If I counted up all the minutes I’ve spent staring into a flame, I wonder how many years of my life that would be. Certainly more than the hours I’ve spent brushing my teeth or combing my hair. It would probably even surpass the combination of bath and shower time.

For some reason (like most Catholics) I assume God hears me better if I stick my face in a hot glowing body of flame.

Is that because Jesus calls himself the “light of the world” (John 8:12)? Because Paul instructs the Ephesians to “walk as children of Light” (Ephesians 5:8)? Because Christians light the Paschal Candle on Easter as a symbol of the risen Christ?

Or is it because something about a flame on a candle soothes me in the same way that David’s ratty blankie comforts him. The scarlet blaze generates a feeling of hope, of fierce tenacity, that whispers: “you’re not off the hook yet…hang in there.”

Last year, when I wanted to die as urgently as babies want to be born, a good friend reminded me to look for the light. “No matter how black your darkness is, there is always a speck of light. Keep your eyes on that light.”

At first all I could see was the tiniest blip of brightness, like a speck on a photograph that isn’t supposed to be there. With more time and prayer and drugs and therapy, light began to trickle in, filling the shadows here and there. And then, ever so gradually, my vision was truly illuminated, so that I not only wanted to be alive, but I could perceive goodness and beauty and love in the people and things around me.

Fire and light take us back to the beginning: to a world that began as one big gas explosion (divided into seven neat days, of course). Sometimes I wonder if my body remembers that–when fire bore life–and reconnects with history in front of a flame.

In each candle I light, I pray for a tiny crumb of hope. I pray for a beginning of light, or a dawn, like the one John of the Cross described where “the mind, in sweet tranquility, is elevated above its comprehension to a divine light.” In other words, I pray to feel good and right, though I might not know why that is.

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