who you have believed you are and who you envision you can be, between settling for the life you’ve had and feeling the pull of something far more profound, between continuing to succumb to distraction or addiction and waking up to a deep connection with Spirit, you are actually in a good place! You are igniting the spark that will set your soul afire with new purpose and possibility. You are in the place of struggling to wake up and get out of that comfortable bed on a cold winter’s day.
In yogic philosophy, this relates to the practice of Tapas – that burning desire to evolve, grow, transform. Tapas is the spark that ignites the fuel of our inner Self to transform us. It gives us the motivation, discipline, and determination to not give up when things look bleak, to persist when the going gets tough, and to continue when we’re uncomfortable. It is a deep-seated belief, buried beneath the doubts and fears, that something better is possible within each of us. Within me, within you. Not just that you can become enlightened, but that you can also make a difference to others. Each of us can be the light of the world.
Let your spark within light that first candle, that intention – yes, I want to wake up. I affirm that I can overcome what obstacles appear before me. Yes, I want my life to transform. Yes, I’m ready to become more of who I truly am and to serve the world. When we say yes to that intention, we let go and allow something powerful to transform us. During these eight sacred nights and beyond, seek your spark that lights that fire within, and spurs you to take the next step in your spiritual growth. Once you light that lamp, something greater than you will keep it burning, just as it did on that first Hanukkah night.
Copyright © 2010 by Constance L. Habash