SLO County spiritual leaders ask community to keep hope and faith during the holiday season


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Sometime in between worrying about COVID-19, the election, work, family, and the holidays, Rabbi Micah Hyman wants you to do one more thing.


"It's so important, feeling the fullness of breath, trusting the air around you," said Hyman, the rabbi and executive director at SLO Hillel, a hub for Jewish life at Cal Poly.

In the midst of dark and stressful times, it's hard to slow down, breathe, and keep the faith. But these simple practices, more than anything else, are what Hyman is preaching as the community heads into this holiday season.

Stop the "doom scrolling"—or scouring social media for the latest bad news—Hyman said. Take a deep breath. Find the light, even if it's a small sliver.

"Do not believe we're just spiraling down," he said. "All it takes is just a little bit of light to illuminate our future. You see it in our world with vaccines. You see it with our children who are so resilient."

BURNING HOPE Each year during Hanukkah, observers light a menorah in Mission Plaza. While the community struggles with a pandemic this year, local religious leaders emphasize the importance of remaining hopeful. - PHOTO COURTESY OF THE JCC OF SLO
  • Photo Courtesy Of The JCC Of Slo
  • BURNING HOPE Each year during Hanukkah, observers light a menorah in Mission Plaza. While the community struggles with a pandemic this year, local religious leaders emphasize the importance of remaining hopeful.

From a spiritual perspective, the religious holidays of Hanukkah and Christmas are stories of miracles. Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus, the son of God in human form. Hanukkah remembers the Jewish people overcoming persecution—symbolized by a menorah that miraculously burned for eight straight nights on minimal oil.

Underlying these holidays are messages of hope and perseverance—themes that local spiritual leaders plan to tap into this year to help the community cope with a relentless pandemic and divided society.

"Within the Judeo-Christian narrative, there's a very strong theme of things going extremely badly and then something new, something different being born out of that," said Rev. Caroline Hall, leader of the St. Benedict Episcopal Church in Los Osos. "Perhaps when things are at their darkest can we expect God to show up."

But miracles don't often occur suddenly or out of thin air, Hyman said. Observers of Hanukkah practice this concept every year by lighting only one candle on the menorah each night.

It's an "incremental light," Hyman said. The same is true of gifts during Hanukkah—they slowly build over the eight days.

"It's not a big reveal as much as the accumulative effect of faith," he said.

In Hyman's interpretation of Hanukkah, the story of the burning menorah is not really a story about the endurance of a magical oil. It's about the endurance of people banding together with hope, discipline, resourcefulness, conservation, and a sense of purpose.

"That's what a miracle is," Hyman said.

As he offers spiritual guidance to the community this year, Hyman goes back to those fundamentals of hope, hard work, and patience. Taken together, they create "the opportunity for something entirely new to happen."

It requires our active participation, though.

"Most important is doing the work," he said. "I'm certainly not waiting for God to shine a miracle cure. Those cures are miracles, but that takes Pfizer; it takes government; and it takes big, big vision."

Similarly, Hall encouraged individuals to cultivate hope by "identifying those places where God is present"—whatever God means to you. It could be out in nature, within yourself, in a friend or family member, in art and music, or elsewhere.

"The energy of the universe is one of love and gratitude," Hall said. "The more we can draw on that, and embody that and share that, the more the universal flow of spirit moves through us."

As Hall leads church services during the holiday season—outdoor or virtual—she will continue reminding members that the world offers inherent beauty and hope.

"I'm going to encourage people to listen to carols, just surround themselves with beautiful music," she said. "Enjoy the beauty of our surroundings. We are so fortunate to live somewhere so extraordinarily beautiful."

At the same time, Hall also thinks it's critical to honor the difficulty and pain we're going through.

"It's important to acknowledge that being human right now is not that great. It's easy to get happy-clappy," she said. "But also, that's the way it's been for humanity a lot of times. There is always a light in the darkness."

Hall called special attention to the virtues that Jesus showed at a moment when hate and antagonism seemed to permeate society. We should emulate those values to persevere through another divisive time.

"Jesus did talk about loving our enemies and also about how the way we think is as important as how we act," she said. "I encourage people to pray for people who are really getting up their noses and not harbor judgments against others but find a way to forgiveness."

Whether it's these spiritual practices or simply taking a breath, Hyman and Hall want you to do something to make these holidays have hope and possibility.

"We are still alive, with loss, but we are here and have faith in the future," Hyman said. "Just when you think it's over, it ain't over."

Assistant Editor Peter Johnson can be reached at



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