December Interfaith Wisdom Circle:
A Season of Light

December 20: 5th Interfaith Wisdom Circle

Opening to spiritual wisdom — a global video conference circle of people who seek to share the sacred and serve the world.

A Season of Light

Celebrating the season by contemplating light as it reflects to us amid the diversity of our spiritual traditions. Rev. Charles Gibbs and Aryae Coopersmith will begin the circle — and then open it to everyone — with some reflections from a Christian and a Jewish perspective.

Rev. Charles Gibbs is an Episcopal priest who is co-founder of URI (United Religions Initiative), an Honorary Canon at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, an author & poet, co-convener of our Interfaith Wisdom Circle, and currently Senior Partner and Poet-in-Residence for the Catalyst for Peace Foundation.

Aryae Coopersmith is founder of One World Lights, a ServiceSpace volunteer and co-convener of our Interfaith Wisdom Circle, a Jewish spiritual teacher ordained by Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, and author of Holy Beggars: A Journey from Haight Street to Jerusalem.

Instead of videos, we’ve invited everyone to share their reflections and/or texts they read in the circle. We also invite you to add your reflections!

We wish everyone a beautiful holiday season,
and a new year of health, peace, abundance and light.

Thank you!


Reflections & Texts

If you’re on the full blog post, you can see them below.
If not, just go to full blog post.

25 thoughts on “December Interfaith Wisdom Circle:
A Season of Light

  1. How rich! It will take awhile to drink in all these remarkable contributions.
    So sorry I was not able to be with you for what sounds and feels like a gathering filled with light–sensitivity of sharing. and wise teachings and perspective.

  2. Special appreciation to all for sharing insight on the significance of light in their tradition. Below was what I shared from Islamic perspective where I said…
    In Islam light can be a mark of God’s presence. One of Allah’s 99 Beautiful Names is An-Nur, meaning “The Light,” and many prophets such as Musa (PBUH) and Muhammad (PBUH) reported seeing blinding lights while communicating with Allah. Light also symbolizes goodness; the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) reported that the angels, wholly good beings created by God for a multitude of purposes (including cataloging mankind’s deeds and asking Allah to bless the virtuous, among others) are made from light.
    Light represents Allah’s gifts of divine guidance and human intellect to all people, not just Muslims.
    Indeed, the Quran specifically mentions that the Jewish and Christian scriptures were each “a light and guidance” unto the people (Quran 5:44-46), and that every community in world history received messengers who provided “clear [guiding] light” and “convincing proof” encouraging them to serve God and forbid evil (Quran 4:174 and 16:36)
    And I ended by quoting a verse from the Holy Quran; Ayat-an-Nur which simply means “the verse of light”. Translated as:
    “Allah is the Light of the heavens and the earth. The parable of His Light is a niche wherein is a lamp — the lamp is in a glass, the glass as it were a glittering star — lit from a blessed olive tree, neither eastern nor western, whose oil almost lights up, though fire should not touch it. Light upon light! Allah guides to His Light whomever He wishes. Allah draws parables for mankind, and Allah has knowledge of all things.” (Quran 24:35).

    Love you all

  3. Dao De Jing by Laozi (Tao Te Ching, translated by Stephen Mitchell)
    Chapter 25:

    There was something formless and perfect
    before the universe was born.
    It is serene. Empty.
    Solitary. Unchanging.
    Infinite. Eternally present.
    It is the mother of the universe.
    For lack of a better name,
    I call it the Tao.

    It flows through all things,
    inside and outside, and returns
    to the origin of all things.

    Man follows the earth.
    Earth follows the universe.
    The universe follows the Tao.
    The Tao follows only itself.

    Have a wonderful holiday season!

      • When we watch the sunset next time, watch it knowing that we are revolving with the celestial wonderer, the earth, not the sun. We are not “stuck” anywhere; we are where we are. Get our beliefs out of our way so that we can truly experience the “free fall,” falling into that mystical, expansive, and empty space which is always there, unchanged. We are NOT the color of our skin, our age, our experiences, our beliefs, our education, and everything that we claim “ours” because we are SO MUCH MORE than all those combined!

        As we are heading into another year, hope we keep working at opening that “door” so that we can all see that light shining out of each one of us!

