Light Overcomes Darkness
Light is an important symbol in many religions
by Helen Bryant (revised, originally published in 2010)
Suitable for Whole School (Sec)
To consider the fact that light is a key symbol within the main world religions.
Preparation and materials
- Have available a candle to light for the ‘Time for reflection’ part of the assembly.
Optional: you may wish to show different images of light, in which case you will also need the means to display them. Examples could include:
- various images of light, available at: https://tinyurl.com/y7brmnmv
- various images of candles, available at: https://tinyurl.com/ydxe5gvw
- various images of firelight, available at: https://tinyurl.com/y9f3ot5q
We are often told about the differences between religions, and that those differences are the cause of much trouble in the world. We do not often look further and consider the similarities between those religions, revealed in their use of important symbols.
A symbol is something that represents or stands for something else, usually something much greater.
Think about the symbols that we see every day: road signs, designer labels, football club badges and so on. Alternatively, we could consider key religious symbols: the cross of Christianity, the Om of Hinduism and the star and crescent moon of Islam. We can recognize that these are symbols because they each represent something, and many feelings and thoughts are attached to them. One powerful symbol that is used by many religions is that of light.
Let’s start with Christianity. Christians believe that Jesus is the light of the world. He is regarded as the light who will lead people out of darkness into God’s light. During the season of Advent (the four weeks leading up to Christmas), Christians think about waiting for the arrival of Christ, and about the importance of coming out of darkness into light and seeing things as they truly are.
Hindus and Sikhs celebrate Diwali, the Festival of Light, over a five-day period. During this time, everyone rejoices in the victory of good over evil, light over darkness and knowledge over ignorance. The festival is celebrated by lighting small, clay oil lamps (called divas), and with fireworks. People give one another presents and sweets, too: it’s a great favourite with children!
In Judaism, Hanukkah, the Jewish festival of lights, marks a celebration for the Jewish people. At the end of a three-year war, the Maccabees recaptured Jerusalem and wanted to rededicate their temple to God. When they were cleaning the temple and getting it ready for the rededication, they found a single pot of holy oil with the seal of the high priest still intact. When they came to light the eight-branched temple candlestick (the menorah), they saw that there was only enough oil to last a day. They decided to light the menorah anyway, and miraculously, it stayed alight for eight days. This became known as the miracle of the oil.
In Islam, God is never depicted because it is impossible to describe him through references to the physical world. However, in the Qur’an (Qur’an 24.35-6), there is a passage that begins, ‘God is the Light of the heavens and earth.’
Even if you are not religious, you cannot deny the importance of light to human beings. If you ever have a nightmare, the first thing you do is reach for the light to take away the darkness. Light is seen as a symbol of hope; it gives warmth and protection. Without light, the first human beings would not have survived in many of the inhospitable environments they colonized.
If you think about the books you read as a child, or are reading now, some of them probably include a battle of good against evil, often described as a fight of light against dark.
– In the BBC TV series Merlin, one of the only ways to keep the dead or Dothrak away is to battle them with fire.
– The Dementors of Harry Potter’s world can be sent away by a Patronus charm, a sparkling, light-filled spell.
– In The Fellowship of the Ring, the first volume of The Lord of the Rings trilogy by J. R. R. Tolkien, light is the antithesis of dark. Galadriel, the queen of the Elves, gives Frodo a small, glittering, crystal phial that contains the white light of a star. It is for a time, she says, ‘when all other lights go out’.
So, remember that when you switch on a light, light a candle or look at an open fire, you are turning to one of the most important of all symbols for religions and for humanity. There are many differences between religions, but in their understanding of the significance of light, they are not so different.
Time for reflection
Light a candle and let the students look at the light. If possible, dim other lights.
Thank you for light, for all that it means to us.
In times of darkness, may we be like a light to those in need.
May our smiles and love and concern light up one another’s lives today.