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Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Praying with Candles

Here is an Advent reflection I wrote that the Huffington Post published today.  

Advent Reflection
Dave Clark, Ankeny Christian Church

When I stumbled across a district-wide church newsletter, I wondered if anyone appreciated the irony of an article entitled, Twenty-One Things to Do to Simplify Advent.  Great, that’s all I needed--twenty-one more things to do. Sadly, I’ve tried at least twelve of those suggestions and still find myself overwhelmed. When the frenetic pace gets too much, I slip away from the piles of stuff to do on my desk and retreat to a back room and plop down the box of individual Christmas candles we use each year.

Tending to the candles is one of those messy, pedestrian tasks that they never tell you about in seminary.  Yet, I love sitting with a wastebasket between my knees using my thumb to pry off chunks of wax encrusted to the sides of the salvageable candles.  My favorite part of Christmas is lighting those candles while singing Silent Night; my favorite part of Advent is preparing those candles for that one holy moment.

It’s an act of prayerful imagination as I wonder who may have held the candle I’m examining.  What silent prayers were offered while basking in the soft orange-glow of this candle?  What prayers went up while wax flowed down?  Was someone praying for a miracle, a healed relationship, the ability to let go? Was it held by someone hoping for a pregnancy or one hoping that she wasn’t pregnant? Was it someone who got engaged that very night or someone who knew it would be his or her last time to light a Christmas candle--ever? Was it someone deciding to give faith a chance?

I recall last year’s Christmas Eve service and remember the faces of people in our church, how they looked at peace when we lit the candles. I consider the wonders and tragedies they’ve experienced through the year and my heart aches for those with seemingly unanswered prayers. I  hope that some sense of Christmas peace may sustain them, that Immanuel, “God with us” will mean something to them in a real way, an incarnate way.

As I roll a little candle between my palms, I cannot help but wonder who will hold it this year and how the new pray-er will be connected to the person who held the candle last year.  In the community of faith all our prayers are one.  Whenever I try to make Advent more complicated than that, I lose my way and wind up feeling guilty for all that I haven’t done.  Playing, or should I say praying with the candles helps me remember that was never about my doing anyway.

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