        • 🙂

          The Nameless is the beginning of heaven and earth.
          The named is the mother of ten thousand things.
          Ever desireless, one can see the mystery.
          Ever desiring, one can see the manifestations.

          Tao Te Ching, Ch. 1
          Trans: Gia-Fu Feng

  4. Love And Peace, Family And Friends.

    There are many teachings from many traditions about the experience of light. And this light is often referenced within a symbolic, spiritual, and/or Transcendent manner: light overcoming dark. But within many of the religions of humanity, and even within the respective Holy Scriptures of many religions, this concept of “light” is also tangibly applied to physical experience: evoking an aversion and/or even a fear of, and disdain towards, those who have a darker appearance.

    Within Jewish Mysticism, and perhaps additionally, we learn that the ultimate intensity of Divine Light is blinding; and thus there is the provision of shade and darkness so that we may experience depth and perspective; clarity. As I quickly write this, I recall a teaching from the Koran that describes how both the day and the night are provided as a blessing: the day for industry and interaction, and the night for relief and rest. Within Hinduism and Buddhism, we learn the principle of equanimity: Transcending the very experience of aversion and affinity.

    Through these teachings, we learn, indeed, that there is light within the darkness, and darkness within light. There is purpose for the spiritual abyss and malaise that we each may experience. It is through such experience within ourselves that we are able to cultivate empathy towards others. And it is through such experiences within others that we are able to share our gifts of compassion. Jesus teaches that the man is born blind exactly so that the healing works of God may be done.

    I mention during our call that this may be the darkest part of the year within the Northern Hemisphere; however, this is conversely the lightest period in the year within the Southern Hemisphere. And that may be considered typical within the Yin Yang balance that we experience through the Tao, the Divine Will of God (or however we are inclined to describe this). When 1 of us is experiencing difficulty, another 1 of us is provided the opportunity to provide benevolence; and vice versa.

    With this knowledge, we can be encouraged and inspired to release our fears regarding the darkness; to be aware of both the constant light and darkness that exists within each of us; and to find acceptance, Peace, and harmony within our experience of this balance of dark and light. And then perhaps we can wrap our minds around the cosmic irony that when we humans stand before the light, we become darker; and when we stand before the darkness, we become lighter. The Divine Will seems to have an ironic sense of humour that we continue to collectively learn. 🙂

    Thank you all for the blessings and the wisdom that you each share during the call. I treasure this experience and I am thankful to be part of the conversation. (And I intend to work on preparing something increasingly succinct and blatantly positive and uplifting during the next call, God Willing).

    Love And Peace,


      • Definitely, Aryae.

        Thank you for bringing this together.

        Also, at the beginning of our call, you ask me about my affiliation with URI. At that moment, I am conscientious to abstain from overstating my credentials. The fact of the matter is that I am a long-time supporter and advocate for URI (for over a decade), I am friends with much of the staff, and participate in a number of global initiatives that involve URI in 1 way or another. And I am working to become an “official” part of URI through a Cooperation Circle here in the Cuyahoga area. And, ironically, when you ask me that question during the call, I am actually wearing my URI pin.

        And BTW, “pfwjo” are my initials: Peter Frank Womack Johannessen Osisi, and “1” is the extra character needed to open a gmail account.

        Love And Peace,


  5. It was a wonderful session this morning and thank you Aryae for inviting me to participate. I will try to capture some of what I said this morning.

    According to Hindu tradition, this particular time is very special. Even though, tradition that I am part of follows lunar calendar, From Dec. 14-16 toJanuary 15 every year is a solar month. It is second part of a month called Margashirsha (which means the head of all paths or the best path to God) and the first part of another month called Pausha. It is called Dhanurmasam (month of the Sagittarius)– and in this period, Sun starts moving from the Tropic of Capricorn to the Tropic of Cancer. Second half of this month begins Uttarayana when the sun moves towards the north and is considered to be a good period.
    This period is considered to be highly auspicious for devotees of Vishnu and Shiva. In fact, old Hindu scriptures have set apart this month for just devotional activities and no marriages, investments and other kinds of functions are prohibited so that people can worship God without any distractions. According to the tradition, Gods wake up early so we are encouraged to wake up early and pray as prayer this month has millions of times more effectiveness than other times. Feeding the poor is also highly encouraged. This month ends with Makara Sankranti — a harvesting festival.

