Monday, December 21, 2009

Let Your Light Shine

By Amy Phillips-Gary

It's all about the light.

I love December. We live in a world where there is plenty of conflict and outright war due, in large part, to people believing that their religious beliefs are the only valid path.

But, if you really look at these so-called divisions and conflicts, we really aren't that far apart after all. The many December holidays underscore my point.

I'm not a theological scholar; but, it's undeniable that, as diverse as the major religions are, there are also symbols, messages and themes that interconnect them all.

Interwoven throughout many religious stories at this cusp of Winter is the imagery of light.

We are being called to open up to the light within us and let it shine as we celebrate the specific holidays and perform the rituals of our choosing.

To me, shining inner light isn't about trying to make others believe exactly the way that I do (or that you do).

Instead, it is a radiating of the love, sense of peace and compassion that might (or might not) be a reflection of those same qualities found in a wise teacher or even God, Goddess, Spirit, or Higher Power whom might have another name according to your beliefs.

Winter Solstice or Yule
Of course, the importance of light can be traced to more scientific-historical roots. As the daylight grew shorter in the Northern hemisphere, sources theorize that early Europeans may have been fearful. The importance of the light and the sun was probably understood. For this reason, rituals were performed in an effort to ensure the return of the sun and the light.

The Winter Solstice, also known as Yule, is the birth of a new solar year. From the day after the Winter Solstice in December up until the Summer Solstice in June, the daylight hours will steadily continue to increase.

From this darkest day-- the Winter Solstice-- we find the birth of a “new sun” and, therefore, a renewed light. This notion of light can easily be felt and understood from a spiritual and personal growth perspective as well.

Today many people all over the world celebrate the Earth and its turning wheel of auspicious days, including the Winter Solstice around December 20-22. Many derivatives of ancient rituals are continued.

In past years, for example, my family and I have joined with friends for wonderful Winter Solstice bonfires.

It is well-documented that the December 25th Christmas holiday was originally begun as an effort to convert pagan Romans to Christianity around the 4th Century of the Current Era.

The birth of Jesus, which Christmas celebrates, was actually not on December 25th and may have occurred in March, November or September instead.

Aside from these historical assertions, however, I still find many aspects of Christmas to be uplifting and worth commemorating.

In the New Testament of the Bible, Jesus' birth is spoken about as a light coming into the darkness of the world. There was, of course, also the fabled light from the Star of Bethlehem that led shepherds and wise men to bring gifts and witness the arrival of this “prince of peace.”

Although my spiritual beliefs are more eclectic now, I remember attending Christmas Eve church services each year growing up. There was a palpable sacred sense of connection and inspiration as we all stood with lit candles in the darkened church singing “Silent Night.”

My family and I still share those songs and the story of Christmas together.

Pancha Ganapati
When my youngest son was around 4 years old, he discovered the Hindu god Ganesh. I do not remember exactly how he was introduced to this half-elephant, half-boy god who is known for removing obstacles as well as dancing and merriment, but my son developed a great affinity for Ganesh.

In honor of this affinity, I did some research and found the holiday Pancha Ganapati that modern Hindus living in the West created to honor Ganesh.

From December 21-25 daily rituals are performed around an altar for Ganesh. Different colored cloths are placed on the altar and sweet offerings are left for his enjoyment. The family gathers by the altar to Ganesh and meditates together each evening.

Pancha Ganapati, as you might expect, ties in wonderfully with the theme of light. Just as light starts from a source and radiates out to others, so too do the meditative intentions of this Hindu holiday.

On the first day of Pancha Ganapati, each person meditates on resolving conflict and cultivating harmony, peace and love within him or herself and then between family members. The second day is an expansion of that energy of harmony, peace and love out to friends and extended family.

The vibration of light, love and peace is then extended to the community and those with whom we do business on the middle two days. Then, on the final day of Pancha Ganapati, all of that wonderful love and harmony are sent out to the entire world and all of its inhabitants.

No matter what religion or spirituality you follow, you can tap into the inspiration and imagery of light that pervades throughout various beliefs this time of year.

Feel into yourself and cultivate that light, love and sense of peace that is you and is also greater than you and let it shine forth.

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