For years I have enjoyed lighting a candle when I work or pray. I have tried to make elegant intellectual/theological castles about Jesus being the light and all that, but when I do so I am aware that in my case (because I know for sure others find more meaning in that image than I) I am simply trying to justify something I like.
We all do this in various parts of life. We like something “just because” but that doesn’t seem good enough to us. We want to like something for good reason, maybe we want to be rational, or maybe we want to feel like we have taste or wisdom. Sometimes we are doing this to justify something we know we shouldn’t be doing, looking at porn or eating too much fast food. What I find so interesting is that I find myself doing it even for something as benign as lighting a candle when I pray. I mean, it is not like I fear I might be worshipping the candle, the flame, or the light, I am clear on who I am praying to. Still, there is the urge to explain it.
Perhaps it is because we live in a culture with a lot of guilt or shame and we feel the urge to be justified in our ways, even the benign ones. Maybe as christians we can learn to access the freedom of Jesus who offers forgiveness and justification to us all and demonstrate through our lives and actions and approaches to our actions the freedom and acceptance we find in him. Not that I need forgiveness for lighting a candle, I am trying to reflect on the root that makes me even feel the ned to justify the candle in the first place. Deep down inside I need the gospel to get more rooted, I am free, and forgiven, and can walk in confidence and boldness thanks to those truths, in the eyes of the One who counts, all is well.
For instance, beyond trying to explain my predilection for the gentle light of a candle with theological robustness, I have thought that maybe I like the candles because I grew up in the Roman Catholic church and there were a lot of candles there. It may be that some kernel of truth is present in that but I wouldn’t say that praying feels terribly childlike, nor does it bring up childhood for me. Maybe there is a sort of romance to praying by candlelight that I have picked up subtly through movies or something.
Here is what I have come to about this. It may or may not be the final answer: this whole candle business is an invitation to learn self-acceptance. Who cares if I like a candle? Where is the harm? Maybe it is just who I am and that is alright. We are all unique and our spiritual paths will exhibit that. We all have our own journey to travel and how we go about it is really up to us. Jesus can and will guide any of who ask him to be involved.
I have heard struggles about this sort acceptance, subtle sand simple though it is. For some they get nothing out of sermons and can’t imagine why so many people care so much about what the minister says as she speaks. For others the music falls on deaf ears and they cannot imagine why music wars and arguments about the sorts of instruments and music that belong in church become so divisive. I have heard people talk like there is something wrong with the because their antenna isn’t tuned exactly like other folks’ are. Maybe it is all an invitation to look more deeply into ourselves, learn to recognize that which brings us closer to God, accept that truth, and then walk that path. If we find others who are similar great, but let’s not beat ourselves up that our particular spirituality doesn’t look quite like the folks around us.
So go ahead, light a candle, listen to Gregorian chants, interpretive dance, use beads, crosses, pictures, paintings, whatever floats your spiritual boat, just be sure to welcome Jesus into the moment and he can redeem it.