    To summarize, this month is considered to be the month of light and during this month, days become longer. Light and shadow are considered to be two sides of the same coin in Hinduism and both are worshipped in different ways. For God to be omnipotent, both darkness and light, evil and good have to be part of the whole. Hence, darkness, shadow, demons are all considered to be part of God’s creation and by worshipping with special attention now, we embrace our true nature — our divine nature and also accept our shadow and become more compassionate, more loving and tolerant in the world.

  6. Here’s some of what I shared, a shaped a bit more literately:

    In the Jewish tradition there is much emphasis on the One Source of All Being, as evinced in this powerful and challenging verse from the prophet Isaiah: “Yotzer or u-voreh khoshekh, oseh shalom u-vorei et ha-ra, ani YHVH, oseh kol eleh” (“I am the One who forms light and creates darkness, makes peace/wholeness and creates evil; I, YHVH, make all of these,” Isaiah 45:7)

    Perhaps our core human spiritual task, during this season and all others, is to continue refining and enlarging our consciousness in the effort to encompass this daunting truth–that all the multiplicity of our earthly life, in whatever forms it appears–is of the One, and than any experience, deeply experienced and embrace, can lead us back to Oneness. What would a world in which each being knew and acted upon this truth look like?

    It seems to me that if we valorize “light” over “darkness,” it is at our peril. The temptation to press whatever we fear, despise, or simply are ignorant of into “the dark” is great. For me, as a Jew and as a human being, the challenge and the gift of this darkest time of year is nature’s encouragement to turn inward, to be quiet, and in some way to befriend the darkness–in myself, in others, and in the world–rather than to run from it or try to dispel it. Befriending is not the same thing as condoning, emulating, or amplifying any action or a quality or a space, but simply, somehow, opening to the possibility that this, too, is of the Divine.

    The great 16th century mystic of S’fat (Palestine), Rabbi Isaac Luria, taught that when the Moon, that great reflector of the sun’s light, visible only in relative darkness, and sometimes associated with the Divine Feminine, has regained her full stature (lost, Jewish legend tells us, at the time of Creation) and has “re-grown” to become fully co-equal with the Sun, symbol of the Divine Masculine, only then shall humans be able to experience the wholeness and expansiveness of consciousness of “mashi’akh’velt,” the redeemed world.

    This is a redemption that I–that each of us–can participate in bringing about each day, with each breath, as I remember to open to the moment and to embrace God’s mix of light and darkness, of shining and its shadow, with as much presence and compassion as I can muster. Then light glows with its full luster, darkness holds its full depth, and life unfolds in all its brilliant, infinite array of colors.

    A blessed holy day season and turning of the solar year to all, and many thanks for the beautiful, lyrical, and empowering teachings shared by each person on the call this morning.

  7. Dear Aryeh, Wendy, Reverend Charles, and all who came together this morning, it was wonderful being with you, and the sharing was deLIGHT-full! At this time when we are about to experience the Light within the darkest, longest night of the year here in the Northern Hemisphere, and those living in the Southern Hemisphere are about to experience the Light of the brightest, longest day, I’d like to share the lyrics of a relatively new – already “classic” -Christmas Carol; written by the Englishman, John Kirkpatrick in 1995; a quote attributed to Jesus Christ; and URL link to a photo (on my Facebook Page) of a Syrian child protecting his little sister from gunfire []. May we all keep the little children, and the big ones, in our prayers for an end to war, and an eternity of Peace on Earth and Good Will to [and for] all: “Suffer [do not prevent] the little children to come unto me” ~ Jesus Christ
    “Chariots”, by John Kirkpatrick [This URL Link is to “Nowell Sing We Clear” beautifully singing “Chariots”:
    “O Shepherd O shepherd come leave off your piping
    Come listen come learn come hear what I say
    For now is the time that has long been forespoken
    For now is the time there’ll be new tunes to play
    For soon there comes one who brings a new music
    Of sweetness and clarity none can compare
    So open your heart for heavenly harmony
    Here on this hill will be filling the air
    With chariots of cherubim chanting
    And seraphim singing hosanna
    And a choir of archangels a-caroling come
    Hallelujah Hallelu
    All the angels a-trumpeting glory
    In praise of the Prince of Peace

