A number of years ago, I began to light a taper candle when I would sit to read or pray or write. Doing so reminds me of the presence of God, and the flame is mesmerizing; it creates in me a blessed stillness. With the lit candle next to me, it is also as if I have a silent, soul companion, which allows me to feel less anxious and to receive inspiration for the day and the task at hand.
I look at the candle longer during these moments of meditation than when we light candles on other occasions, and I began to notice how the match flame catches to the wick and sizzles, how the wick soaks up the melting wax like fuel, how the flame itself is multicolored, and how the top of the candle becomes luminous as it is consumed. It struck me that a taper candle is a finely tuned, light producing system, one to which a human life might be compared.
Thus I started envisioning the wick as the soul or essence of me running down through the ‘candlewax’ of my work, relationships, and daily life. The flaming match represents the spark of God, and when it touches the wick ‘in me,’ my own light is born. So it is that who I am and how I am living in my body and in the world in relationship to the flame of the Spirit becomes a witness to others. If air currents are calm, often my light witnesses to this stillness and reaches upward, growing brighter, but sometimes even the breeze from a window threatens to extinguish it. On yet other mornings, my candle flame pulsates and seems to dance with joy before my eyes, allowing me to ask myself what kind of witness I am actually bearing.
So it is that praying by candlelight gives me the opportunity on any given day to assess my spiritual state and invite God’s grace into it, the lit candle serving as a sort of spiritual director. If the wick is buried in the pileup of the stuff of my life, for instance, I can “dig” around in prayer to free it and catch the spark. If the flame is terribly erratic, I can pray about the troubles in society and seek serenity.
In the early years of this spiritual practice, I also watched in suspense as the candle burned down over time. I observed how the wick can catch hold even at the bottom of the taper, and by the generosity of God, the little nub of a candle can still produce a large flame of bright vigor. Finally, at the moment the melted wax gives its all and the wick is no more, the flame simply goes to dark, emitting yet a wisp of rising smoke, like prayerful incense before God, and leaving the gift of profound peace in my soul.
(This piece was just included in the summer spiritual practices booklet produced by the Christian Education committee at Trinitarian Congregational Church, Concord, MA.)