We have been posing the question of a “New Normal” by calling on mystics of our time during the “12 days of Christmas” season. Kwanzaa is another spiritual tradition that has its stories to tell and festival to celebrate. Kwanzaa is an African American celebration held from December 26 to January 1. It culminates in a communal feast or karamu that is usually held on the sixth day.
Key to the festival is remembering and holding up for practice 7 principles:
3. Collective work and responsibility.
4. Cooperative economics
A candle is lit to signify each of these principles (not unlike the lighting of the menorah in celebration of Hanukkah; or the lighting of the Advent candle in honor of Advent).
These seven values appear to this outsider to be values we could all profit from practicing. Wouldn’t “cooperative economics” be a big improvement over what we have? And with that, might a “cooperative politics” emerge?
Wouldn’t “unity” as well as “self-determination” be worthwhile values that bring balance between rugged individualism and dependency and thus birth a new kind of interdependence which is the basis of true community and compassion?
And isn’t “creativity” at the heart of what makes us human whether expressed in music, theater, film, art, ritual or dance? Creativity is also primary in finding vaccines that stand up to invading viruses; and finding forms of education that honor creativity and values we cherish and live from. And in creating alternative dimensions to our work worlds whether we the way we do agriculture or science, law or business, religion or art.
Maulana Karenga introduced the festival in 1966 to the United States “as a ritual to welcome the first harvests to the home.” Kwanzaa is to be celebrated at home, not unlike the Shabbat in Judaism.
We are told that Karenga created the festival for African Americans “as a response to the commercialism of Christmas.” This last point seems especially applicable to many Christian and post-Christian scenes where what Christmas is supposed to represent has been co-opted by consumer capitalism, a god often more fully revered in our time and culture than is a God of justice and compassion.
There is much to learn from the Kwanzaa feast day which carries deep meanings that Jews in Hanukkah and Christians in Christmas are also trying to awaken in their people. Humanity is rich in its diverse expressions of common values we are eager to teach our young. Much is accomplished when we stop to understand the similarities and diverse expressions of what it means to be humans forging a better future.
Festivals are a part of that forging of a new future, of putting myths and messages about value-building into a new normal. Such a new normal is not always so new for it carries the wisdom of the ancestors. It just seems new because we so easily forget. Idols of consumerism can readily take over our memories.
See Matthew Fox, One River, Many Wells: Wisdom Springing from Global Faiths.
Banner Image: Lighting the Kwanzaa Candles. Photo by Askar Abayev from Pexels
Which of these principles of Kwanzaa speak most deeply to you personally? And to the needs of our culture at this time?
One River, Many Wells: Wisdom Springing from Global Faiths
Matthew Fox calls on all the world traditions for their wisdom and their inspiration in a work that is far more than a list of theological position papers but a new way to pray—to meditate in a global spiritual context on the wisdom all our traditions share. Fox chooses 18 themes that are foundational to any spirituality and demonstrates how all the world spiritual traditions offer wisdom about each.“Reading One River, Many Wells is like entering the rich silence of a masterfully directed retreat. As you read this text, you reflect, you pray, you embrace Divinity. Truly no words can fully express my respect and awe for this magnificent contribution to contemporary spirituality.” –Caroline Myss, author of Anatomy of the Spirit