    “See on yon stable the starlight is shimmering
    And glimmering and glistening and glowing with glee
    In Bethlehem blest this baby of bliss will be
    Born here before you as bold as can be
    And you’ll be the first to hear the new symphony
    Songs full of gladness and glory and light
    So learn your tunes well and play your pipes proudly
    For the Prince of Paradise plays here tonight

    “Bring your sheep bleating to this happy meeting
    To hear how the lamb with the lion shall lie
    It’s mooing and braying you’ll hear the song saying
    The humble and lowly will be the most high
    Let the horn of the herdsman be heard up in heaven
    For the gates are flung open for all who come near
    And the simplest of souls shall sing to infinity
    Lift up and listen and you shall hear

    “The warmonger’s charger will thunder for freedom
    The gun-maker’s furnace will dwindle and die
    And muskets and sabers and swords shall be sundered
    Surrendered to the sound that is sweeping the sky
    And the shoes of the mighty shall dance to new measures
    And the jackboots of generals shall jangle no more
    As sister and brother and father and mother
    Agree with each other the end to all war

    “As a candle can conquer the demons of darkness
    As a flame can keep frost from the deepest of cold
    So a song can give hope in the depths of all danger
    And a line of pure melody soar in your soul
    So sing your songs well and sing your songs sweetly
    And swear that your singing it never shall cease
    So the clatter of battle and drums of disaster
    Be drowned in the sound of the pipes of peace

  8. As I listened to today’s call I thought about how easy it is to see the world through eyes of darkness, where everything seems bleak. But one can also find the light in almost every situation. The reports that people see light as they die and move toward it makes me wonder if “go toward the light” is also good advice for the living. If we seek for the light in others we can find it and then we might radiate peace into the world.

  9. My share was about two aspects of Hanukah regarding lights. The first was that one practice in Hanukah is gazing at the lit candles. The lit candles are not to be used for any other purpose, even as a source of lighting for other activities. The wick is associated with the body and the different colors of the flame are associated with aspects of the soul.

    Also, Hanukah lasting for 8 days bridges the dark time before the new moon, with the time new moon. The darkness before the new moon is associated with faith and a return to God, oneself, and one’s mission. The new moon is associated with newness and new beginnings. The new moon, Rosh Hodesh, is a holiday on it’s own at the beginning of each lunar month, and there are special celebrations for women at this time.

    It was great for me to hear about other traditions that also use a lunar calendar.

  10. So here are some of my comments from this morning:

    Light in Judaism goes all the way back to verse 2 in Genesis: “The earth was unformed and desolate, and darkness covered the face of the deep. The spirit of God hovered on the face of the waters. and God said, ‘Let there be light!’ and there was light.”

    In the Hebrew evening prayers we say, “You roll away light from the face of darkness, and darkness from the face of light.” Light and darkness are continually following each other, throughout the day, and throughout the seasons of the year.

    In the same prayer we say, “With oneness (Chochma) you open the gates, and with duality (Binah) you vary the times & seasons.” We experience light both on the level of duality (light and darkness) and oneness (all is light: open gates.)

    My teacher Reb Shlomo said: “Every generation has a darkness threatening it that never before was fixed, and out of the struggle with that darkness a great light shines and brings a little more warmth, a little more vision to the world. Many lights have shone into the world throughout the generations of humanity. We are still waiting for the Oneness that will tie all the light of all the generations into one great light.”

    In the festival of Hanukah we light candles for eight days, in the evening. A couple of thousand years ago, Rabbi Shamai said — we light eight lights the first night, seven lights the second, until on the last/eighth night, we light one light. Rabbi Hillel said, we light one light on the first night, two on the second, and so on, and on the eighth night we light eight lights.


    Rebbi Shamai’s view — on the 1st night of the Festival of Lights we see many lights (8 = infinity) all over the world. On the 2nd night we’re more tuned in, and we see maybe there aren’t quite so many. By the 8th night we see that there’s really only one light shining all over the world!

    Rabbi Hillel’s view — on the first night we see a light in the world. On the 2nd night we see more. By the 8th night we see that there are lights shining all over the world!

    My view — at this time we need both visions: the beauty of the lights of all our spiritual traditions and practices around the world, and the beauty of the one light that connects us all.

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