The light within the light

"First we receive the light, then we impart the light, thus we repair the world." - Kabalistic saying

Holiday music is some of my favorite music. I'm known to listen to Silent Night in the height of summer as well as the depths of winter.

And, oh that line in O Holy Night: “and the soul felt its worth.”

No matter what spiritual path we travel – or none at all – we long to meet that feeling of inherent worth – of being claimed, of knowing our mattering – and to nurture it within our being, like a glowing ember.

Sometimes we forget this inner majesty. Our light can get clouded over by the weather of life, and the scars of trauma can separate us from our bodily, inborn, felt sense of goodness.

More commonly, we forget our noble beauty amidst the busyness of life. I've never forgotten a university study that I heard in a Tara Brach podcast, where they staged a “Good Samaritan” experience for seminary students. The students were assigned a sermon - some the topic of the Good Samaritan - and then were purposely distracted on their way to preach, coming across someone needing their help.

The researchers found that the deciding factor on whether or not the students stopped to offer help was whether or not they felt they had the time to stop - even for those who were assigned The Good Samaritan as their sermon focus.

I think of that experiment often, and wonder about the ways we experience time in modern life.

For those of us who tend towards conscientiousness, we can feel paralyzed by the ways we don't 'measure up' to our inner light, all those times we have not stopped to help. We can feel an internal hypervigilance, as if we need to be constantly weighing, measuring and monitoring ourselves so that our light can shine.

Thankfully, the Buddhist monk Pema Chödrön asks us to look deeper. She gently reminds us, “You're the sun. Everything else is just weather.”

I think we all need reminders of our goodness. Often it is other people who crack the armor and let in the light, with their words, actions, or hearts. When we can't see our own goodness, they remind us and whisper it back to us.

Sometimes it's the inspiration of watching another take exquisite care that slows us so we can reconnect with the light within.

You can find this inspiration anywhere.

There's a taco stand half a mile from my home, where a group of lovely, lively women offer their freshly made bean, chicken and bean tacos, nestled in homemade corn tortillas, served with a fresh lime quarter and chopped cilantro.

Being a taco stand, many people take their tacos to go in paper bags, to eat in their car or on their way to the next thing. There's also a picnic table or two where you can pause and enjoy your lunch.

It can be easy to dismiss a taco – or a taco stand – as fast food, a quick meal on a busy day, fuel to keep you going.

But there is so much care in that taco: the lime slice and onions chopped just so. The foil around the taco so it doesn't leak on your lap. The stewed chicken, seasoned with the right amount of chili - not too hot, and not too bland.

And there are the women themselves: they way they look into your eyes as they take your order, the lilt as they sing out your name when your tacos are ready, and the melodic dance as they converse in Spanish with the construction workers in their dusty jeans and work boots.

All of this, in a humble taco.

The Sufis say everything has a 'hamd,' or essence – the unique suchness within each living thing. If we become still, we can feel this hamd in the milk we pour on our breakfast, the Fraser fir in the corner, the squirrel who buries her nuts in our front yard, and the lady who offers a taco.

And if we pause, we can receive this hamd, too, the light within the light. In this transfiguration, a meal becomes communion, where we take in not just chicken and lime, or chili and cornmeal, but life, and love, and gift.

As Alice Walker reminds us in her book, The Color Purple, “Everything wants to be loved.” And everything wants to be cherished:

Did you see the way the mailman left my Christmas packages stacked so neatly next to the porch pillar?

Cherishing is what is missed when life moves too quickly, when we feel too busy to offer help, or when we feel too rushed to notice the care that bends her way towards us in each tiny thing.

May we see the hamd, and the love, in everything we receive, in everything that is given to us. May we pause so that each care can sink in, to body and cell and bone and flesh, into all those cavities that get scarred and hollowed by life's pain.

And may we all be light for each other. Oh, how we need it. Oh how we shine when we give and receive it.

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