Saturday, 4 December 2010

Light a candle for miracles

Don't give up hope! The order of things could turn upside down tomorrow. What would you do then?

I am a Unitarian from a Jewish background. That makes me what is often called either a "Junitarian" or a "Jew-U." I like that because it gives a hint of Unitarianism's openness. On the other hand, it's a bit of a misleading term since my spirituality is informed by so many traditions now. Still, I find that the Jewish traditions continue to offer significant inspiration.

Today is the third day of Hanukkah.  Although Hanukkah has become a very well-known Jewish holiday, it's not traditionally a major celebration. It only expanded in importance when Judaism came into contact with Christianity and Jewish kids felt an understandable envy around the deluge of Christmas presents. Junitarians typically get gifts for both Hanukkah and Christmas - a really good deal.

Hanukkah commemorates the defeat of the powerful armies of Syrian king Antiochus IV by a Jewish guerilla band led by the Maccabees in the second century BCE. The story focuses on that victory but also on the re-purification of the Jerusalem temple after it had been defiled by the occupiers. The so-called 'miracle' of Hanukkah is that a one-day supply of lamp oil  lasted a full eight days - long enough for more consecrated oil to be made ready.

A story like this is all well and good, but it's only powerful and useful if it speaks to our condition today. I want to suggest two important messages.

First, the world that looks so fixed and set against you can change tomorrow in unexpected and often wonderful ways. Five days ago, my mother had heart surgery. She was unconscious. She couldn't even breathe on her own. Today, she's walking the hospital halls faster and faster and looking remarkably well. What might it be in your life? The daughter who is addicted to drugs finally goes into rehab. The tumor shrinks. The love you have been looking for appears as if out of nowhere. You find that affordable flat, that rewarding job, or the purpose that keeps you inspired.

You may want to call them miracles. I call them the generosity and abundance of life. Don't give up hope. Things change in remarkable ways.

And second, our blessings rarely arrive without our participation and our attention. The occupying armies did not simply trot back to Syria out of boredom or because a divine presence blew them that way. The Maccabean Revolt was a very human endeavour - an application of courage, hope, and cleverness in a situation that seemed doomed to failure. Lamp oil did not appear from nowhere. The lamp did not light itself. Just a little bit that had been saved and held precious and that small portion of oil was set ablaze - the very human contribution done with unwarranted hope. Participation is essential.

And much of what comes as a miracle depends on what we are willing to see as a miracle. In the context of the grand parade of biblical miracles, lamp oil lasting a few days longer than expected is really a rather minor miracle. If the Jews had sat watching an unlit lamp, praying for it to light itself without any oil or spark, they would have had nothing but disappointment. Miracles are how we define them and what we watch for an appreciate when it arrives.

For this Hanukkah, find the senseless optimism that we call hope. Expect wonders. Expect relief. Expect joy and expect blessings. And then get in there and help make it happen!

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