Woman holding candle
Photo: © 2009 Jupiterimages Corporation
The days between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day are nothing short of a roller coaster ride of events and emotions. The ride twists and turns (sometimes upside down) through every family, community, store and religion, bringing both exhilarating highs and plummeting lows. And, it won't stop until January 2, 2010. Thirty-seven days is a long time to be on a roller coaster.

No one in American culture escapes the effects of the holiday season. Most world religions have a major holiday during this period. But even if you are not a religious person, no one can shop for groceries or any other items without having music and other holiday symbols touch the simplest transaction.

How can you and I choose to make both the chaos and the meaning work for us so that we will be spiritually uplifted? How can we experience the holidays so that our responses will contribute to our being our best selves and so that our responses will enrich our relationships rather than deplete our bank accounts and our souls?

The answer for making the holidays soulful has to do with the central symbol of the holiday season. The core message of the holiday season is this: Light comes into the deepest nights. The wonders of stars, candles, lamps and enlightenment are the universal emblems of this time. The centrality of light carries life's deepest mysteries.

The mystery of each person's journey is that darkness and chaos are essential parts of life. They are parts of the most heroic human lives, as well as the most enduring relationships. One of life's lessons is that everyone has to find her or his soulful and artful way of finding the light in the midst of darkness.

When religions are at their healthiest, they show that the divine can always be found in the depths, the "still, small voice" in the midst of clamor, and that no matter how bleak one's conditions are, grace is always trying to break through to communicate that every human being is sacred.

When the holidays seem to be getting the upper hand on my soul, I try to remember one of the deepest truths I know. Rabbi Heschel wrote, "In every moment, something sacred is at stake." Make this your practice these holidays. In the toughest moment, ask yourself, "What is the dimension of the sacred at stake right now?" With the toughest of relationships, ask yourself, "Where is the sacred in this person?"

When you and I do that, we have made the moment holy. And isn't that what the word "holidays" comes from? "Holy Days." Happy holidays, friends.

The Rev. Ed Bacon is a guest host for the Oprah's Soul Series radio show. He is also the rector of All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena, California.

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