My Hindu friends (and some others) celebrated Diwali last week (Wednesday). I have gone to their celebrations almost every year since 2003, though I missed it the last two years because of other family events happening. But when I did go in the past, I liked it because of the lights and food especially. That’s the best part about most holidays!
Diwali is a national holiday in India and many other countries, and is the beginning of their financial year (because it marks the end of the harvest season). To celebrate the prosperity of the new year, the party snacks are sweet and many shoot off fireworks. The full celebration lasts for five days, with Diwali on the third day, and it commemorates several historical legends and cultural events.
Known as “The Festival of Lights”, one of the best parts of Diwali the lighting of lamps or candles – or even in some modern families, hanging white lights like Christmas lights (except they would be called Diwiali lights) around their homes. This is becoming more common, so much that if it is almost Halloween, and you come across a house lit up in white lights, you can almost be sure the family who lives there is Hindu – much like seeing all blue “Christmas” (Hanukkah) lights on a house in December means the family who lives there is Jewish.
The light of the lamps symbolizes the triumph of good over evil, light over darkness, spiritual enlightenment conquering ignorance.
Diwali is like a birthday party for the spirit, just as our birthday parties celebrate the birth of our physical bodies.
Hindus have a belief that any time evil increases in the world, a god (Vishnu) comes down in a new form (Avataras) to battle and conquer evil. They also have a belief that goddesses always accompany the gods, and for Diwali, the people clean their homes and put on new clothes to welcome her visit.
I have thought before of the parallels between Diwali and Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement. They are like the same holiday passed down from the same grandmother, but clearly the story is told differently by each set of cousins.
Diwali, depending on geography and religion and culture, celebrates many gods and goddesses as well as human heroes, honoring their triumph over evil and welcoming the peace and prosperity of the new year. It is a giant party, with lots of songs and dancing and eating.
Yom Kippur is a serious and somber event celebrated with fasting and prayer. There is no bathing, no marital relations, and no perfume or lotion. When there was still a Temple, a sacrifice was made to cleanse the people from their sins, which were symbolically placed on the “scapegoat” and sent out into the wilderness away from the people. The goat was actually pushed off a cliff to make sure it didn’t wander its way back into camp, and I think there are times in our lives we have things we need to just push off the cliff and let go of so they don’t re-infest us.
Diwali and Yom Kippur are two completely different holidays, each with their own unique practices and distinct rituals, yet still have several common threads woven into the narratives.
Both face the hard truths of the last year. Diwali tradition says that we must take off the masks of ignorance by embracing knowledge and becoming enlightened. Jewish tradition removes the mask of sin by confession and are enlightened by living up to the knowledge they have already.
Both start a new year, believing that the new year is already determined on this date. Hindu tradition says that on Diwali, the good luck and financial success of the coming year is already determined (based on how they welcome the gods and goddesses at Diwali, and how well they are welcomed is based on how well we are prepared for them). Jewish tradition says that on Yom Kippur, God has already decided the fate of each person for the coming year (based on repentance and good works of the year before and in the days leading up to Yom Kippur).
This over-simplifies the cultural and spiritual beliefs, I know, but in a pondering-with-brevity kind of way, it is interesting to me to understand the common threads woven from one grandmother, even if the resulting tapestries are very different. I do not mean to offend by comparing the two, only to notice that both fabrics contain blue, and both contain green, and both contain red.
The most common thread both holidays share may be in the timing, with dates falling in autumn after the harvest is done. This is something common to all of us, I think, but something sorely lacking in American awareness. In today’s fast-paced, immediate-gratification society, the rhythm of working hard to glean something produced over time is often lost in our culture. But I believe, whether we are aware of it or not, the Law of the Harvest still applies, and that in some way or another, we reap what we sow, get what we give, and prominently play a role in choosing our consequences far more than we are aware – but also are blessed far more than we deserve.
While a principle from ancient times, the Law of Harvest is gaining attention in a pop culture desperate for any kind of harvest. There are several principles we glean from the Law of Harvest:
We harvest only where we have planted.
Corn doesn’t grow by my mailbox because that’s not where I planted it. I am not going to wake up one morning with a skill for writing if I have not been practicing it. I am not going to win a marathon if I have not trained for it. I am not going to suddenly be gentle if I have not been practicing being humble, meek, using a quiet voice, being careful of the spirits of others, and being kind in word, tone, and deed.
We harvest only the same kind of thing we have planted.
Corn doesn’t grow from eggplant seeds. If I do interval training at the gym, that doesn’t teach me subject-verb agreement. Practice doesn’t make perfect; it just ingrains what you have practiced (including any mistakes) – only perfect practice makes perfect. If I practice being patient, then I will get better at being patient.
We harvest in a different season than when we plant.
I plant my corn in spring, and it grows all summer, and I harvest it in the autumn. I did get to plant and harvest in the same season. I can say, “I want to be nicer to my mom”, but it takes practice and effort at trying and doing and improving before I can say “I am nice to my mom”. My paycheck today is for work I did two weeks ago, or a month ago. The silly blog app is because of writing practice for the last twelve years, not because this morning’s blog just happened to be awesome.
