These are dark and scary times, aren’t they?
I’ve been trying to think of what I could say to maybe help, even a little. And then I remembered this.
In our student days, Alan and I attended Assumption University Chapel, where, at Easter, they would hold a vigil.
It began outdoors, late at night, with the lighting of the new fire. There was incense and chanting. People were given the task of ensuring that Father Bob didn’t set his vestments alight, so caught up could he become in the moment.
Once the new fire was going, the Easter candle was lit, its tiny flame to burn all year until the following Easter when the ceremony would begin again.
We processed in darkness, up the stairs to the chapel, a cavernous attic room. And one by one, we would light the candles we had been given to hold, the first flame taken from the Easter candle and then shared. And those who held the flame would share it. And those who received the flame would share it until eventually the entire chapel was lit up to the point that we could smile and greet our neighbours and all read the words of the opening hymn.
Sometimes, through the rest of the year, I would find myself alone in the chapel, lights off and a hush upon the room. The little flame on the Easter candle was so tiny you had to look right at it to see that it was there. All on its own, it had very little power to illuminate anything.
There are, I think, a couple of factors at work in this story.
It’s not just the flame that matters. It alone cannot illuminate much. It’s the sharing that makes the magic happen. Each person sharing their own tiny, seemingly insignificant flame eventually lights up a very large room.
When faced with the enormity of lighting up that attic room on a dark night, any one person’s candle, even the Easter candle (and it had been blessed!) was not enough. But we each took the flame and passed it on and that’s what made the difference.
A moment of kindness. A deep breath to refuse the fear. A smile, a hug. A refusal to pass on the gossip. A petition signed. A commitment to Meatless Mondays. None of these are world changing on their own. They require neighbours. We require sharing. And one by one, bit by bit, the tiny flame begins to grow, begins to change the darkness into light.
It’s so easy to feel powerless in the face of doom. To feel like nothing we do can make a difference, to feel like any difference we make has to be huge. It’s easy to forget that there’s a bunch of us here and we’re in this together and we all only need to do what we can do. We only need to share our own tiny flame.
The other part of this story, of course, is the darkness itself. We could light candles in the daytime, but they wouldn’t seem nearly as significant. We can be kind when things are going well, but sometimes it doesn’t feel as important then.
Now that it seems like the sun has set, it feels so much more important for each of us, for all of us to share our tiny flame, to gather together, to wait till morning.
Take this tiny flame my friends. Morning will come.