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Asking the Clergy: How do you bring light into your life when the days are shortest?

The Rev. John Shirley of St. Mary's Episcopal

The Rev. John Shirley of St. Mary's Episcopal Church, Rabbi Leibel Baumgarten of Chabad Lubavitch of the Hamptons and Mahmood Kauser of Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. Credit: Matthew Pritchard; Chabad Lubavitch of the Hamptons; Mahmood Kauser

Winter solstice on Dec. 21 — the shortest day and longest night of the year — will have many Long Islanders commuting and going to school in darkness. This week’s clergy discuss how they light up their lives when sunlight’s in short supply.

The Rev. John Shirley

Priest in charge, St. Mary's Episcopal Church, Lake Ronkonkoma

When the days are the shortest, I find light in those around me: in their words, their actions, their generosity and their hope. That does not mean that the prolonged darkness does not impact me, my outlook and my emotions, but it presents me with the opportunity to see the light of God at work in the world, and in particular the aspect of creation that is specifically created in the image of God: humanity.

I, along with other Christians, am preparing to commemorate the birth of Jesus. This celebration embraces God’s willingness to humbly and fully participate in the joys, concerns, celebrations and fears that are part of our lives. So when I am surrounded in darkness, in its various manifestations, my belief that God came into and still is in our midst invites me to look for the same light of hope and see God present and at work around me.

During these winter months, it is likely that many of us, religious or not, are simultaneously surrounded by physical darkness and artificial light. We try to re-create the sense of comfort that light so often brings, but in the midst of that re-creation, we can also find a brighter source of light. The light comes from compassion, love and care for each other.

Rabbi Leibel Baumgarten

Chabad Lubavitch of the Hamptons

A young boy and his father had just visited the Lubavitcher Rebbe. The boy asked, “Daddy, why is there a light shining from the Rebbe’s face?” The father replied, there is no light. The young innocent child could see the light of a holy man.

In spiritual and psychological terms “light” relates to joy, a sense of purpose, and a deep trust and faith in the Almighty G-d. Our Sages teach that the world stands on three things — prayer, learning Torah and acts of kindness. Our prayer is not just three times a day. It is 24/7. We try to emulate Joseph — the words of prayer were constantly on his lips. We thank G-d every day for the gifts of life, health, shelter, children, food and freedom. When we learn Torah every morning we realize this is not like any other book. It is directly from G-d. These are the words G-d dictated to Moses on Mount Sinai. We are connecting with G-d’s most essential wisdom. Our soul is nurtured by the food of the Torah. The inner flame is now getting stronger. Acts of kindness enable us to spread the light.

We just celebrated the festival of Hanukkah. We must not only illuminate our homes but the outside world. The Chabad Rebbes teach us that we are lamplighters.

Mahmood Kauser
Regional imam, Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, with mosques in Amityville, Queens and Brooklyn

The joyful words my daughter shouts to welcome me as I arrive home after a long day are practically always the same, and yet they bring me joy every day. That’s the secret in the spiritual world as well.

Every morning a Muslim hears, “Allahu akbar,” God is the greatest, chanted in every mosque to call believers for prayer. In a way, Muslims are welcomed home when they hear these words. And by these words, the lamp of the heart is lit throughout the winter months as well.

We all need to pause for a single moment, in a life full of distractions, with a determination to make a connection with God in a hope to alleviate all pain and suffering. Sadly, these words are used by some to strike fear. In actuality they’re meant to bring tranquility to the heart of a believer who wishes to prostrate his body and soul before God, every day, five times a day.

Therefore, in Islam, prayer is truly a pursuit of happiness and must be connected with good deeds, pure intentions and grace of God for it to produce spiritual light worthy of brightening your every day. His Holiness Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, founder of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, whose members believe him to be the promised Messiah, said, “Come, and I will teach you a way that will cause your light to prevail over all other lights. … This is the path on which miracles are bestowed, prayers are accepted and angels descend to one’s aid.” ("The British Government and Jihad," Islam International Publications Ltd., 2006).

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