Sunday, January 07, 2007

Candles in the Darkness

My five-year-old son David does not enjoy going to school. Morning battles at our house are not pretty. As I drove him to school one Friday a few weeks back, we both had reached the end of our ropes. He was crying and screaming in the back seat and I was exhausted. I knew I had to do something to help him calm down so I asked him if he wanted to stop by the church (which is adjacent to the school) to light a candle and say a prayer. He nodded weakly and said "Yes." It seemed to help. The tears stopped and he went off to school, if not happily, at least more composed.

So, we have added this to our morning routine. Every school day David, his four-year-old brother Isaac, and I stop for a brief moment before sending David off to school. The church is so quiet at that time of the morning. The lights are dim and often we are the only ones there. The boys stop in front of the statue of Mary and baby Jesus and discuss which candle they each are going to light. We don't have real candles - they are just little electric lights inside of votive covers that make them look like candles. The boys pick their chosen candles and push a button. Instantly there is light shimmering in the darkness. We say a simple prayer - an Our Father, Hail Mary, or Glory Be. Our voices echo in the stillness. We bless ourselves with holy water and leave. The whole ritual takes two minutes at most, but it gets the day off to a good start.

As a small child, my mother would often take me to churches during the day as we would be out running errands or going to pick up my older sister from school. We would always stop to light candles and say a prayer. Of course, back then the candles were real and there was this wonderful aroma that permeated them. It was always comforting to know that the lit candle was there, continuing to lift our prayers to God long after we had left the church.

I hadn't lit candles in church for a long time. I considered myself too theologically advanced for such simple symbolism. Prayer is prayer and God hears them with or without the candle. But there is a place for symbols in life, and candles can be particularly powerful ones. The light represents Jesus, the light of the world, breaking through the darkness. The light represents the light within each one of us struggling to shine despite the trials and tribulations we may be going through. It represents our prayers going up to God.

Yes, lighting candles in church does have value and I have come to look forward to our morning visit as much as David and Isaac do. There is peace in the darkness and the stillness, and there is a great deal of comfort in knowing that those tiny little electric lights are glowing throughout the day as a sign of our prayer.

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