The first thought is always the same and always anxious. Is the candle room door open?
It's a vital ritual for me each Sunday. Buy a big candle – I gather up the $4 the night before – choose the colour, tumble the money into the steel box, tuck the candle in the metal stand, light the wick, whisper my urgent prayers and then go to a pew in front of the tabernacle to talk with God, the Holy Mother, saints and souls that call heaven home.
Faces come and go at that time of the morning. I knew I must be one of the regulars when, during a brutal snowstorm, I came, snow smothered, up the aisle and the sextant at that time said, "Here comes Old Faithful."
Why is this bit of space, prayer and candle lighting so precious?
Because that is when everything in my scrambled life stops. Problems, sorrows, pleas are presented to the Holy Ones.
Why keep this weekly promise to myself? As Sister Annata counselled me, "Surely you can devote this bit of space out of a whole week to be with your best friend."
Actually, I chat with God, my beloved saints and departed souls throughout the day. A snippet here, a sentence there.
But what focuses me Sunday morning, opens my soul to hear what is being said to me, is the power of the flickering flame.
Somehow it stops the distraction of the dance band sideshow of life and I am alone with "my best friend." The vigil light burns for the week bearing witness to my prayers, realizations, gratitude.
Indeed, candles come centre stage now during Advent, our religious season of the moment. The first one – purple – the candle of hope – is followed by the purple candle of preparation, then the pink candle of joy and finally the purple candle of love.
Advent is such a gracious time to quiet the soul and mind, so when the eve of the birth of the Child is reached, the heart is ready to receive him.
A candle – that little flickering flame – can also actually save a physical life.
Safety experts – AMA included – advise drivers to include candles in their winter safety pack. Here is the scenario. The car is stuck in the snow, lost and buffeted by brutal winds, and the crucial thing is to stay alive. Certainly you can turn the car on for 15 minutes each hour to stay warm (remember to crack the window just a bit for fresh air). But you can run out of gas all too quickly.
A solid quality pillar candle (one that is of good wax and will burn for a long time), plus matches or lighter, can provide that life-giving warmth. The light also signals passing motorists you are there.
For those of you now saying, "That will never happen to me," humour me and tuck the candle and matches in your glove compartment. Given our madcap weather, not one of us who drives can predict what will happen once we turn onto the roadway, especially those travelling the highways and rural roads.
Surely your life is worth the price of a candle or two and a box of matches.
So what about the man huddled in a too-thin coat, no hat, bare hands shoved in pockets that you passed driving through the inner city? Is his life worth a big candle and box of matches?
The brutal reality of that question haunts me ever since I heard Father Tom Talentino at the Marian Centre say at Mass how a woman who lived in a tent on the river bank asked him if he had a candle. When he came back with four for her, "She acted as though she had won the lottery," reported Father Tom.
The temperature was socked in at -25C and below. It will happen again this winter.
One cannot wipe out what Father Tom said. One cannot pretend they do not know there are fellow human beings living in tents on the banks of the North Saskatchewan River.
Certainly many of us are in straightened financial circumstances. Money is scarce.
But the mental image of that woman's joy when Father Tom gave her the four candles will not leave me. So once a month I buy a pillar candle and get it to the House of Refuge on 104th Avenue and 95th Street or the Marian Centre.
So much power in one flame. So much power to be embraced and shared.
(Lasha Morningstar firstname.lastname@example.org)