A Promising Fire
One of the first books I ever bought on religion as a child was not a Bible, not a picture book, it was this book. The Bhagavad Gita. Perhaps the colorful cover lured me in, perhaps there was a calling to its poetry and words that I did not know yet — sometimes life tells us who we are before we even know it fully.
This book did not sit and collect dust, it was not forgotten, it was a serious investment. I read it cover to cover. Then I read it cover to cover again, jotting down passages and putting brackets around phrases to go back to. I poured over this epic story, which was quite challenging for me to read at the time, and was enchanted by its words.
From that point on I was hooked on Hinduism. The imagery, the stories, the music, the language, the many gods and goddesses, and the celebrations — I couldn’t get enough. I suspect I drove my Hindu friends at school nuts then. I was this little scrawny red head asking constantly about their culture and religion. But that enchantment continues to this day.
Now, the Bhagavad Gita does not deal with the holiday celebrated by the worlds Hindus, Jains, Sikhs, and some Buddhist a few days ago — Diwali — the festival of lights. But for me, it was an entryway into learning about this bright and wonderful festival for myself.
For Hindus specifically, it is a day where Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, is celebrated. Stories of good triumphing over evil are shared, people clean their homes, buy new outfits, and wear their best clothes.
They buy gifts for one another — making it one of the biggest shopping seasons in India — and there are fireworks, gatherings, parades, concerts, bazaars, and millions of lights dotting the landscape, floating down the ganges river, and setting ablaze the skylines of cities.
It’s as if people are shouting to the darkness around them — we will not give up, we will celebrate and light fires for all to see. It is the happiest of holidays in the Hindu world.
It can be hard to see the value of such a ritual holiday — not just in Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism — but in all religions, there is year and year again some practice that celebrates the glory of the light and the beginning again of hope.
In our world, a world of Paris and Beirut, one can wonder why bother when so many lives continue to be needlessly lost. Where is the victory of the light in such a world? Where is the warmth of so many tiny flames bursting forth to overcome encroaching chaos?
We ritualize our lives, we light candles, we ride along the wheel of the year — not because there are certain outcomes we know will occur, but because we are creatures of unbridled hope. To lose our hope is to lose a piece of our humanity — and in a world where the City of Lights finds itself darkened, we need our moments to mark the myths and stories that enrich, inspire, and guide us into new possibilities for the days ahead more than ever.
And so, the largest and brightest of festivals in Hinduism, Diwali, with all of it’s sparkling and twinkling lights, with it’s finery, with it’s unlimited hope, reminds us that we, too, can still find restoration in a world that tell us otherwise. History tell us that goodness and mercy more often than not prevail — but even then it is no certain thing.
We will face many days in our lives that remind us of the events in Paris, but rather than despair, we can light candles, say prayers, gather and mark the passing of moments with one another — we can choose to bring meaning to our lives, we can choose to tell those who would bring ugliness to our world “No, we walk in beauty. We will not lose hope because you have hardened your heart.” If ever there was a contemporary definition of religion, it would be this, we gather because we have not lost hope.
And so for our friends in the Hindu world and beyond, they have the hope of Diwali, and for us right here, we have the hope of the coming moment. Today, we welcome into this gathering of hopeful people 18 new members that have said yes to our religious way of life, that have said yes to the work of restoring our world, that have said yes to being members of this church.
Very shortly, you, the members of this congregation, will say yes to them as well. You will welcome them, love them, invite them to be involved — but don’t invite them to chair a committee just yet. When we are faced with a world where the events of Paris are a possibility, gatherings such as these are a way to tell those who would extinguish the light, no, the light of our hearts will not go out.
We will share that light with others, just as we are in this moment, and we will never lose hope. So kindle a flame in your heart, for yes there is sadness in this world, but today we also have great joy. There is hope. Welcome.