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Faith, Hope, Joy and Light

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Saying "yes" to the god question. It’s how Andrew, Jennifer, Tracie, Yvette and I oversimplify a question we’re sometimes asked on tours, by parents considering Friends School, who ask: “So, is Friends a religious school, a spiritual school, or just a cool school with some soul?

I think the best answer to that question, to those options, is simply “Yes!” And I hope that that “yes” leaves room for you, as it does for me, to continue to explore.

As San Francisco Friends School’s tallest student, I cherish my opportunities to learn all that I can from faith traditions, including Bahá'í, Catholic, Jewish, Islamic, Protestant, including Quaker, as well as orientations, including agnosticism and atheism, in our community, where in many, many different ways we celebrate a sense of awe, the sense that we are part of something larger than ourselves.

My favorite lesson learned this holiday season is from Judaism, and more specifically, from Rabbi Jen Feldman of Chapel Hill Kehillah. Perhaps you’ve heard her reflection or a version of it. It strikes me as poignant for all of us as we begin a period of pause, of joy and reflection, and of renewal in preparation for the new year.

I know that the Jewish celebration of Hanukkah began this year on Tuesday, December 12th and that it ended yesterday, December 20th. I know, too, that Hanukkah is a celebration of the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem. And I know that this celebration, a festival lights, is marked by food, games, prayer, and the lighting of the eight candles of the Menorah—in order to remember how the cruse of oil that was supposed to burn for just one day lasted for eight.

What Rabbi Feldman said that has captured my attention is this: Why not celebrate Hanukkah, then, for just seven days? What was so special, miraculous about the flame of the first day, if the oil necessary for one day was already in hand?  

Or was the miracle of the first day different from all the rest—wasn’t the miracle that the people chose to start the fire at all, without any certainty that the oil would last?

On the first night of Hanukkah, then, we remember and honor and remind ourselves of the will and courage required to light in the face of the unknown. As Rabbi Feldman suggests, “The first candle celebrates the triumph of hopeful action over despair and darkness.”

During these days that cause their own versions of darkness and despair, as we head toward our winter break and a new year inspired by the music of this Winter Celebration, my hope is that each of us may savor a deep breath, joy and reflection with family and friends, and renewal that animates our commitment to be sources of light in 2018.