"Would you like to light a candle?"
The simplest question asked at a certain time can usher eternity into the everyday.
At the entrance to a Taizè service on the evening of All Saints Sunday, I said "yes" to the small, glass-enclosed votive that a woman offered me. Staring at the black speck of a wick and smiling, my thoughts traveled to my friend, Brent. We had communicated earlier that weekend because his birthday fell on All Saints' Sunday this year.
I met Brent shortly after moving to my first pastoral appointment. When he introduced himself as a "heathen," I knew I'd found a good friend. Some of the most Christ-like people I've met have considered themselves "heathens." Some do not attend church on Sunday mornings and don't want a certain religious "label" to identify them. Some are fed up with hypocrisy, and others have doubts about long-held Christian beliefs. I never saw Brent sitting in a pew of my church on Sunday morning, but I always saw him meeting people's needs--including being a friend to me.
When conversations would turn to prayer needs, Brent had a go-to phrase: "light a candle." I remember going to his house for a dinner gathering of friends one evening. I had officiated at a difficult funeral earlier that same day. He asked me how the family was doing. I updated him and said without thinking, "Keep them in your prayers." He smiled and said, "I'll light a candle. Lots of candles." He hugged me and asked how I was doing, too. I never cease to give thanks for the people who ask--truly ask--how this pastor is doing.
Later that evening, I drove home nourished by food and friendship, yet still haunted by the sadness of my parishioners who mourned the loss of a loved one. I'd spent the past few days giving voice to grief through prayer, and I had no words left. So I did what my 'heathen' friend does. I silently lit candles at the breakfast table. I stared at the flames and welcomed the promise that the eternal light of Christ does overcome life's greatest darkness.
We typically associate the lighting of candles with the saints who have gone before us. This past Sunday, I lit a candle for a living saint whose birthday fell on the same day. The rising flame reminded me of how the caring words and actions of friends can lighten the dark crevices of a our souls. As we sang the beautifully repetitious songs of Taizè, I gave thanks not only for the gift of Brent but also for all the "heathens" and saints who share the light through Christ's love in the simplest of words, the most unassuming of ways, everyday.
And so with your people on earth
And all the great company of heaven
We praise your name
And join their unending hymn....
all good things to each of you,