In the northern hemisphere, the winter solstice – which is this Sunday – marks the longest night and the shortest day of the year. It’s a time of year where the sun’s arc appears lowest in the sky; a time when we’re reminded of our dependence on sunlight for warmth, growth and light and how much we miss it when it’s in short supply.
And, yet, while Sunday may be the day we’re invited to notice the diminished daylight and long noonday shadows, I can’t help but think that the darkest day has already happened this week. The longest shadows have already been cast. They occurred on Tuesday – the day when 145 people, including 132 children, were viciously attacked and killed at a school in Peshawar, Pakistan by nine Taliban gunmen. It was an act of the highest brutality and has been condemned around the world.
It seems painfully ironic that December is an important and holy month for many faiths and cultural traditions. The Jewish festival of lights, Hanukah, kicked off this week. Buddhists celebrated Bodhi Day on December 8, which commemorates the day of the Buddha’s enlightenment.Yule will be observed by pagan groups and fires will be lit to symbolize the heat and life-giving properties of the returning sun. Christmas and the celebration of the birth of Jesus, who has been called the savior and the light of the world, are around the corner. The seven principles of Kwanzaa – including unity, faith, purpose, and collective work and responsibility, to name a few – will be examined and celebrated later in the month throughout the world African community.
Candles, lights, special foods and celebrations abound this time of year. How are we to feel about it all in the wake of such horrible, sobering news? How can we make merry when a tragedy such as this one rips our hearts into shreds?
Dr. Maulana Karenga, the creator of Kwanzaa and professor at California State University, offers a reflection of this cultural celebration and its “Day of Meditation” that may begin to help us navigate our way through. He writes:
The Day of Meditation during Kwanzaa is the culminating point and place of our remembrance and reflection, and commitment calls on us to sit down and think deeply about ourselves in the world and measure ourselves in the mirror of the best of our culture to determine where we stand. We are to do this by raising, reflecting on and answering three basic questions. And these are: who am I; am I really who I am; and am I all I ought to be?
Each and every one of us must ask these questions on this day, but in a larger sense, ask every day and at every moment of our lives. For they are centering questions, questions of identity, purpose and direction; questions of anchoring principles and compelling practice to bring and sustain good in our lives and in the world.1
The death of these children – and brutal acts of violence that continue to plague our human existence – must be countered with our willingness to live our faith and values every day with intentional and courageous acts for justice and the greater good.
So, as we express gratitude on these December days for family and friends, as we enjoy the beauty and the best of this season, let’s also meditate on what this December is calling us to be – which I believe are people who must end the darkness of oppression and be the flickering lights of the world.
This must be our shared hope and highest common purpose.