The Unknown surrounds us at any given moment. That is where we seek knowledge.
—Frank Herbert, Children of Dune
Esteemed Reader of Our Magazine:
Though in no wise orthodox, I strive for a certain kind of religiosity. For me, this means inquiring into the potential significance of traditions that have come down through time in the way that old architecture survives the erosion of renovations and weather. It means walking into the space of tradition in the way one might enter an ancient hypostyle hall.
At the time of this writing, it is almost midnight on the fifth night of Chanukah. The holiday's mythology commemorates a sacred lamp with enough oil to last a day yet continues burning for eight days. One becomes eight, evoking the musical octave, implying that one note, sounding with full resonance, contains an entire cycle of vibrations, the fulfillment of a journey from beginning through completion to a new beginning.
The light of the festive candles is not ordinary, though the beauty of the flickering candelabra is striking in this darkest of seasons. Rather, it points to a radiance that is invisible to optical sight, a light one beholds with presence of being, with the eye of the heart. Tradition suggests that this light is in everything, inasmuch as it is beyond everything. It is the illumination of consciousness that shines through and between all beings and things. It is, I suspect, what Reb Cohen referred to when he sang "there is a crack in everything / that's how the light gets in."
This gentle brightness shines always and in everything. I receive its impression when I am more fully present in my own person, in Being. I experience it as a subtle force of energy in my chest and solar plexus. It invites my attention. I am drawn to it like a moth to a candle. At first it singes, challenging my accustomed sense of self, but with relaxation I feel myself become the warmth of the flame. In these rare moments, everything is luminous.
The inner light suggested by the festive light in a time of darkness hearkens to another passage of poetry from the Hebrew tradition.
Even when I walk in the valley of darkness, I fear no evil for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff—they comfort me. You set a table before me in the presence of my adversaries; You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Allowing some leniency, rather than holding tightly to conventional religious tropes, one can inquire into the identity of "you" in the passage. In one reading it is precisely that light of presence in our being. Here the brightness of inner presence is more truly oneself than the accustomed identity with its incessant reactions to stimuli, defense, self-aggrandizement, and self-dramatization. The deeper "I" is so hard to experience because she exists in the medium of silence, her voice so easily drowned out by even a whisper of self-involvement.
The passage further suggests that this deeper "I" (called You) is the source of courage and guidance. Her rod and staff are available to guide our lower nature, to afford courage in the face of danger. She nourishes us even as we are assailed by the adversaries of anger and doubt. She gives us clarity to be liberated from suggestibility, to see what is true, and trust what we see. She opens us to blessing, Baraka, and fills us with the abundant satisfaction of presence.
This light within the light, what the Sufis call nour ala nour, is within all and within the heart. This is the motherland, the nation deserving of genuine patriotism. This destination is both where we are and where we are going. As the Quran states, "We are closer to you than your jugular vein."
In the darkness, there is light. It shines from each person and object, plant, and animal. The light of the light shines in each heart as presence, as peace. Today, now the sixth day of Chanukah, I have the aim of inhabiting that light in the silence of my heart and relating to the light in the luminous world.