Shards of light

Posted by on 12.08.07 | No Comments
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After Apple Picking

by Robert Frost

My long two-pointed ladder’s sticking through a tree
Toward heaven still.
And there’s a barrel that I didn’t fill
Beside it, and there may be two or three
Apples I didn’t pick upon some bough.
But I am done with apple-picking now.
Essence of winter sleep is on the night,
The scent of apples; I am drowsing off.
I cannot shake the shimmer from my sight
I got from looking through a pane of glass
I skimmed this morning from the water-trough,
And held against the world of hoary grass.
It melted, and I let it fall and break.
But I was well
Upon my way to sleep before it fell,
And I could tell
What form my dreaming was about to take.

(italics mine–Beth)

I beg pardon in advance for what I am about to do…but I’m going to mash Robert Frost and Hanukkah together as if they were the makings of some special cider.

Nearly 2,200 years ago, the Greek-Syrian ruler Antiochus IV tried to force Greek culture upon peoples in his territory. Jews in Judea—now Israel—were forbidden their most important religious practices as well as study of the Torah. Although vastly outnumbered, religious Jews in the region took up arms to protect their community and their religion. Led by Mattathias the Hasmonean, and later his son Judah the Maccabee, the rebel armies became known as the Maccabees.

After three years of fighting, in the year 3597, or about 165 B.C.E., the Maccabees victoriously reclaimed the temple on Jerusalem’s Mount Moriah. Next they prepared the temple for rededication—in Hebrew, Hanukkah means “dedication.” In the temple they found only enough purified oil to kindle the temple light for a single day. But miraculously, the light continued to burn for eight days.

Hanukkah, the “Festival of Lights,” starts on the 25th day of the Jewish calendar month of Kislev and lasts for eight days and nights. In 2007 Hanukkah began at sundown on December 4. With blessings, games, and festive foods, Hanukkah celebrates the triumphs—both religious and military—of ancient Jewish heroes.

Hanukkah is a relatively minor holiday in the Jewish year. In the United States, however, its closeness to Christmas has brought greater attention to Hanukkah and its gift-giving tradition. Amid the ever-growing flood of Christmas hype, it seems especially fitting that the Hanukkah story tells of Jewish culture surviving in a non-Jewish world.

This miracle of fire that consumes nothing that can be understood by our rational mind is especially meaningful to me. As an initiated firekeeper in the Sacred Fire Community, I take the non-rational world as seriously and lightly as I can hold both in balance. This Community is fueled by an ancient ceremony that has been loaned to us by an ancient indigenous peoples–the Huichols of central Mexico. The Huichols honor Grandfather Fire by living as if the fire that combusts in their bodily cells and the cells of all that surrounds them is sacred. All of creation, including the rocks, mountains, water, metal is alive. Fire is what warms and melds all towards an appreciation, if not understanding, of this miracle.

Once, not long ago, as I underwent yet another spiritual metamorphoses, my spiritual director reminded me that my particular vision of what’s left after a piece of wood is burnt as ‘just ashes’ was a little myopic. He reminded me that the light and heat that come from the burning are as real as the things I can see and touch (ashes). This simple understanding of the miracle–by definition something that cannot be understood but only honored–of the transformation of our hearts from cold to warm, from separate to one, burns in me as I write.

And so, you might ask, what do ancient and present miracles and apple-picking have to do with each other? And you thought I had gone down a rabbit hole that I couldn’t get back out of, didn’t you!

Surviving and thriving in a world that primarly honors the scientific: what can be touched, measured, seen, etc. when our soul lives in a world that is not linear, not measurable, not this, not that–fueled by a fire that burns nothing that is observable is a challenge. The post-modern (and of course pre-modern) view of the world becomes stronger with each breath. I’m not Jewish, but this burning part of me understands on that level, what it must be like to feel like a stranger in an even stranger land.

As a friend that I have not yet met, but have always felt close to, Robert Frost says:

…The scent of apples; I am drowsing off.
I cannot shake the shimmer from my sight
I got from looking through a pane of glass
I skimmed this morning from the water-trough,
And held against the world of hoary grass.
It melted, and I let it fall and break.
But I was well
Upon my way to sleep before it fell,
And I could tell
What form my dreaming was about to take.

The shimmer of light and heat, as through a shard of icy-glass, warms me. Thank you, my dear Jewish friends, for holding the light for all these millenia, against the world of supposed enlightenment, modernity and such not. Your wisdom about the miracle of the Light that invades us, supports and burns us alive, is the part of the profundity of the miracle.

Sweet Hanukkah to each of you–Jewish and non-Jewish alike.

Beth, VTH Host

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