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Saturday, August 01, 2009

Like a candle in the darkness...

You're never quite sure when and where it will happen. And, you often find that you're not ready for it. Yet when the time comes for you to get down on your knees and pray, you do it without question. No ifs. No buts. You lower your head in a show of utmost respect and begin to pray to the Almighty whatever, whoever and however he, or she, may be.

So, on this particular day, it didn't surprise me to feel a certain degree of reverence as I approached the church. I haven't really been raised a Christian, but I don't think it's a requirement to have to go to church. Still, as with most houses of worship, just approaching the structure instills within you a sense of cosmic calm; a serenity that is so immediately comforting it cannot be of this world. Such is the power of man, who creates gods in his image. Standing at the front door seeking entry into the sanctuary beyond, I was greeted by a blissfully silent welcome. It was a small church, and as with things in the world that have seen many eras come and go, several architectural styles and ideas seemed to stand out and vie for the attention of an eager audience. But there was no amassed audience here. No, just a couple of stragglers like myself who seem to have come fluttering towards the light, like moths to a candle.

At some point in my awestruck meandering through the high-arched front door of the church, I happen to have purchased a set of candles. It was a small, card-paper box of ten candles, each a slender stick of wax that just about covered the wick within it. Looking down at this little package in my hands, I couldn’t even place the recent conversation that had been a query, followed by a response and offer of sale, quickly culminated by the exchange of goods and money. In fact, my mind was so blank I found myself looking around, to all corners of the church, seeking an answer to this self-imposed dilemma.

I found a seat, as far away from the stragglers minus one as I could. I thought “minus one” to myself because I seem to have made a mental note that there were two of them when I entered the church, whereas now one of them seemed to abandoned his partner and straggled off. I wanted to distance myself from people here so that I could really get down to praying and communicating in earnest with a power that I believed was responsible for me being here. Once I was comfortable, I knelt down on the ground, with my hands folded in a vice-like grip of worship and my head bowed down to a level slightly beyond comfortable, just so I knew I was making the effort. I let the silence envelop me and drown out the madness of the world, until I couldn’t hear anything anymore. Just my thoughts. Just me and my gratitude towards my creator.

When I was finished, or when I thought that I had been sufficiently gracious and thankful for all that my life was and had to offer me, I finished with one last thank-you and proceeded to rise to my knees. I was going to go make my offering of candles, all ten of them, not only for me or the members of my family as I had come to recognize them, but for anyone out there who was in desperate need of a blessing, in whatever shape or form it would come in. As I approached the enormous, cast-iron candle stand towards the front of the church, I couldn’t help but experience a multitude of emotions about the scene that greeted me. There in front of me, giving off a strong yet somehow still dull glow of yellow light was a sight that evoked both happiness and sorrow, good will and pathos. There were a few empty holding cups that had held candles not too long ago that I could make use of for my offering. But at the same time, there were candles that had not burned through to completion, implying that there were people who had visited this church and gone on ahead of me who would never know if their prayers would ever be answered. Some candles, extinguished just moments after they had been lit, or part of the way through burning completely, seemed to be wishes that were never going to shine their beacon of hope in the lives of the people who had lit them. And that felt very sad. So, I picked up where the candles seemed to have left off, and relit as many as I could, trying to feel better for helping out in some invisible way.

The more I did this, the more I began to see the candles on this stand as people, perhaps even as the very people who had lit them. Some of them were now all but stubs of their former glory. Others of them had barely been lit before being extinguished forever. Still others were bent out of shape and doubled over by the overall heat generated by candles nearby. A multitude of candles, like a metaphor for a sea of humanity. And this felt somehow bittersweetly ironic. The sensation was almost palpable. But, as I lit my last candle and took a step back to take it all in, well, I was somehow comforted to know that things were just as they should be, as they always had been and will always continue to be. And with that, as I watched a candle flicker out and die here, while another shone on brightly over there, I realized what I had been so thankful for. That life would never change. And that no matter how significant I thought I was or wasn’t, life still had a way of making me smile, knowingly. I’ll always be thankful for that. Thank you, God.

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