The power went out for over seven hours one day this past week. The church was totally dark and we were supposed to have our final Lenten Dinner and Study that evening. As the time for us to make the final preparations rolled around, we found ourselves wondering how to pull it off. We started to grab candles and the altar candelabra. We gathered all the Advent wreaths from storage. We used every pillar, taper, votive, and tea light candles we could find to light up the pitch black Social Hall. As people began to arrive we found them gathering closer together than usual, clustering around the light at the long banquet tables. The mood was curiously light and joyful. Instead of complaining about the lack of light, people complimented the atmosphere the candle light created. I guess, in hindsight, I shouldn’t have been surprised.
(Image courtesy of writingasjoe.blogspot.com)
I should have remembered 1 Samuel: the lamp of God had not yet gone out (3:3). We, the people of the light, are called to find ways to bring light into the darkness of the world. Most of the time we think of this figuratively, but sometimes, like that evening, we do it literally. As this gathering of believers sat, surrounded by total darkness, save the candles adorning the tables and few scattered lamp stands, I watched faces glowing. Everything else faded into the depths of darkness, but the expressions were hyper visible, and they were beautiful. There was an ambiance created that night, and people were a significant part of it. What was it about the candle light that brought about this dramatic shift in our gathering?
Perhaps it is because Christians were forced very early on in their past to become people who gathered in dark places to worship in secret. Perhaps there is part of our spiritual genetics that has been passed down from generation to generation that recalls those times and the intimate community that formed under those circumstances, the bonding that took place. Perhaps the darkness covers everything that is not so important when the Body of Christ gathers together and the glow of candle light emphasizes what is really important to us: one another. In the time since electricity became so pervasive and bright, clinical lighting was made normative, we have forgotten how lovely candle light is to behold. It calls up in us the metaphors of lamp stands and the light of God in the Temple. We are reminded of Jesus’ parable about the ten bridesmaids who did not keep oil in their lamps, so they missed the bridegroom. We remember Christ’s emphasis on letting our light shine, not to hide it under a bushel.
Whatever the reason, the candle light made that evening something more for us. There is no proper way to describe it, or words to do it justice. It was… an experience. You had to be there. Maybe next time you will be. Perhaps God is always ready and waiting for us to rediscover our lost heritage of candle light, because Christ is the one true light in our lives. When that light shines forth, bounces off another being and is reflected back to us, there are no words. Just emotions and experiences, the creation of memories. It is one of the most forgotten parts of being in a Christian community. Except that night, it was the reason for our community.
“Indeed, you are my lamp, O LORD, the LORD lightens my darkness” (2 Samuel 22:29 NRS).