January 11, 2011 | The Rev. Dr. Scott Stoner
"Light One Candle"In the face of tragedy and loss, human beings turn to rituals, both secular and sacred, to help them remember and pay tribute to those who have died and to help themselves bear the loss. We have seen this again in response to the tragic violence that took place earlier last week in Omaha, Nebraska and and then Saturday on Tucson, Arizona. Rituals are grounded in deep and enduring truths, and therefore provide us some small amount of order in the midst of the chaos we are experiencing.
Two public rituals have taken place several times in the last several days. The first ritual is that of people gathering together for a moment of silence. This simple ritual reminds me of the profound importance of simply taking time to be still, to quiet my flooded emotions long enough so I can listen to what I need to learn and what I might need to do differently in response to what has happened. It helps me to begin to formulate a response, rather than merely experiencing a reaction.
The second public ritual that frequently occurs in response to a tragedy is the holding of a candlelight vigil. Several vigils have already been held at the places of the shootings, and at other public places. I find them comforting and encouraging because the candles say to me, “One person at a time, we are going to do our part to bring our light to shine in the midst of the darkness of this unspeakable tragedy.” It is important to note that both of these rituals, the moments of silence and the candlelight vigils, are public rituals that involve large groups of people. We could each, of course, create a moment of silence or light a candle in the privacy of our own homes, but the point of all public rituals, both sacred and secular, is to represent the power of people supporting each other as they stand for what is right and what is just.
The candlelight vigils also remind of me of an ancient proverb that says, “It is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.” Notice that it doesn’t say we shouldn’t curse the darkness. There is certainly a time, such as now, to curse the darkness when we have witnessed it in such a raw and primitive way. Cursing the darkness though is the easy part. Trying to figure out what light you and I can bring to shine in the midst of the darkness requires a great deal more reflection and effort.
Random acts of violence happen often in our world, but so do random acts of love and kindness. The former get more than their share of attention, the later often do not and so one might think that violence is winning out. Call me naive, call me a dreamer, but I truly believe that in the long run, in the overall scheme of things, love is stronger than violence and fear. My faith tells me this is true, and so does my experience as a pastor and a therapist. In those roles I have been privileged to walk with countless victims of horrific violence (emotional, sexual, physical--including violence from guns) as they have courageously found a way to heal their hurt and go on to live and love again. These people are living candles, living proof that the light is indeed stronger than the darkness.
This coming Monday is Martin Luther King Day, and one of his quotes comes to mind in light of what I have written. “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” My hope and prayer is that after the moments of silence and candlelight vigils are over, we can each find the courage to raise our voices against hatred and shine the light of our love in the midst of whatever darkness we encounter in our particular corner of the world.
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