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Not in Our Thoughts But in Our Hands

Why is light the most common religious symbol?

This week we read about the ner tamid. This is usually translated as “eternal light” but the Hebrew suggests instead “always light.” The light must always be tended to. God’s light must always be cared for.

We light flames in remembrance. I think of the shiva candles flickering in the homes of five families in Parkland. I look to the candles adorning make-shift memorials in remembrance of those murdered at the most recent school massacre.

Why do we lean on light?

Light itself cannot be seen. We become aware of its presence when we see the other things that it illuminates. So too with God. We become aware of God’s presence when we behold the beauty of the world, or the love of others, or the goodness of our fellow human beings. So too God’s radiance is obscured when people do evil. No amount of thoughts and prayers can illuminate these dark shadows!

And yet in light’s reflection we may discern God’s reality.

It is found in the faces of young students, glimmering with righteous indignation, now taking the lead to advocate for meaningful gun legislation. I share their passion. I too believe that more must be done to change our laws. Thoughts and prayers can perhaps offer healing to the broken families mourning and grieving. But they cannot save the next child. They cannot protect us from future gunmen. That is the role of our laws. Good laws are meant to offer protection from known dangers and evils.

That is why I will be joining with protesters at New York City’s March for Our Lives on Saturday, March 24 beginning at 10 am. Yes, that day is also Shabbat. But on that March day I will be praying with my feet, to borrow Abraham Joshua Heschel’s phrase. Faith is not just about prayer. It must also be about action. And we can certainly do more. We can most certainly do a better job of protecting our children. Contact me if you would like to join me in New York City on March 24.

Fire requires our efforts to tend to it. That is why the ner tamid is better translated as the “always light.” We become aware of its presence when we feel it. Fire is the process of liberating energy from something combustible. Thus, God becomes real in our lives when we liberate the potential energy within ourselves for good.

People often ask where is God? They most often ask such questions in the midst of pain or following a tragedy, when God’s reflection is obscured. Light and fire are often perceived by the glow or warmth they create rather than in their own realities.

What is the Bible’s most familiar image for God? It is the burning bush.

When Moses stands before the bush he is amazed that it is not consumed by the fire. He had to stare a great while before discovering that the bush was not consumed. Miracles are discerned over time and not immediately. Making God a reality requires effort and time. It is a matter of looking carefully. It is a matter of straining through this past week’s darkness for a glimmer of light to emerge.

It is a matter of always tending the fire. It is not a matter of magic. It is instead a matter of searching for the reflection of light.

It is a matter of knowing when to pray with our heart, and when to pray with our feet.

God’s light is not in our thoughts but in our hands.