Light is Stronger than Dark.
A single candle can illuminate the world. It’s the oldest human story of all.
Photo by Ehteshamul Haque Adit on Unsplash
“Look at how a single candle can both defy and define the darkness”
It’s deep winter. Snow’s been lying on the ground for days. The earth is hard.Birds eat and fight and eat again.
Sometimes they sing.
When the wind blows, if I’m outside, it’s like a layer of skin is peeling from my face and hands.
The days are short.From dawn to dusk the light is dull.
Even in the middle of the day, I keep my desk-lamp on.If the pale sun appears, my body pulls to it. I yearn. It’s like spotting an old friend I don’t hang out with anymore.
It’s winter, and I’m waiting for the coming of new light.
Eid, Diwali, Hanukah, dancing at dawn, feasting, marking the solstice:all are Festivals of Light — celebrations and rituals to mark light conquering dark.In Christianity — the culture I grew up in — the Festival of Light is Easter.
There is a death.
The sun is eclipsed and the world is plunged to darkness.
Three days later, resurrection.
That’s the story.
Easter grows from older rituals, marking the arrival of the spring. Rebirth. It’s named after ‘Ishtar’, whose return from the underworld is part of the oldest human story — Gilgamesh.
We know light conquers dark. Telling that story is at the heart of being human and alive.
I’m not religious, but the stories resonate anyway.
Now more than ever, when the world feels very dark.
I’ve spent a lot of time in Greece. Easter’s big there. Bigger than Christmas.
Their rituals span the whole three days — Friday through to Sunday: death, darkness, grieving, rebirth, light.
At exactly midnight between Saturday and Sunday, church bells ring, proclaiming the return of light to the world.
Hope returns.Light returns.Religious or not, people congregate at church on Saturday night to await and share that moment. Greek Orthodox liturgy broadcasts on speakers from the candle-guttering church to the crowd outside. The community gathers in the forecourt or the street.
It’s chaotic and full of life. People meet, laugh, chat, flirt, check their phones, wander off, meet old friends, wander back again. There are fireworks and shouts of greeting. Some dress up. Others come straight from work.
Old women dressed in black wander through the crowd as if they cannot any longer see the living, only the dead and soon-to-be-reborn.
Then it’s midnight. Bells ring.
The Hymn of the Resurrection pours from speakers.
Suddenly, there’s hope.We turn to greet, kiss or hug whoever’s closest to us — stranger or friend. We swap wishes and smiles. We let go of old dreams, adopt new ones.
Someone brings a candle from inside the church. Lit at the central altar, it’s carried to the crowd outside. We pull unlit candles from coat pockets and crowd together to light them from the flame that’s offered us.
One candle lights several.
Several light many more.
Light grows from its single source to illuminate the world.
There’s enough for everyone.
The symbolism is clear, precise and beautiful.
It’s birdsong.It’s hope.
One year I spent Easter working on the Greek Island of Lesvos.
On Saturday night, along with most of Mytilini — the main town — I stood outside the church, greeting friends and tasting how it was to live a different way.
Mytilini is a sea port and the church is close to the water’s edge.
There’s always wind. It blows from the sea. It returns to the sea. Constant flow and transformation.
At midnight, the ritual plays out.
People laugh and hug.
A candle is brought from inside to the crowd outside.
I light my candle from the offered flame.
There’s a gust of wind.
My flame blows out.
Some protect their flames better than me.
Many don’t, and their flames blow out too.
That’s what wind does; it blows out unprotected flames, or flames not strong enough to survive the moment that they’re in.
I have a choice.I can mourn my loss, curse the wind for doing what wind does. I can wallow in sadness and walk home alone and in the dark. I can give up on life and light.
Or, I can find someone whose light is burning still, and huddle close to them. I can relight my light from theirs. With the holder of a burning flame, I can make community. We can protect each other from the wind.
We can share light.
Perhaps others will join us and our lights will strengthen.
Perhaps, once our light is strong enough, we’ll leave our huddle and pass through the crowd, sharing light with others who are alone and in the dark.
Somtimes a powerful wind comes, almost everyone’s light is lost. Few can keep their guttering candles safe in a storm. But those who can, begin to share again.
That’s what humans do.
So the cycle goes. We take light from the source, share with those we’re closest to, then spread it to the world.
Light burns bright.
Then it dies.
It happens every day.
There’s no point in complaining.
It’s only from darkness that we see the miracle of the return of light.
Despair is to believe there is no light, no source, no community to share — that all there is, is darkness and the cold.
There is a source.
I go there when I need.
All of us have our own unique source: family and friends, your God; soul music or a child’s laugh; the sound of waves against the beach; dancing or quietness; birdsong.
The source is hope.
When your flame blows out, when no one’s around to share their light with you, go to your source.
Relight your fire.
Again and again and again.
Then, share it.
Someone needs it.
Make community — give to friends and strangers.
Deepen, strengthen, hope and dream.
It’s what makes us human.
In Mytilini at Easter, celebrating the resurrection of a God I don’t believe in, old truths take on a vibrant life.
I understand how precarious light is.I understand what it is to keep light burning.I understand all of us can play our part, in bringing light from darkness.
We live in a cold time.
Will this darkness end?
Many flames have died in these locked-down, pandemic months.
People, dreams, hope.
I will protect and share my light.
If I need light, I’ll find someone who’s light is burning bright.
And if all of us are struggling? Together we must build new sanctuaries where we can find the source.
Soon the snow will melt and earth will soften again.
Some birds will make it though the night, and some will not.
But there WILL be dawn and summer WILL come again.Light always returns and we welcome it.