Candles – Part 2

January 21, 2010

Candles – Part 2

Several people have spoken to me about the candles of celebration and concern, and especially about the comments I make when introducing them.  As you know, I state that the candles are about “personal moments in our lives, or personal moments in the lives of loved ones”, with stress placed upon the word “personal”.

In my view, the time of candles is not for either announcements or pronouncements.  That is, it is not a time to promote programs or activities taking place in the congregation, it is not the time for political or social commentary and it is not the time for doing the business of the congregation. 

First, on the candles as announcement: there is a time in the service for announcements, so there is no reason to use candles for this. 

Most who have approached me about this like the stress that I have placed upon the personal, but some have expressed discomfort.  I want to tell you how I envision candles, what they mean to me, and why I have stressed the personal.

A few years ago, in another congregation, a young boy (about ten years old) shared at candle lighting that he had an illness which caused him behavior problems; but he also stated that he saw this as a gift because it caused him to have greater sympathy and compassion for others who were struggling with their own problems.  Courage and deep wisdom merged in his self revelation.

While half of the congregation quietly wiped tears from their eyes, the next two candles were lit for what, though stated as a joy, were really back-to-back announcements for the same upcoming program.  (Candles for this regularly occurring program were lit every month, a clear sign that this was a planned announcement, not a movement of the spirit within the hearts of the candle lighters.)  In making these announcements, though they did not mean to, the candle lighters trivialized the sharing of that young boy.  What he did should have been honored as an important gift from the heart, and should have been held close and responded to with other important sharing from the heart; instead–the next candle being an announcement in disguise–his deep sharing was treated in a dismissive manner.   

My felt reaction was that his gift had been trodden upon.  Again, I am sure that the person did not mean to do so; but that, for me was the effect.  And because his gift had been trodden upon, I felt we all—the entire congregation—had been treated that same way.   When someone shares from deep within the heart, it is a sacred and holy gift.  It ought not be met with mundane busy-ness.  There are other venues for this.

I see the candle lighting as the time in our service when we speak about our lives, about the events that touch our souls, when we speak from deep within our hearts about the personal things that move and change us.  Candle lighting should be time of talking heart to heart, soul to soul, deep wellspring to deep wellspring.  It is a time when business ought be set aside so that genuine community can be present.

And what of social pronouncements?  What of candles for some social issues or events that move us deeply but are not “personal” in the narrow sense?  I will speak to these in Candles, Part 3.