Sunday, 1 December 2013

Hope: It is better to light one candle than curse the darkness

There is an old Chinese proverb that has become the motto of Amnesty International “It is better to light one candle than curse the darkness.”

I like it. It speaks to me of the purpose of our lives. To live in such a way as to bring light into places of darkness and not just sit back and complain and blame. To live with Hope, not necessarily optimism, but definitely Hope. To do what we can. To live in faith and not to be paralysed by fear.

I have a great love of the "Holy Fool" Mulla Nasruddin. His seeming foolishness has a way of revealing profound truths. Here is one short tale.

Nasruddin was once asked:

"What do you think is most valuable to us the sun or the moon?"

He thought for a while and then he responded:

“Well, the sun is out during the daytime when there is light. The moon, on the other hand, provides light during the night when it’s dark. Thus, the moon is obviously much more valuable.”

Good old Nasrudin the "Holy Fool" the bringer of un-common sense. Now perhaps you are thinking what a ridiculous thing to say but please do look beyond the obvious here. Please put aside your literal faculties. There is a deep truth here. One light is a priceless commodity during times of darkness but of no real value when it is already light.

Here’s another short little wisdom tale for you...

Once there lived a blind man in a small town. He always carried a lighted lamp in his hand whenever he went out at night.

On one dark night he was going his merry way, lighted lamp in his hand, when he passed a group of young men travelling the other way.

On seeing the blind man they began to make fun of him, saying " O Blind man why do you carry the lighted lamp. You are blind and cannot see anything?"

At which the blind man politely responded, "This lamp is not for me, but for you people who have eyes. You may not see a blind man coming and walk right into him.”

At this the young men fell silent, looked at one another uncomfortably, apologised and shuffled off...

“It is better to light one candle than curse the darkness.”

One candle in the darkness speaks of what "Hope" is actually all about. Vaclav Havel wrote beautifully of "Hope" in the following poem. Hope as he says is not the same as optimism.

“Hope” by Vaclav Havel

Hope is a state of mind, not a state of the world
Either we have hope within us or we don’t.
Hope is not a prognostication—it’s an orientation of the spirit.
You can’t delegate that to anyone else.

Hope in this deep and powerful sense is not the same as joy
when things are going well,
or the willingness to invest in enterprises
that are obviously headed for early success,
but rather an ability to work for something to succeed.

Hope is definitely NOT the same as optimism.
It’s not the conviction that something will turn out well,
but the certainty that something makes sense,
regardless of how it turns out.

It is hope, above all, that gives us strength to live
and to continually try new things,
even in conditions that seem as hopeless as ours do, here and now.
In the face of this absurdity, life is too precious a thing
to permit its devaluation by living pointlessly, emptily,
without meaning, without love, and, finally, without hope.

To paraphrase Vaclav Havel “ Hope is an orientation of the spirit...It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense regardless of how it turns out.”

Now people understand spirit differently. For me it is something that is present within each and everyone one of us and all life for that matter. I agree with Havel I see "Hope" as an orientation of this spirit. Hope is something that breathes life into us, something that fires us, something that sustains us, regardless of what is going on around us.

Hope should never be confused with blind optimism or unrealistic expectation for the future. If life has taught me anything it has shown me that things rarely turn out they way we expect them too. I always remain sceptical of “sooth sayers” or those who claim to be able to predict the future. None of us know what is coming.

Hope is something different it is an orientation of the spirit, it is something that holds us and sustains us right here right now. This may sound like a strange thing to say as we enter into Advent. After all “Advent” is derived from “adventus”, which means coming. It is a period of expectation, of anticipation; it is a time for waiting; it is a time for preparation. In the Christian tradition it is the time marked out for preparation for the coming of the new hope in the Christ Child. This suggests that it is a time to get ready for the hope that is to come and not something that is already here, already present within us.

I do not take the traditional view. Instead for me Advent symbolises the hope that is born in every child. For every night a child is born is a holy night. Every life is a blessing. Every life has that same spirit flowing through it. Last Sunday I had the privilege of blessing my friend John’s daughter Erin. During the ceremony I touched her head, her hands and her feet; during the ceremony I blessed her thoughts and words and deeds. To me this was symbolic of awakening that orientation of the spirit, a watering of the seed of Hope already planted within her.

I am reminded here of those beautiful words by Sophia Lyon Fah’s, so appropriate for this time of year.

“And so the children come.
And so they have been coming.
Always in the same way they come --
Born of the seed of man and woman.
No angels herald their beginnings,
No prophets predict their future courses,
No wise men see a star to point their way
To find a babe that may save humankind.
Yet each night a child is born is a holy night.
Fathers and Mothers --
Sitting beside their children's cribs --
Feel glory in the wond'rous sight of life beginning.
They ask: "When or how will this new life end?
Or will it ever end?"
Each night a child is born is a holy night”

Every night a child is born is a holy night just as every day is a holy day. Each life is a blessing and a new hope. Each of us are made of the same stuff and have the potential to bring hope to the world. We each have that same spirit within us. We each can bless our world in so many ways. This is the hope I see in all of us, in all life. This hope can come from what we do and how we are. This is why each week when I deliver the Benediction, the blessing, at the end of the service I ask those present to carry that loving spirit with them “in all that we feel, all that we think, all that we say and all that we do”. It is my attempt to ask us to go out into our world and bless our world in daily interactions. It is so easy to despair at life and give up, but I believe in hope, in that inclination of the spirit. I believe in that old Chinese proverb “It is better to light one candle than curse the darkness.” Each week I ask us to be candles, to bring some light into our world. To do what we can. To me this is living religiously; to me this is the essence of true religion. It’s not just about what we think, or feel, or believe or reject, it is a way of being; it is an orientation of the heart. It’s about spirit coming to life; it’s about spirit incarnating.

My hope is that we can be blessings to our world; that we can bring glad tidings of comfort and joy to our world. Our world needs it we all need it.

With this in mind I thought I'd share some insights on blessing by the late John O’Donohue:

“Who has the power to bless? This question is not to be answered simply by the description of one’s institutional status or membership. But perhaps there are deeper questions hidden here: What do you bless with? Or where do you bless from? When you bless another, you first gather yourself; you reach below your surface mind and personality, down to the deeper source within you—namely, the soul. Blessing is from soul to soul.”

John teaches that a blessing brings wholeness that is intended not just for the one who receives it; it is linked with the wholeness of the whole world, to the wholeness of eternity. He says that:

“We never see the script of our lives; nor do we know what is coming toward us, or why our life takes on this particular shape or sequence. A blessing is different from a greeting, a hug, a salute, or an affirmation; it opens a different door in human encounter. One enters into the forecourt of the soul, the source of intimacy and the compass of destiny.

Our longing for the eternal kindles our imagination to bless. Regardless of how we configure the eternal, the human heart continues to dream of a state of wholeness, a place where everything comes together, where loss will be made good, where blindness will transform into vision, where damage will be made whole, where the clenched question will open in the house of surprise, where the travails of life’s journey will enjoy a homecoming. To invoke a blessing is to call some of that wholeness upon a person now.”

I have a request for you who read this piece; I have a request to you this Advent season. My request  is for you to use your power to bless all that you meet, to bring that orientation of the spirit to life. I also ask that you open yourselves up to the blessings this season offers to you, from one another and from all life, for that same spirit is present in everything. That spirit links us to the wholeness of life and the wholeness of eternity. It links us from our souls to the universal, to the eternal soul.

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