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Counting Candles

Counting Candles

It is the third Sunday in Advent. Tonight I will light the sole pink candle, the candle of joy. I’ve been putting it off all day. On the first Sunday, I lit the candle of hope. I struck the match and watched the tiny flame flicker with my breath as I read aloud the scripture and sang with unfeigned lament, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” its plaintive tones grounding me in the truth that hope is not wishful thinking, not a list mailed to Santa, not an expectation of deserved reward. It is the deliberate belief that what is right now is not what will always be. On the second Sunday, I lit the candle of peace. I tried not to think about Ukraine. I tried not to think about abandoned children and displaced families. I tried not to think about mass shootings and insurrections. I reminded myself that peace begins in me, in the release of anxiety over things I can’t control. And now the joy candle. I can put it off no longer. Earlier this week I traveled south, to the ocean, to say goodbye to a friend. The full moon was dangling over the marsh as I walked into the funeral home, its light diffused in the humidity. I went inside and moved among the brothers, the sisters-in-law, the friends. We told stories. We all remembered the same things even though some of us had never met. None of the stories took away the pain. So, now I find myself holding a match in my hand, staring at the candle that represents something I can not make myself feel. I notice that the wick of the joy candle has not been trimmed. After burning it last year, I’d just taken it out of the Advent wreath and put it back in the box with the others to hibernate. The blackened end is curved in on itself – like a candy cane, like a shepherd’s crook, like the back of a traveler carrying a heavy load. The wick is me. I grasp it between my thumb and index finger, bend it further still, and feel it loosen its grip. I hold it, for a moment, in the palm of my hand before tossing it aside. The match makes a scratching sound as it moves across the striker. I lift my hand, shielding the flame, to touch the newly-shorn wick. It does not catch at first. It, too, is hesitant to proclaim joy. But I do not withdraw my hand, the match. I hold it there, feeling the heat of the other candles, both dancing in the darkness. Finally, it catches. In less than a second the tiny orange tongue of fire becomes a tall golden flame. The wax begins to pool and then drip, a sacrifice to the blaze. I sit and watch them, the three candles, and confess that I do not feel joy, do not have peace, am finding it hard to have hope. And, then, I see the unlit candle. The candle that waits to be lit next week. The candle without which the circle of the wreath is incomplete. The candle of love. I am not alone in my sorrow, my feeling of being unmoored. I am not alone in my weariness, in the grief fatigue that stalks me after a year in which I wore more black dresses and mailed more sympathy cards than anybody should. I am not alone. And that, of course, is the proclamation of Advent. I am not alone. We are not alone. We wait, in expectation if not in patience, for the coming of love. Love that will break down all barriers. Love that will bind up all wounds. Love that never fails. The three candles glow. The fourth candle waits. And so do I.

Copyright 2022

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