The Irish teacher and poet John O'Donahue writes in his poetic blessing "For Light" of different types of light: neon light, morning light, twilight, moonlight, fugitive light and candlelight. This time of year in nature we're especially sensitive to light (or its absence). Christians think of light in the season before Christmas called Advent (beginning Dec. 1 this year), which long has had light as a major theme. The faithful remember a saying of John the Baptist, whose traditional birthdate is around the summer solstice, comparing himself to Jesus, the light of the world, whose birth date has been celebrated near the winter solstice. John said of Jesus (John 3:30), He must increase, but I must decrease.
I suggest that candlelight is that type of light, perhaps, that is the most useful type of light on which to focus (though, please, be safe when using fire) during these early days of December. Candlelight is something different than the cold blue florescent light shining down the corridors of consumerism, or strobes alternating red and green holiday beams from porches or often raucously festooned streets. Candlelight can direct us towards the presence of the holy in our midst. It can turn our minds and hearts towards those aspects of the holiday to come that are most important. It can speak quiet assurance and offer warmth for those experiencing bleaker times, when celebration is not appropriate to life experiences or memories don't allow for easy cheer.
Where might we find candles this season to focus upon, flickering the assurances of support and meaning of the things of the Spirit? We might find them:
When we engage in spiritual direction. A candle may light the space between you and a person who can converse with you about your "spiritual journey." Check out the web site www.sdiworld.org to locate a certified director near you.
At worship. The candles on the altar and sometimes on Advent wreaths will surely be lit as you find time to make that church visit you've been planning. My church will have tens of votive candles flickering as we sing a simple service of prayer December Wednesdays until Christmas at 7 PM.
In your own devotional moments. Set an intentional time to read from scripture, or from written reflections. Slow down these weeks to create that time and space for prayer.
In the light brought into the darkness of disasters. When we watch news clips of weather calamities or tragedies due to war and other causes, we will focus on the caregivers, the relief workers, the aid that has been kindled, and consider the flame in our hearts.
A day of love, joy and peace is on the way, to be sure, these candles teach. They burn in the meantime, as we sing the simple tune whose first verse is Lost in the night do the people yet languish, longing for morning, the darkness to vanquish, plaintively sighing with hearts full of anguish, Will not day come soon? Will not day come soon?
- Aurand is the pastor at St. Luke Lutheran Church in Williamsport.