The Art of Sparking Light: Creative Prompts for Chanukah 5781/2020

INTRODUCTION:

חנוכה (Chanukah) is a holiday rich in spiritual teachings for personal growth and social change. It is an invitation to bear witness to oppression and destruction and a time to kindle the flames of hope and celebrate the power of resistance. In times of darkness, Chanukah invites each of us to rededicate ourselves to the pursuit of our higher purpose and to notice and appreciate the effect that our light can have when shared.

Also known as חג האורים (Chag HaUrim) — the Festival of Lights — we create light in our home, but the light is meant not just for ourselves. Rather, we position our menorahs near widows facing the street. In this way, our light radiates outward in order to inspire the pursuit of justice throughout the world. Chanukah is a chance to notice the light, the darkness and the shadows in between.

At Jewish Studio Project we invite you to make art as a way to meaningfully connect to the holiday and its themes and to explore what resonance and meaning these themes might have for your life today. We’ve designed a series of prompts to support reflection, spark insights and bring pleasure. You can use these prompts whenever you’re ready — before, during or after the holiday. The themes transcend the specific holiday and the creative process is an endlessly vital force.

חג אורים שמח / Chag Urim Sameach!

With blessings for a meaningful, joyous, and light-filled holiday!

PROMPT #1 REDEDICATING AND RELEASING

Framing: The best known name for the holiday is Chanukah, which means dedication. Just as the Maccabees had to cleanse the Temple of idols and rededicate it to its original purpose, so too can we use the holiday of Chanukah to rededicate ourselves to our higher purpose so that we might manifest our most sacred intentions.

The idea of renewal is compelling, but the reality of what it takes to live through the loss of what was in order to make space for the birth of what could be can be difficult. The lighting of Chanukah candles can be seen as a ceremonial process through which we enact the destruction that necessarily precedes rededication. We place our candle in its holder, light its tiny flame and watch wick and wax melt away. We repeat this for eight nights, adding one more candle, each time increasing our capacity to watch it all burn away. What if we experienced each night of Chanukah as an opportunity to embrace the practice of clearing away all that no longer serves us?

Materials

  • Candle
  • Matches or lighter
  • Very small slips of paper
  • Pen or pencil

Art Prompt

  • Brainstorm things you want to clear away or release from the past few months. These might be emotions, worries, expectations, fears, disappointments, etc.

  • Write each one down on its own tiny slip of paper.

  • Light the candle (set up candle in kitchen sink or other safe place)

  • Choose 1 slip of paper to feed into the candle’s flame.

  • As you place it over the fire, say “I release you” and then read what you’ve written down the paper.

  • Watch the paper burn. Notice any thoughts or feelings that arise.

  • Repeat with remaining pieces of paper

  • When finished, recite the שֶׁהֶחֱיָנוּ Shechechiyanu, an expression of gratitude for this moment in time.

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה׳ אֱלֹקינוּ מֶלֶךְ הַעוֹלָם שֶׁהֶחֱיָנוּ וְקִיְּמָנוּ וְהִגִּיעָנוּ לַזְּמַן הַזֶּה


Baruch atah, Adonai Eloheinu, Melech haolam,
shehecheyanu, v'kiy'manu, v'higiyanu laz'man hazeh.

Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Sovereign of all,
who has kept us alive, sustained us, and brought us to this moment.

Reflection Questions

  • What was it like to reflect on what you wanted to release from this past year?

  • What thoughts or feelings arose as you watched each word burn?

  • What other practices might we engage in to release that which is no longer serving us?

  • Why might rituals for clearing away or releasing be important at this time of year?

PROMPT #2 KINDLING THE LIGHT WITHIN

Framing: One of the lesser known names for the holiday is Chag HaUrim — the Festival of Lights. At the time of year when the days are short and light is scarce, Chanukah invites each of us to make our own light. We are not instructed to do this in one gigantic central menorah, but rather we are encouraged to light נר איש וביתו (ner ish u-beito) a candle for each household. And the מהדרין (mehadrin) — the ones who go above and beyond — have a separate menorah for each person in the household. This practice teaches that, especially in seasons of darkness, each and every one of us has the power to brighten our little corner of the world. The light that each of us is uniquely capable of kindling makes a difference, and it is the combined light of our individual flames that illumines the darkness for all.

