By Joe Perez
At this time of year, major religions from throughout the world celebrate holidays designed to signal the warmth of family and community amid the winter gloom. These celebrations often use the symbol of Light to represent hope, unity, and spirituality. Other seasonal holidays mark the arrival of the new year and provide an opportunity for introspection and setting visions for the year ahead.
Until recently there have only been two sorts of winter holidays: on the one hand, traditional religious ceremonies grounded in one particular faith; on the other hand, secular traditions devoid of any recognition of common spiritual bonds capable of uniting people in a higher purpose. However, three years ago a new twist emerged: Bridge of Light (BOL), a new winter celebration intended to stress the shared threads that unite people of all faiths and philosophies.
The BOL tradition has already been publicly supported by a few dozen people–including ministers, rabbis, monks, spiritual advisors, writers, Zen gurus, teachers, trainers, visionaries and change agents–who share a vision. We believe that authentic spirituality need not divide humanity into warring factions. Instead, it can bring all people together in deeper ways that can challenge us to work for healing and bettering the world.
Like Kwaanza, the holiday honoring African-American heritage, BOL is a cultural celebration not requiring any particular religious beliefs. BOL is an observance on New Year’s Eve (December 31) of each year. It involves activities such as candle-lighting to honor universal values that have been revered in degrees by people in most cultures and times.
Six universal spiritual and moral principles are honored: Creativity (by lighting a purple candle), Freedom (a red candle), Integrity (a blue candle), Self-Reliance (an orange candle), Harmony (a green candle), and Love (a yellow candle). Some celebrants of Bridge of Light also light additional candles to highlight additional traditions, values, and principles. The candle-lighting may occur at any time on December 31 or just before and after the stroke of midnight as the celebrant prefers.
The first Bridge of Light celebrations have been small, private ceremonies conducted in homes. But ultimately we hope that more communal rituals might emerge. Social, religious, and civic groups are welcome to add BOL ceremonies to their list of winter activities. What makes BOL unique is its focus on spiritual principles that are the common heritage of all people … and the vision that these principles can provide the basis for affirming universal human dignity, rights, and justice.
The philosophy behind BOL is based on integrative, evolutionary, and holistic principles that recognize a deep underlying harmony between science, modernity, and timeless religious insights into human nature. The six principles may be regarded as a “common faith” taught by the world’s greatest mystics, sages, saints, prophets, poets, artists, and visionaries. However, there are no orthodox interpretations of the six core principles. You are welcome to take what works for you from the integral philosophy and leave the rest behind.
The vision for BOL didn’t emerge from the conclaves of robe-clad clerics, the halls of the Ivy League, or the research of cultural think tanks. The vision of BOL gradually emerged out of the Gay Spirit Culture Summit held in May 2004 in Garrison, New York. The GSC Summit brought together about 100 gay, bisexual, and queer-identified men from throughout the world to envision new spiritual possibilities and ways of strengthening the gay/GLBT community.
Another premise of Bridge of Light is that gay life is maturing into a greater focus on partnerships, family relationships, and deep friendships of substance. Getting married and having kids (if desired) is within reach of gays today and future generations. Therefore, our community’s most important traditions should reflect this development. BOL is intended to be a family-friendly holiday.
Beyond pride in who we are and acceptance of our diversity, BOL affirms the common humanity and spiritual dignity of all people. In other words, if Gay Pride festivals honor what makes us different, Bridge of Light honors what unites us with all people. If Gay Pride is a time to come together for revelry in the streets, BOL is a time for more soulful celebration centered in our “better natures.” Many of us believe that in Spirit (however we understand Spirit), all are One.
You are invited to mark the transition to 2007 with a new, more conscious intention. With whatever words and customs work for you, set your heart and mind on recognizing a common source and destiny of GLBT persons and all humanity. All human beings share this planet together under one sky, so let us take this time to wish for a more peaceful, caring, and humane world. All people from every background without exception are invited to celebrate the Bridge of Light.
It is a strange world where acknowledging the spiritual dignity, worth, and beauty of all people—including gays—is controversial. Today, many so-called spiritual leaders use the arrival of the winter holiday season to spread messages that are disrespectful of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender persons. But we believe that values such as creativity, integrity, freedom, self-reliance, harmony, and love are NOT the exclusive domain of only one nation, sect, gender identification, or sexual orientation.
This season need not be a time of loneliness, isolation, and exclusion. It can be an opening unto gratitude, optimism, and renewal of our spirits. Together, we can strengthen our families, communities, and help in leading the world toward brighter tomorrows.
Learn more about Bridge of Light at http://www.bridgeoflight.net/ On the web site, you can also read statements in support of our shared vision and add your own statements. Joe Perez is a Seattle-based writer and founder of the Gay Spirituality & Culture group weblog (gayspirituality.typepad.com). He is also the author of Rising Up: Reflections on Gay Culture, Politics, and Spirit (Lulu.com, 2006).
Note: You can find Joe Perez's new writings on WE Spirituality.