Tonight my internship congregation had a Service of Healing and Hope. This goes by many names, such as a Longest Night Service or a Blue Christmas Service, but the premise is the same. These services are meant to provide a space, amidst the hustle and bustle of Christmas joy and holiday cheer, for those who find themselves in a time of grief, struggle, pain, or loneliness. Our society can get so focused at times on making sure that the magic of the season is cheerful and joyous, that we can forget that some people are not finding the life-giving hope or love that this season suggests.
Some may be mourning a loved one who has died, others may be struggling with mental illness, still others are worried about job security, broken relationships, or chronic illnesses in themselves or someone close to them. Many may even be overwhelmed by a conglomeration of many of these things. So, tonight we had a service with readings, hymns, candles, and anointing oil to create space for those who need validation in the fact that this season can be full of heartache, and hope for reassurance that they are not alone.
The whole service itself was beautiful, but one moment stuck out to me as a true moment of hope. As we anointed those at the service, they could then go and light candles among the communion rail. My line came to its final oil recipient, a young girl around 8-10 years old. She came and received the oil and blessing on her forehead and then started to turn and walk back to her seat. But then, she saw the candles. She asked me, “Can I light those?” And I said, “Of course, let me help you.” So, together we lit the wooden stick and she slowly walked to the first unlit candle. Many people had lit one or two and so there was still around half of the rail that was not lit. She noticed quickly that no one else was lighting candles and so as soon as she lit the first one, she continued to the second, and the third, and so on.
After about 10 candles, her wooden stick began to disintegrate and so I helped her get it to the bucket of sand to extinguish the flame. She looked at me and asked, “Can I light more later?” Because she saw that there were still unlit candles. I replied, “Maybe!” After that she smiled, turned to head back to her seat and said, “I hope so.”
This is my wish for how we treat one another this season. May we see those whose inner light has grown dim, and fan the flame inside them with love, compassion, and the support of community. And then when we see the next person, may we help re-ignite their fire too. And so on. And so on. Until we too must take time to rest and rejuvenate our own flames. All the while, hoping that we can go out again, and light more later.