Ner ish u-beito is both a democratization and an activation of the light-giving capacity within each of us. Chanukah is a time for each of us to connect to the light within and, one candle at a time, to bring that light into the world. It is an opportunity for us to support others in kindling their unique flame, and for learning to appreciate the ways different lights glow. And it is a time for noticing what is possible when millions of little sparks are all lit up across the world.

Materials

  • Piece of paper to create on
  • Any drawing, painting or sketching supplies

Art Prompt

  • Start with a material that sparks your interest.

  • Use that material to create an image of the light within you.

    • What color is it? What shape? What texture?

  • Sometimes we know where the light is, sometimes we need to discover it.

    • Use your art making as a time for exploring the light within you that might not be readily apparent.

Reflection Questions

  • Looking at your image, how would you describe the light within you?

  • Were you surprised by anything that emerged in your art making?

  • How do you tend the flame of the light within?

  • When does the light inside you feel brightest?

  • In what ways do you help support others in shining their unique light?

PROMPT #3 SHARING YOUR LIGHT WITH THE WORLD

Framing: While Chanukah candles are usually lit at home, we are encouraged to make the light visible not only to those within our home, but to those outside as well. The phrase that captures this practice is פרסומי ניסא (pirsumei nisa) — literally “to make public the miracle.” We publicize the miracle of Chanukah by placing our menorah outside the door of our house, or in a window that faces the street. At a time of year when the days grow shorter and colder and we retreat inward into our own safe and cozy spaces, if we are lucky enough to have them, Chanukah compels us to stay connected to the larger world — to shine our light into the spaces that might not feel as safe and cozy to us. When you think about the world outside your home, where do you see the greatest need for light?

Materials

  • Timer
  • Pen or pencil
  • Paper or journal

Art Prompt

  • Set a timer for 10 minutes

  • Take 10 minutes to free write in response to the questions:

    • What comes up for you when thinking about making your menorah more visible?

    • This year, where do you want to shine your light?

  • Try to write continuously for the full time without stopping.

  • Include anything that comes up — thoughts, feelings, judgements, ideas — without censoring yourself.

  • When you are finished go back over what you wrote and glean some part of your writing to use as a kavanah — intention — when lighting candles this Chanukah.

Reflection Questions

  • What themes came up for you in your writing?

  • Did anything you wrote surprise you?

  • During these days of the year when light is scarcest, how might you shine your light?

PROMPT #4 SPARKING INTENTION

Framing: There is a famous dispute regarding the lighting of the Chanukah candles. According to the School of Shammai, we should begin the first night by lighting all eight candles, removing them one by one, until on the final night of Chanukah we have one candle glowing in the darkness. The School of Hillel, tells us to do the opposite: start the first night with one candle and add a candle each subsequent night so that we end with all eight candles burning brightly.

Rabbi Mendel Weinbach teaches that the dispute between Hillel and Shammai belies a symbolic struggle over the strategic approach to resisting oppression: Do we focus on the destruction of these dark forces or harness the power of truth to bring illumination and dissipate the darkness? Weinbach tells us to look closely at the nature of a flame. It has two very distinct properties: it can burn, and it can illuminate. Chanukah is a chance to notice the light, the darkness and the shadows in between. It is an invitation to bear witness to oppression and destruction and a time to kindle the flames of hope and celebrate the power of resistance. As author Robin Sharma writes, What you focus on grows, what you think about expands, and what you dwell upon determines your destiny.”

Ultimately, Jewish practice follows Beit Hillel. Through candle lighting, then, we meditate on that which we want to grow in the world. In adding one more candle each night we focus on kindling the sparks of justice, hope and resistance.

Materials

  • Any drawing, painting or sketching supplies
  • Piece of paper roughly 2.5x3.5 inches to create on
  • Collage materials (optional)

Art Prompt

  • Let come to mind one intention you have for Chanukah.

  • Distill that intention to 1 word or short phrase.

  • Write that word or phrase down on your piece of paper.

  • Use your art materials to embellish your phrase.

  • Let your time of art making be a chance to meditate on your intention.

  • When you are finished, choose a location to place your intention card where you will see it every day.

  • Notice in what, if any, ways your intention manifests over the coming week.

Reflection Questions

  • Perhaps the greatest power we have is determining where to direct our attention. How did you decide where to focus your intention for the holiday?

  • What came up as you created your intention card?

  • In what, if any, ways did your intention card influence your thoughts or actions throughout the week?

  • How might the intention you chose be connected to your larger vision for your family, community, or the world?