“hold others in the light”

luminarias, Christmas 2015 - "hold others in the light"

luminarias, Christmas 2015 – “hold others in the light”

Walking after Christmas eve dinner, we came upon a rainbow of luminarias around the corner from our house. The luminaria is a tradition in the southwestern United States, a little paper sandwich bag with a bit of sand in the bottom to weigh it down and a candle to light the way for Christ’s spirit.

The rainbow bags are a recent innovation, of which I approve.

Daughter Nora came over before dinner and helped set out the candles while sister, Lisa, and wife, Lissa, finished making the gyoza. We think of gyoza as Japanese, but they made their way to Japan from China (jiaozi) and to our house by way of a Japanese restaurant in L.A.’s Little Tokyo whose name is long forgotten. The luminarias, so quintessentially Southwestern Spanish-Catholic, are said to have come too by way of China, via Spanish merchants who loved Chinese paper lanterns. It’s all a mashup.

The headline for the post comes from a holiday letter that arrived today. I am not religious, but I was touched by a bit of wisdom my friend Elizabeth Sanford shared in her annual family greeting. “We go forward,” wrote Elizabeth, who is deeply religious, “with a pledge to ‘hold others in the light,’ a Quaker term that we were introduced to this year and have become fond of.”

Elizabeth’s husband, Jim Timmermann, died this year. Jim and I were young together many years ago, with all that entails. I was then, as I am now, crisp and certain in my atheism. Jim was deeply Catholic. We worked together each day to make a newspaper, and we’d wander many days with our lunches to the leafy campus of Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, a couple of blocks from the office.

Our religious differences were far from an impediment to our friendship. Quite the opposite. We were each fascinated with the others’ views. I could never quite understand his faith, and Jim could never quite understand my lack of it. So we talked.

I cannot begin to do justice to Quaker theology, but “holding others in the light” seems to carry its own weight on this quiet holiday evening.

Merry Christmas.


  1. we all hope for goodness and decency, no matter where it comes from.

    peace and good wishes to you John and others who read here…

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