“Kindle a flame to lighten the dark, and take all fear away.” -Iona Community
It is the first week of Advent, and I begin by lighting the first purple candle of my Advent wreath. In Advent we watch and wait for the Light of Christ, but I must start by admitting to the darkness. The darkness that touches me takes many forms. This past weekend away from home, when I dream more vividly than other times, I had persistent of dreams of the past with people and places which illuminated my brokenness and wounds. It was unsettling and uncomfortable and left me both baffled and ill at ease. I realized as I tried to listen to the dreams that in part, at least, I had expected that by this time in my life, all the darkness in me would be enlightened or resolved. Instead some of the same hurts and slights that have been part of me since my youth remain in my unconscious, calling me to pay attention to places where I still need the Light of Christ to shine its healing Light.
It didn’t take me long to think of those whom I call friends, families, loved ones, acquaintances, who also struggle in that half-light of personal pain. The process of becoming a human being is full of bumps and turns, griefs and disappointments, steps forward and slides back. Some of those leave their lasting imprint on our souls, and we limp into our lives with fear, with anger, with despair, with defensiveness. Reading the lives of the saints and the mystics tells us that the personal pain is not a modern phenomena alone. Those saints had different names and strategies for dealing with their wrestling and suffering, but almost every one whose stories we have recount physical maladies that laid their spirit low, or emotional distress that felt like chains, or spiritual gloom that hampered vision, work and love.
So as I light the candle this year, it is first in the midst of whatever darkness I carry inside me. I believe that because of the Resurrection there are no final defeats, even from the internal images and conversations that go bump in my nights. I don’t know if it is too late to have a happy childhood or not; I suspect it is. But it is not too late to live more abundantly into the freedom that Christ has given me, not only in the bye and bye, but in the here and now. The Light can shine on my insecurity and give me confidence to be and to do what I am called to be and do. The Light can direct me to practices and companions for healing the hurts that still plague me. The Light can illuminate the path to wellness of body and Spirit, and energize my being to follow it. The Light can shed clarity of the ways that I have wounded others and empower my need to ask for forgiveness. And so I light the candle in trust, in faith, in hope, that as long as I have breath, I can follow the Light.
Darkness takes many guises, and my personal darkness can seem very tiny in relation to that which inhabits structures and systems in the worlds in which we live. But I start here with me, and I ask if if the lighting of the candle in inviting me to some action in bringing illumination to my darkness: do I need to step up on behalf of myself or another in a conversation or discussion, rather than site in cowardly fear? do I need to pray with my dreams to see what else they might teach me about how God wants me to move and grow? do I need to stretch myself to move my body toward health so that my entire being can be an agent of praise and glory, fully alive, for God? is there someone to whom I need to reach out to ask for or to receive from forgiveness?
I kindle the flame; one flame does not create great light as I wait this Advent, but it is a beginning, and it is sign of hope, that there will be more Light coming. And I am watching for it!
“Kindle a flame to lighten the dark, and take all fear away.”