Violence and terrorist attacks, stunning electoral decisions, rampant carnage and massive population displacements, the use of the Internet to intimidate ordinary people and spread falsehoods and bigotry, a resurgence of extreme political parties: these are some of the distressing events of 2016 that occurred around the world.
The fact that the year advances in the northern hemisphere near the time of the winter solstice might seem to intensify a sense of growing darkness and gloom. Even the respective Jewish and Christian celebrations of the Festival of Lights (Chanukah) and the incarnation of the Light of the World (Christmas) might seem dimmed in the face of widespread uncertainty and confusion.
In thinking about this, I recalled a passage from one of my favorite works of fiction. In J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, two insignificant little people are trying to conceal themselves during a hopeless quest. Their journey has brought them to a blasted and polluted and dead landscape, enshrouded in smoke and reek, leeching the very life out of them. But then (slightly edited):
Sam crawled out from the hiding-place and looked out. The land, a wilderness of fear, seemed full of creaking and cracking and sly noises, but here was no sound of voice or of foot. Far above the mountains in the West the night-sky was still dim and pale. There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark projection high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing; there was light and high beauty forever beyond its reach. Now, for a moment, his own fate ceased to trouble him. He crawled back into the brambles and laid himself by Frodo’s side, and putting away all fear he cast himself into a deep and untroubled sleep. [J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings (Collector’s Edition; Boston Houghton Mifflin, 1987), III, 199.]
Light and beauty forever beyond the reach of darkness. It seems to me that those who account themselves children of Abraham carry the light of walking in covenant with the Holy One, a light ever more precious in what often appears to be a darkening world. I would like to think that this covenantal light shines brighter whenever dialogue and collaboration and mutual learning takes places among people of different religious communities.
As the year 2017 commences, let us be inspired by our religious rituals of light, especially in times when the shadows appear to be deepening. Let us join together ever more purposefully in being living lights of interreligious solidarity and friendship. Let us be confident in the Light and beauty that is forever beyond the reach of darkness.
A blessed 2017 to all!