As winter draws close around us here in the northern hemisphere, I find myself drawn ever more to the flame of candles. A couple of years ago, I spent the month of January in Oslo, Norway. Though the climate in Oslo is similar to my home in northern New York, the days are significantly shorter. I noticed when I first arrived that when night fell, houses across the landscape extravagantly twinkled with lights in every window. The ski Jump at Holmenkollen, spectacular in the daytime, was brightly lit at night, shining across the valley to my lodgings on the opposite hills. At a friend’s house for dinner, I noticed that she lit many candles throughout the house, and particularly at the dinner table. She welcomed me into her home with the light of candles, despite the darkness of the night.
I have thought about this from time to time since returning to my home. I recalled that when our son was deployed to Iraq in 2003-4, we kept a candle lamp lit in the window the whole time he was gone. We wanted him to know we were waiting to welcome him home … and home he did come. Could it have been our candle that drew him through that dark experience?
As Unitarian-Universalists we light a flame to begin our meeting times together. At the close of the service, we pledge to carry that flame into our lives. The flame of a candle welcomes us in, and then sends us forth with the warmth of community, fire of commitment.
But what about the candle? I recently read a poem called “The Careless Candle” by John E. Wood which closed with the following words:
A candle must give itself away. In the giving, the spending,
the spreading, the sending, it finds itself.
A candle is but a symbol. It gives us light and warmth for a time, but eventually it is extinguished. It then becomes our task to be the candle for others in our lives.
How have I been a candle today?? How have I given light and warmth to others? Who has been a candle to me?