DIWALI, LIGHT, AND A VOTIVE CANDLE

“No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works.” – Matthew 5:16-17
 
During the prayers of the people each Sunday, Episcopalians pray for the universal church, the nation, the welfare of the world, the concerns of the local community, and for all who suffer. We also pray for the repose of the souls of all who have died in the past week, that light perpetual shine upon them. When feasible and appropriate, the person leading the prayer says each name aloud. The list went on for quite a while this past Sunday, as all who perished in Las Vegas were lifted up. This ritual can be powerful for many reasons, conjuring up emotions such as sadness, fear, anguish, and even dismay. I am confident to say that this litany of names left quite an impact for the many gathered. Not knowing the victims personally, I wondered who they were, who they left behind, and how much life was still ahead of them. As the names went on and on, I felt overwhelmed by their magnitude, even while simultaneously distracted by the joyful noises of our 10-month-old daughter, Beatrix. She provided me a bit of light in the crosshairs of darkness.
 
Since the death of my father on August 9th, I have made it a practice to light a votive candle during the prayers of the people in his memory. I give thanks for my time with him, acknowledge the influence he still has on me, and wonder what that mysterious nearer-presence of God looks like, feels like, tastes like. I am drawn to the light of this votive candle, its flicker and power, and am somehow comforted, even if for just a moment. As the flame bounces and plays, I am keenly aware of my Dad’s ongoing journey in my soul; how he shows up in my conversations and the way I interact with others. For those who have experienced loss, especially of late, I commend this practice. Light surely has healing attributes, shining forth a way during uncertainty and giving warmth in the bitter cold of grief.
 
Light has also been on my heart as the people of India prepare for Diwali, a national festival of lights, celebrated by Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, and Sikhs. For many in India, and faithful people around the globe, this 5-day celebration beginning on October 17th marks the victory of good over evil, light over darkness. Depending on the religious strand, demons are cast away, the oppression of exile is overcome, freedom is granted, or a spiritual awakening has occurred. All of these transitions are claimed by the littering of lights in earthen lamps, along with a deep cleansing of the home to enter the new year to come. These flames line the outside of their homes, symbolizing the inner light that protects from spiritual darkness. While I have not witnessed this festival, imagining the votive candle to this nth degree evokes profound joy and hope within.
 
Crowds gathered on a mountain in the 5th chapter of Matthew’s gospel to hear from their rabbi, Jesus. They are first reminded of God’s blessing, and then told they are the light of the world. Instead of snuffing this flame in a bushel basket, followers are to situate their light in such a way that a whole household awakens. Even more, this light is to be cast outward to others in the form of good works. What began as light from within is expected to make its way out into the world. The light that comforts me must crack through to you. Which leads me to wonder: how often do I let my bushel basket get in the way?
 
We will gather in convocations later this week to anticipate Diwali, this grand festival of lights. I pray that you enter into this celebration, wondering the power light has in your life.
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Founded in 1960, Berkeley is an independent, Episcopal, college-preparatory day school located in Tampa, FL, for boys and girls in grades Pre-Kindergarten through 12. Approximately 1,380 students gather here from the greater Tampa Bay area to form ONE Berkeley.