Practices From the Inside Out: It Is Better to Light One Candle Than to Curse the Darkness

Practices From the Inside Out: It Is Better to Light One Candle Than to Curse the Darkness December 21, 2019

It Is Better to Light One Candle Than to Curse the Darkness

We, where I live, are now in the darkest weekend of our year. These two days have the shortest period of daylight since the same dates last year.

Some of us struggle against this natural gathering of darkness. We fill our lives with as much artificial light as we can find. If we refuse to accept the darkening days, we tell ourselves, everything will be fine. It is as if we can convince the darkness to go away if we only curse it strongly enough.

Maybe it is because we are afraid of what darkness might hold for us.

We prefer to deal with things we know we can control. When we cannot see what is out there waiting for us we do not know whether we can control whatever it is.

Darkness is more powerful, more primal than we realize.

We are born into darkness, our eyes tightly shut against the light, like plants which only begin to bloom in darkness.

Sometimes we need to spend time in the dark. We turn out all the lights, even the screens of our phones, and remember the darkness in which we were born.

There are things we can see only in the dark.

Sometimes darkness teaches us what light cannot reveal to us. It may be the darkness of closing our eyes, the darkness of night, or living in dark times.

Cursing the darkness and struggling against it does not make it go away.

We do not need to chase darkness away by obliterating it. Sometimes we only need to light one candle to help us see the path we are following.

We Light One Candle and Darkness Begins to Melt

Even now, with our technologies to turn night into day and bring light into darkness, the balance of light and darkness shapes our lives.

I wonder what it must have been like before we learned about electricity. Our only light was from the sun or from flame. Now we are surrounded by bright lights which overwhelm the light of the stars in the night sky. We obliterate darkness with lamps, headlights, and the glow from so many screens. It is hard to imagine what life was like when lighting our lives took more effort than flipping a switch or clicking a button.

We need stillness to pay attention to our deepest selves, to hear ourselves. Do we need darkness to appreciate our deepest selves, to see who we are? How can we become enlightened if we never spend any time in the dark? Do we recognize light if we are not acquainted with the dark? What is the relationship, the rhythm, which balances darkness and light for us?

Do we see ourselves more clearly as our days grow darker?

Darkness is where I think my deepest thoughts, and also where I rest and sleep. Maybe our deep thoughts are like the stars; always there but usually washed out by the lights we build to drive away the darkness. Maybe that rest is always available to us, whenever we tap into the depths of peaceful darkness within us.

There are times when I sit in the darkness and light one candle to help me pay attention. The light of that one small flame can illuminate my contemplation.

I light one candle to help me listen and remember to be open to the spiritual life within me and all around me. One candle is all we need.

We Light One Candle to Remember We Can Be All Flame

My favorite story of the early Christian desert mothers and fathers is that one day Abba Joseph said to Abba Lot, “You cannot be a monk unless you become like a consuming fire.”

Abbot Lot went to Abbot Joseph and said, “Father, as far as I can I say my little office, I fast a little, I pray and meditate, I live in peace as far as I can, I purify my thoughts. What else can I do?”

Abba Joseph rose up in reply and stretched out his hands to heaven, and his fingers became like ten lamps of fire. He said, “If you will, you can become all flame.”

So often we are afraid to wait through one more night of darkness for daylight to begin getting longer. We focus on cursing the darkness around us and do not see we can be totally changed into flame.

When I sit in the dark and light one candle it reminds me we can become like a consuming fire.

We do not need to live in fear, cursing what we think we cannot do. Spiritual life is about who we are becoming.

We Light One Candle and Share the Flame

When we light one candle we can share its flame with other people. The fire of our candle can spread from candle to candle and from heart to heart.

Each of us experiences darkness in our own personal ways. We may struggle to find light in the darkness of injustice or loss, of ignorance or abuse.

Some of spend our lives stumbling around in the dark while others try to light one candle for us.

Choosing to light one candle is a decision we each make for ourselves. We may try to reason our way analytically toward light in the darkness or feel our way emotionally. Some of us work to understand challenging experiences and relationships. The darkness hides the candles we could light and we cannot find any illumination.

Some of us are willing and eager to share the flame from our candles with other people. Each of us chooses to light one candle for ourselves.

We can light one candle or we can curse the darkness around us. The choice is ours.

How will we light one candle instead of cursing the darkness today?

When can we light one candle and share the flame each day this week?

[Image by hans s]

Greg Richardson is a spiritual life mentor and coach in Southern California. He has served as an assistant district attorney, an associate university professor, and is a lay Oblate with New Camaldoli Hermitage near Big Sur, California. Greg’s website is and his email address is

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