Look to the light, the light in the window, The simple lit candles that shimmer and shine. The message is clear as simple lit candles, The passion for freedom is yours and is mine. – Rabbi Dan Grossman
December is a month rich in the holy days of the Abrahamic traditions. Jews celebrate Hanukkah, a commemoration of the Jewish reclamation of The Temple of Jerusalem in 164 B.C.E. Christians celebrate Advent – a period of waiting for the birth of Christ – followed by His birth, Christmas. Muslims celebrate the birth of the Prophet in November or December depending on the lunar calendar. We do not need faith to appreciate the beautiful poems, music and artwork inspired by our religions, Abrahamic or others.
Look to the Light
In 164 B.C.E., the Syrians who ruled Israel took away the Jews’ right to practice their religion. Led by Judah Maccabee the Jews rebelled and succeeded in reclaiming their sovereignty and they rededicated The Temple of Jerusalem. The history of the celebration of Hanukkah has had some interesting turns in more recent times.
There’s a story of a young Polish soldier in then General George Washington’s army who held a solitary Hanukkah celebration on a cold night in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. The soldier gently placed his family’s menorah in the snow and lighted the first of eight candles for the first night of Hanukkah. The man was perhaps a bit homesick and missing his family. He must have thought about how much they’d suffered over time from religious persecution. There were tears in his eyes when General Washington found him. Washington wondered what the young man was doing and why he was crying. The soldier told his general the story of Maccabee and the other Jews. It is said that Washington was heartened by the telling and moved on to battle and victory. That menorah is now on display at the Smithsonian Museum.
Yet another story surfaces in 1993 Billings, Montana where a family was lighting their menorah one night. As is custom, they placed the lighted menorah in the front window of their home where it was stoned by anti-Semites, as were the homes of other Jewish families that same evening. The town newspaper printed dozens of menorahs. Rev. Keith Torney, a minister of the First Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, distributed them to all the Christians and the paper menorahs were placed in windows all over Billings as a sign of solidarity and of respect for the freedom to practice religion as one’s conscience dictates.
Look to the Light is a commemorative poem written by Rabbi Daniel Grossman and set to music by Meira Warshauer. Enjoy! … but if you are viewing this from an email subscription, you’ll have to link through to the web/zine to view and hear it.
The Ode of Theotokos (Song of the God Bearer)
It is only in the Gospel of Luke that we read of Mary’s recitation of this poem that harkens back to Jewish prophecy and is constructed in the traditional verse style of the times with mirroring and synonymous parallelism.
From the Book of Common Prayer
My soul doth magnify the Lord: and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.
For he hath regardeded: the lowliness of his handmaiden.
For behold, from henceforth : all generations shall call me blessed.
For he that is mighty hath magnified me : and holy is his Name.
And his mercy is on them that respect him : throughout all generations.
He hath shewed strength with his arm : he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He hath put down the mighty from their seat : and hath exalted the humble and meek.
He hath filled the hungry with good things : and the rich he hath sent empty away.
He remembering his mercy hath holden his servant Israel : as he promised to our forefathers, Abraham and his seed for ever.
The Prophet’s Nativity
One poem that celebrates Mawlid, the birth of the Prophet, is exceptionally sweet. It was written by the Turkish Süleyman Çelebi (also known as Süleyman Of Bursa) who died in 1429. You’ll note that in addition to honoring the Prophet Mohammad, it honors three mothers: Asiya the mother of Moses, Mary the mother of Jesus, and Amina the mother of the Prophet.
Mevlûd-i Peygamberi, Hymn of the Prophet’s Nativity
Some have said that of these charming three
One was Asiya of moonlike face,
One was Lady Mary without doubt,
And the third a houri beautiful.
Then these moonfaced three drew gently near
And they greeted me with kindness here;
Then they sat around me, and they gave
The good tidings of Muhammad’s birth;
Said to me: “A son like this your son
Has not come since God has made this world,
And the Mighty One did never grant
Such a lovely son as will be yours.
You have found great happiness,
O dear, For from you that virtuous one is born!
He that comes is King of Knowledge high,
Is the mine of gnosis and tawhid*
For the love of him the sky revolves,
Men and jinn are longing for his face.
This night is the night that he, so pure
Will suffuse the worlds with radiant light!
This night, earth becomes a Paradise,
This night God shows mercy to the world.
This night those with heart are filled with joy,
This night gives the lovers a new life.
Mercy for the worlds is Mustafa,
Sinners’ intercessors: Mustafa!
“We Open Our Doors to Today’s Josephs and Marys Despite ICE’s Plan to Deport them.” a statement of the Faith community
With Christmas upon us and so many people on the move, escaping violence and civil unrest, many Christians look at the suffering of those refugees and remind themselves and one another that these are the Josephs and Marys of our modern world, the people who can’t “find a room at the inn.” In the United States, the battle to protect immigrants from deportation back to the violent environments they’ve come here to escape is lead by faith leaders – Christian, Jewish and Unitarian Universalists.
Although “sanctuary” has its roots in ancient Hebrew tradition and early Christianity, the movement in the United States, one that is both political and religious, began in the early 80s as a response to federal immigration policy. It sought to provide safe-haven for Central American refugees escaping violence. At its height 500 congregations in the United States declared themselves official sanctuaries “committed to providing shelter, material goods and often legal advice to Central American refugees.” Movement members who acted in defiance of federal law where often arrested and put on trial.
A resurgence of the Sanctuary Movement began in 2014 when, in defiance of a court order to stop detaining children, the Obama administration increased the detention of families by 173%, subsequently announcing it would search for and deport asylum-seeking families. The resurgent Movement put public pressure on the Obama Administration, which led to the President’s Executive Action on Immigration on November 20, 2014.
If you are reading this post from an email, you’ll have to link through to the site to watch this brief video of President Obama using his executive authority to address as much of the problem as he could while he kept working with Congress to pass more comprehensive reform.
Now the Sanctuary Movement has announced its intention to play “a critical role again in responding to the post-election reality wherein fear, discrimination and xenophobia have taken a new precedence in our country’s politics. Since the Trump administration has promised to deport millions, people of faith have a moral responsibility to act. Sanctuary is a tool that helps escalate these efforts by offering our neighbors who face a deportation order, safe refuge and sanctuary in our congregations.”
Do you have experience with this issue as a refugee/immigrant, the American born child of an undocumented immigrant, or as a teacher, faith leader or community worker involved in providing services? Perhaps you are someone who has seen a neighbor disappear? Share your story. Write about the issues from your unique perspective.
Maybe you live in one of the countries that has had and continues to have a flood of refugees out of Syria. Write about your concerns. What are you seeing? What are your feelings? Has your life changed as a result?
Consider submitting this work to be considered for the January 15 issue of The BeZine. The theme is “Resist” and the deadline is January 10. Send your submission to firstname.lastname@example.org
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