Pastor's Corner: We lit a candle as we began to pray
Last updated 1/29/2021 at 7:42am
In a group of pastors from all across Montana, gathering by Zoom once a month for about half a year now, a spiritual exercise commenced with our leader putting a flame to wick.
It set a tone. It marked entry into a contemplative and aware space. Not all of us on the video call late last week lit our own candle at home but we had the flicker of light reflected on the face of the one prompting and guiding us. Yet particularly if we did light a candle of our own, it helped our physical space to reflect where we were going and what we were doing in our minds and spirits.
The simple ritual even helped me to release tension from my body. It stood as a reminder to un-hunch my shoulders ... and keep coming back to check on them occasionally throughout the remainder of the hour. Stressful thoughts sometimes crept back in and subconsciously led them to re-tighten.
I have found myself lighting more candles and being in the presence of them more often during this past year. Yes, the heaviness of the pandemic has been a major factor. But even before that was really on our radar, the somewhat obscure festival of Candlemas made a rare appearance on a Sunday, so I decided why not try and learn about it and incorporate it into worship? We blessed candles and lights we expected to use throughout the year, before knowing how much more than usual some of us might use them.
In our "distance learning" space set up in the basement, we lit a candle and blessed the room and prayed for the continued "different learning" associated with it. We made sure to light every possible candle when we gathered for worship during the Advent season. We did not end up needing our candles and flashlights but we had them at the ready after four hours of power outage during the Jan. 13 wind storm, should it have continued after dark. We kept warm and comforted by the wood stove in the conference hall at a Flathead Lutheran Bible Camp retreat.
Wood stoves heated our house most winters when I was growing up in Western Washington and I could happily spend the better part of an hour watching the flames dance, a welcome payoff after stacking the piles of logs in the short and usually wet daylight hours. Candles were always kept at the ready, in certain kitchen drawers, easy to make way to by feel. We did this since the combination of wind, wet, tall trees and miles of line strung about the island where we lived meant fairly frequent interruptions in the electricity. There were often hours, but sometimes days, before it could be restored.
In our church sanctuaries and in reverent sacred spaces for the nation, an eternal flame reminds us of God's timelessness, our own mortality in contrast, the examples of the saints gone before us and the vibrance of the generations to come. It is common to light a candle in memory when we gather for All Saints Day worship or around the Tree of Remembrance most years at Holland & Bonine as we honor our loved ones who have died.
The symbolism of flames and light abound throughout the scriptures, as God appears to Moses in the form of an unquenchably fiery bush (Exodus 3:2) and tongues of flame help proclaim the coming of the Holy Spirit and the emergence of the church (Acts 2:3). The Gospel of John (1:9) proclaims Jesus Christ himself as "the true light that gives light to everyone."
Wherever and whenever we may light a candle, we may watch the light flicker and dance and be reminded of that movement, that life within and around us that emanates from a divine source. One who chose to become human, to become like us to endure all we bear in this broken world we live in and then some, but in whom the light of life can never be extinguished. Look to that light in dark days and know that you are never alone.
The Rev. Sean Janssen is pastor of Messiah Lutheran Church, Havre, and Christ Lutheran Church, Big Sandy