It takes friction to light a match. An intentional drag against a rough surface, a push. It always comes with a bit of magic to me when the inanimate match, sleeping for however long in its bed comes to life with pressed fingers and the flick of the wrist. A flame released from some home within discovered from its invisible shell sent round the wood to warm the splinter.
This is, of course, a necessary act around this time of year unless you prefer the lighter option, with built in rock and flint, when we bring out our menorahs to light candles as a part of the holiday of Chanukah. The light of this holiday like the match flame, one brought out by design, with a glow and bit of magic. This holiday, appropriately named the Festival of Lights, reminds us of the power of light during the darkest time of the year. During this season, the sun sets right around the time we finish work, and 8 pm carries with it a quiet reserved for 2 am during the rest of the year. The days are shorter, and while it’s good to get rest, we need more light than the day can give us, so we light our lamps and live by artificial light to stretch out the waking hours. Our holiday of Chanukah reminds us to do this, to reach out and brighten our days, but I think it also shows us a little bit of how.
Chanukah in truth is a festival of defiance. The story goes like this… The Syrian Greeks take over Jerusalem, and force the Israelites to live differently than they chose. Many allow themselves to slink into this existence, living in such a way that doesn’t express who they are for the ever-present path of least resistance, but there is a group that flees to the hills and stakes out camp against the warring Syrian Greeks. The history continues to chart the usual back and forth between fighting parties until finally the Israelites, under the leadership of the Maccabees succeed in retaking Jerusalem. The dedication ceremony reverberates today in our community as the celebration of Chanukah, literally: dedication.
The holiday is a symbol of the vibrancy of defiance, of pushing back. Of that moment of achieving a respite from the darker forces of the world for eight days. In fact, the story continues in the books of the Maccabees where after victory the family of leaders grow complacent. They turn lethargic in their rule, bereft of the charge of mission clarified by defiance against an enemy.
And so, like many great stories, this one offers us an invitation to keep pushing. This is the time of year when we start to settle into our couches, that comfy spot so long neglected by other activities. It is good and very important to rest, to learn not only to go with the flow of things, but to give ourselves time to recharge our batteries and unwind our minds. That said, sometimes, to keep our hearts alive we have to stay active, to push back at the course of things a little and against the dark and the cold. To find something that challenges us, or to challenge the lurking glaze of winter itself, pushing back, offering friction, and igniting a small but growing flame, eight nights in a row.