why I light candles (hint: not just because I like putting things on fire)

The Sablon Church in Brussels

I’ve written about this before, and I might be repeating myself here, but I’m going to go ahead anyway. Consider yourself forewarned.

I like to light candles in churches I come across. I don’t know exactly why other people do it, but I do it because it focuses me. When I light a candle in a church somewhere, I offer a little prayer, look at the light I’ve created (darkness into light – such a universal theme!), and make that light represent whatever I’m praying for – a job, sick family members, the general well-being of those I love, whatever. I will light a candle at home is something especially dire is happening, but there’s something about the physical act of going into a church and setting your light among other people’s that makes the act more powerful.

The Church of the Map in Madaba

I do it at home and abroad, and the candles become linked in my mind, connecting me to other places and other people. Take the last photo in this post – it was taken at Mount Nebo in Jordan, at the place where Moses is said to have looked out upon the Promised Land he wasn’t allowed to enter. People have been lighting candles there for 1500 years – and I am now a part of that tradition. And that is why I like organized religion, in spite of all the harm it can do: I like being one among many searching for God, for a way to live, for a truth to live by. I like how a simple symbol like a candle can become so much more. I like being part of a community, especially one this diverse. A community that stretches back through the ages and will continue after I am long gone.

Mt Nebo

These kinds of rituals remind me of my shared humanity with the rest of the world and offer me an immortality, of sorts. Plus, what other activity allows you to set things on fire and reap spiritual benefits at the same time?


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