A Candle in the Dark
-in my meditation garden-
There is a phrase in the Christian burial service that at first appears to be contradictory. Standing graveside, the priest pronounces that we come to the grave with a "sure and certain hope."
How can "hope" be sure and certain?
When people use the word "hope," they imply that something "may" be true or "might" possibly happen: "I hope the weather will clear up; I hope I get the job; I hope my child gets accepted into college; I hope the economy will improve; I hope that when I die, life will somehow still go on."
When we "hope" for something, we are hardly sure and certain.
And yet, I think that authentic "hope" is far more than wishful thinking about what might possibly happen. In fact, I believe that authentic hope is indeed always sure and certain.
For me, one of the most illustrative examples of authentic "hope" is found in something once said by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
In his times, Dr. King was immersed in an ocean of deep darkness. Living in the 21st century, we can almost not even imagine the degree of racial degradation and oppression found in the society of his day. Along with the thousands of his fellow protesters, Dr. King was beaten and abused, his house was burned, he was thrown in jail. He had every reason in the world to despair.
Yet, even in the midst of the deepest, darkest, bleakest times, King pronounced:
The moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends towards justice
I actually think he was saying "I have sure and certain hope" that justice will prevail.
He wasn't saying I "hope" that "maybe" one day justice will prevail. He wasn't engaging in some wishful thinking (even against the odds). He was saying that ultimately justice "will" happen because the universe bends towards justice, and ultimately justice "will" prevail. He was sure and certain of this, and this is what made him hopeful.
In these long December nights, when the darkness prevails over the daylight hours, it is the custom of various religious traditions to light candles.
Candles on the Hanukkah Menorah are lit to recall the victory of light over the enemies of justice and forces of darkness. Christians light candles on the Christian Advent wreath to announce that "the Christ" is born anew among us - a light of love shining brightly even in a world where the night seems to be winning over the day.
In fact, the first of the four candles of the Advent wreath is referred to as a candle of "hope."
The nights are long. People suffer. The world is filled with injustice. However, this is a season of "hope"- a power greater than us prevails in this tired old world - a Holy Presence abides. The world is chaotic; and yet in the midst of all the chaos, a force of Universal Love brightly glows.
And so I go into my garden and I light a candle in the dark.
I have hope- a sure and certain hope.
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