Thursday, July 26, 2007

A Festival of Light


The two seasons of Advent and Lent are times for preparing for important festivals, but also represent the perennial need in human beings to set aside a time for introspection, and preparing the heart for the coming of the Lord who enters our inner world. The seasons of the year have their distinctive moods, which reflect the moods of nature. The season of Advent comes at a time in the Indian year when there is a time of interiority. Perhaps this is a time when the outer reality, symbolized by the fruits of the earth, are gathered and brought into the home. In tribal cultures, it is a time when the herds which have been taken out to graze in the forests, are brought back to the village, and kept indoors. The festival of lights is associated at the folk level with this welcoming of the sources of communal prosperity (in the form of the Goddess of plenty, Laxmi) into the household. This sense of the fullness of the earth, and the way that it is brought back to the community, and family homestead, could be related also the the spirit of Advent. It is a time for preparing the home and heart for the birth of the Lord, in the darkness of our present world.

The time of Advent can be related to the many festivals in India which are related to Sacrifice. Many of the “Temple festivals” take place in these dry months, when there is nothing going on in the fields, but still there is a sense of expectancy, as the community waits for the Rainy season. Often at this time of the year the flowering trees burst into flame like blossoms. The Sarul tree, for example, which has brilliant red flowers, or the Palash tree which is also called the “Flame of the Forest”, gives to the landscape a fiery colour, that reminds us of the flaming splendor of the sun itself. Sacrifices are offered, because as Gandhi himself remarked, the world would not continue without the spirit of sacrifice. In folk cultures, this sacrifice is associated with the offering of animals at local shrines, and the sprinkling of their blood over the fields. But at a deeper level, sacrifice is not just an external ritual, but is concerned with the self offering, that demands of each person a surrender of the ego, and a willingness to suffer for those who are the victims of injustice. Here again, the outer world is perceived as a sign of an inner season of the spirit. It is in this sense that we can also understand the importance of ecology in our spiritual world. Our attitude to nature around us, has to be informed by our respect for an inner nature, that is the basis for our liturgical life following the cycle of the year.

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