Column

Swarthout: Becoming a 'shamash’ of light for each other

Fr. Jim Swarthout is Director of Clergy and Alumni Relations at Rosecrance Health Network.
Fr. Jim Swarthout is Director of Clergy and Alumni Relations at Rosecrance Health Network.

Over the past few weeks, I have traveled to many Rosecrance facilities to deliver a “Sober Holidays” presentation to our clients and alumni.

One night, I was presented with an unexpected gift: The chance to participate in a remembrance ceremony for those lost to addiction and mental-health disorders.

During this ceremony, each person representing a lost family member was invited to share a story of their loved one and then come forward to light a votive candle, placing it around a large pillar candle in the center of a table. 

Each time I observed a person lighting their candle, I was reminded that a single candle can light a thousand other candles, and yet doing so never diminishes its own light.

While it was not necessarily a new lesson for me, it was good to be reminded, especially as we approach the winter solstice and the darkest day of the year.

It is powerful to remember that it is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness, whatever form that darkness may take.

Candles are an essential part of two religious traditions that occur at this time of year. 

For members of the Jewish faith, the candles on the menorah represent the miracle that occurred when a day’s supply of oil lasted eight days during the purification and rededication of the Temple of Jerusalem more than 2,000 years ago. For Christians, the candles symbolize the light of Christ that came into the world to overcome the powers of darkness. Followers of both faiths commit to not let the light go out, to keep the miracles of light and love burning brightly, sharing it with others whenever possible.  

The “shamash” is the candle that lights the other candles of the menorah. During the Rosecrance remembrance ceremony, participants shared tears of loss and pain, as well as tears of laughter, and simple expressions of gratitude and kindness. We all had become together a shamash of light for each other. 

Consider what opportunities you will have today, this week or this holiday season, to be a shamash. And remember, as you become a shamash to others, your own light will never diminish. In fact, you may even find your inner light burning brighter than ever before.

• Jim Swarthout is director of clergy and alumni relations at Rosecrance Health Network. Rosecrance is a private nonprofit organization offering behavioral health services for children, adolescents, adults and families throughout the country. With more than 40 locations in Chicago and Northern Illinois, Wisconsin and Iowa, Rosecrance offers comprehensive addiction services for adolescents and adults, including prevention, intervention, detoxification, inpatient and outpatient treatment, experiential therapies, dual-diagnosis care and family education.

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