We harvest more than what we plant.
I plant a single seed, but I get the fruit (or vegetable!) of that plant, plus many more seeds. Doing a small thing for someone else is only a tiny effort, but may mean a great deal to them in ways we may not expect or be able to measure – which is also a caution about how much damage can be done by an ugly tone, a mean face, or small neglect. When we do something healthy for ourselves, or something good for other people, we always feel better than expected. Even global economics is shocked at the incredible way this shows up in the correlation between charity (giving money, time, or service) and financial prosperity at a global level, and why it’s mathematically true that the more you give the more you make.
We harvest in proportion to what we plant.
The harvest is exponential to what was planted, true, but it is also in proportion. A lot more will come out of a small service to a friend than what I intended, but that exponentional-ity will be in proportion to my effort. If it is a random, one time visit, my friend my appreciate it and think it is sweet – or odd, or required, or have some string attached. But if I am consistently visiting and caring for my friend, then the proportion (yield of harvest) can be much greater. Consistency and and quality and amount (of time, energy, substance) yield a greater harvest.
We harvest only what we have already planted (future harvests come from what we sow today).
I cannot go outside today, cross my backyard, and pick the corn that I will plant next year. My paycheck today is not for the work I will do next week. I cannot retire today, knowing I will put in a good career over the next forty years. I cannot assume friendship with someone whom I have not yet been friendly. My friendships today, right now, are based on how I behaved and interacted and invested yesterday.
We only harvest the full harvest if we are diligent in caring for what we planted all the way until harvest time.
I can’t just plant corn and expect to get corn. There’s more to it than that. It grows first in bright green rows, and then starts to develop the husks while it stills grows taller yet. You have to protect it from invaders that eat it before it can become the sweet vegetable you hope to pick. It has to survive tornado season bashing it down with winds and hail, and it has to survive summer droughts and Oklahoma sunshines hotter than my kitchen oven. It needs water, and caresses, and good soil.
It’s hard work to grow corn, and I think it’s because it offers its vegetable so high up on its stalk. The corn waves its husk like an offering to God, with its silks and tassels sparkling in the sun and its leaves blowing in the wind. Other vegetables can bury low, or grow enough to feed the bugs, too. Other vegetables are prolific enough you don’t notice. But corn? Corn has a sacred rustling sound you can hear as you walk past, if your cochlear implants are turned on and you are paying attention.
To say, “I am nice to my mother”, I cannot just plan on it, or hope yesterday’s good day was enough. I have to be nice to her today, right now, and tomorrow, and tomorrow. I have to do something. I have to give something. I have to practice becoming someone who is nice to her mother. The moment I quit is the moment I choose to stop being nice, and am no longer nice anymore.
Character traits, testimonies, and our spiritual development – and even relationships – are all present progressive experiences that must be constant, even when they are in the life-death-life cycle that is part of being creatures of season. No matter the season, there must be nourishment. No matter the season, there must be care given to ensure a good harvest. The moment we stop caring is the moment we sacrifice the harvest.
Today is Halloween, an American favorite that drowns us in candy and costumes, masks and make believe. Mostly candy. But for me, this year has been the kind of year that peels off the mask and takes a look back. It has been a year of hard lessons, of difficult gardening, and of painful pruning. It feels more like New Year’s, with its resolutions and reflections and hoping for harvest.
It has been a year of harvest, I think. That’s what we all agree on, amongst the braids of our green threads and our blue threads and our red threads.
It is the dosh, the part of threshing that actually separates the natural product from its natural container. It’s the separating the wheat from the chaff. It’s the taking of nourishment out of what lays before us. It’s the discernment between the noise and distractions of the world and true spiritual food that nourishes, gives life, strengthens, and uplifts. It’s the distinction between what feels good and what is good for us. It’s the knowing the difference between truth and error (1 John 4:6).
This is our harvest, the consequences of our own choices, behaviors, and interactions.
This is our harvest, what we have given to the world.
This is our harvest, how we have treated each other.
It has been a year of harvest, dishing out what we deserved, what we grew, what we planted.
But we can also clean our hearts like those celebrating Diwali clean their homes, and we can ask for mercy like those honoring Yom Kippur.
The cold days are coming, and it will give us time to reflect on our harvest – the quality of it, whether it is enough of the right things, and what exactly we are planting in the world.
Maybe this is mercy: a little time to pull weeds and better decide what we want to plant, a little experience to better nourish our crops as they grow, and a little wisdom to glean a healthier harvest.
Maybe this is how to welcome a God: to plant, nourish, and glean a harvest worthy of Him.
Maybe this is our question, once the masks come off: What are we planting, and what are we doing – this very day – to nourish it, to protect it, and to glean it?
I think that, regardless of religion, the Law of Harvest cannot be cheated. It makes me wonder what I am planting, what we as a community are planting, and as a nation, and as a world.
What is it we are planting, creating, and giving permission to thrive?
We will see tomorrow when it blooms and grows, but I think it would be wise of us to pause and look at the little seeds we carry in our hands.
What are we creating?