Sometimes I wake early when the world is still dark. I stumble, half-awake, to the kitchen, then to the living room, gathering supplies, turning on as few lights as possible. I strike a match and watch it burn, lighting a candle, turning off lights. I sit in the darkness with the glow of this small solitary flame encircling me.
I watch. And I pray.
There are many things to pray for these days. Every day, but maybe I am just more aware now than I have been before.
There is a community, several in fact, near our hometown, crushed by an epic storm that took life and property and left only destruction. It is close enough to where we grew up that I recognize towns and places. And I ache for the losses and the uphill battle of restoration that awaits.
There is a woman facing a cancer diagnosis, not her first, and it doesn’t look good. But she is fighting back, refusing to give in a single day before the fight is over. I haven’t seen her in years but I know the fight is in her. And I ache for the hard days ahead.
There is another woman fighting to get back to the life she knew. Her family is with her but they are weary, I’m sure, and the battle is long.
I ache because I can’t fix anything and all the things I could do feel so small.
What can I do?
What difference would it make?
So I end up overwhelmed, doing nothing at all.
A few years ago, my husband and I visited a Catholic shrine in the suburbs of Chicago. We are not Catholic, but we are increasingly interested in the old ways. Ancient practices. Orthodox traditions. The things that often are said with distaste in our evangelical circles because they are viewed as ritual, without meaning.
That day, though, I remember feeling surrounded by the holy. Holy can be anywhere and everywhere, and sure there was plenty of human there that day, too, but I was awed. And there were candles flaming, lit for those who needed prayer, a miracle.
I lit one that day, and now I can’t remember why, but there was something significant about lighting a candle, piercing the darkness with a flame of light.
How long the candle burns, I don’t know, and yes, I put in some money to offset the cost of the candle. Perhaps it burns, still.
I pray, yes, and sometimes I forget to pray. I care, and sometimes I forget to show I care.
I so want to pray and yet I am overwhelmed by the needs. Could I ever pray enough for all of them?
The answer, of course, is no, I couldn’t and I can’t.
But is there more to prayer? Is there more than whispers, spoken words, names on a list?
I am a tactile person in a tactile world and sometimes praying seems like not enough. Has it made any difference?
But the candle, the light in the darkness, this means something to me. It is an act I can see and when combined with my words might it make a difference?
I’m not yet sure how to make this a practice. I cannot keep candles burning in my house all the time, but could I light a candle more often?
I want to push back the darkness with light, even if the light is small. And maybe that’s just what my prayers are. Tiny little lights in the dark world, like stars in the heavens shining against a backdrop of black.
“It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness,” the adage says. I believe it’s okay to curse the darkness, to grieve the losses and even ask “why, God?” but to stay there is to let the darkness overcome.
Curse the darkness, then light a candle or whatever that means for you. Send a card. Speak a life-giving word. Encourage. Lift up.
There is far too much light left in the world to let the darkness win.
Look for the light.
Be the light.
Light your candle and let it burn.
What do you think of the practice of lighting a candle for prayer?
How can you be light in the world?