Faith Matters: Of light and darkness

  • The Rev. Linda Neas decorates a holiday tree in front of her South Deerfield home. December 1, 2017. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • The Rev. Linda Neas decorates a holiday tree in front of her South Deerfield home. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

Friday, December 08, 2017

(Each Saturday, a faith leader in Franklin County offers a personal perspective in this space. To become part of this series, email religion@recorder.com or call 413-772-0261, ext. 265.)

During November and December, people around the world begin to observe celebrations of light. Long ago, ancient people realized that when the dark days came, the weather became colder, the crops stopped growing and the light of day was short. They prayed and offered sacrifices in the belief that this would bring the light back.

The advent of scientific research and the Age of Enlightenment brought the world discoveries into the origins of daily phenomena. Science showed us that the change in seasons is due to the rotation of the Earth around the Sun. The light leaves and returns, seasonally. Amazingly, many of the sacred sites around the world give testament to this phenomenon.

In researching the various celebrations of light — Diwali, the Solstice, Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanzaa — I began to wonder about the darkness. Is there anything good about being “in the dark?” Does light always have to shine, or does the dark bring us something positive, too? These are the questions I pondered as we entered this winter’s season of light.

In Genesis, we hear that, “He separated the light from the darkness … calling it night.” From the beginning of time, this duality of light and dark has existed. Yet, somehow the light came to symbolize good and the dark to symbolize bad or evil in many cultures, including ours today.

The Cherokee have a story of how the people were unsatisfied with day and night.

“Because the people were unhappy, they sent Eagle to ask Creator to give them 24 hours of light. This was wonderful at first, but soon everyone was exhausted. The babies and old people died because the food burnt in the fields. The people sent Eagle a second time to ask Creator to give them 24 hours of night, instead. This was wonderful at first, but soon the people realized that they couldn’t grow anything, and it got colder and colder. The babies and old people died because they were too cold. For a third time, the people asked Eagle to Creator for help. Eagle told Creator of all those who had died, which made Creator very sad. Eagle told Creator that the people wanted day and night to go back to the way it was. But, the Creator said, ‘No. We already tried that, and it did not work. I have a new plan. From now on only two days out of the year will have equal daylight and darkness. On those two days, we will call it the Equinox. Then, as the sun travels to the South, the days will get shorter and shorter, until it is the shortest day of the year. We will call that the Winter Solstice. Those who love the night will be happy. And, as the sun travels back to the North, over the Equinox, the days will grow longer and longer, until it is the longest day of the year. We will call that the Summer Solstice. Those who love the daylight will be happy. This you must tell the people.’ Finally, the people were happy.”

This parable teaches us that the light is as important as the dark. During this Season of Light, we are called to recognize the darkness; to find a balance between the two. New England author Og Mandino wrote most eloquently about this, saying, “I will love the light for it shows me the way, yet I will endure the darkness for it shows me the stars.” May we all find balance during the days ahead.

Rev. Linda M. Rhinehart Neas holds a Master’s in Education from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She graduated of the New Seminary in New York City as an ordained interfaith minister. Additional post-graduate studies include, World Religions through Their Scriptures, given by Harvard Divinity School. She holds membership in A World Association of Interfaith Ministers, Interfaith Ministers of New England, and the Interfaith Council of Franklin County. Rev. Neas can be reached at revlindaneas2013@gmail.com and www.facebook.com/revlindaneas/