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“Kindling Love”

By T. Thorn Coyle


“Justice is what love looks like in public.” – Dr. Cornel West

In the Northern Hemisphere right now, the days are shorter, darker, and often colder.

Every religion has its traditions designed to bring more light into the world. My tradition honors the Winter Solstice, the day when the ancients thought the sun stopped in the sky. The shortest day. The longest night. Even in Northern California, where we pray for rain to soak our parched gold hills back to green, I feel this darkness in my bones.

To kindle light in darkness is not to curse the dark. It is to honor the dark as that which obscures things, holding them in secret and deep mystery. Things sleep in darkness. Seeds gestate. And sometimes, in the darkness, we trip and stumble over things we cannot see. This helps us learn.

As a Pagan, I welcome the lessons of darkness. I welcome the chance to look into my own soul and see what might be hiding there. This Winter, many things that have been hiding in the deep night of our culture are coming to light. Many of these things are not pretty. We see the ugliness of racism and xenophobia. We see the killing of Black men and women, the attacks on Muslims, the shootings, the settings of fires, and the breaking of glass.

What I want to remind us of is this: we are seeing these things rising from the darkness because so many of us are kindling lights: We are standing up for justice. We are welcoming strangers. We are offering hospitality. We are saying no to greed. All of these are virtues in many of our religious traditions, including my own. The Gods and Goddesses often come to us in disguise. By honoring the stranger, we honor that which is sacred.

We place a light in our window, offering a beacon to those who need help finding a home.

These are the times in which we must ponder how to honor the virtues we uphold. In times of darkness, we reflect the ways in which we have or have not been acting in ways that speak our religious ideals to one another. For me, this means I look at whether or not I have been honoring the sacred as I encounter it each day.

For me, this means I examine what rests in my own dark corners, and ask myself how I’ve been helping others get through this longest night.

We are in a long night right now, and not just because the Solstice is near. We need one another to make it through. We need warmth, and conversation, and good will, and hospitality, and we need these not just for our immediate friends and families, but for everyone in need. Right now, that includes those who are homeless, those who need refuge, for the poor, and those oppressed because of race or religion.

If kindling light on the longest night reminds us that dawn will come again, we can recall the dawn that is possible within each of us, regardless of religion, background, race, or gender. We can recall, too, that good things grow in fertile darkness. We don’t have to give in to despair.

I stand with my Muslim brothers, sisters, and siblings. I vow to protect you to the best of my ability, and to welcome you with open arms. I share with you the Book of Nature that reminds me of our interdependence. That reminds us we are all holy.

I stand with everyone in need in these potent times.

We can find the hope inside of us that kindles the new light. Though we don’t know how long this night will last, together, we can greet the dawn, and build a new day.

Choose love.

This reflection was originally published by the Parliament of the World’s Religions on December 18, 2015.