Friday, March 03, 2006

Candles in a Cathedral

Something happens to me when I walk into an old cathedral. I don’t know if it happens to everyone. I suppose it does, but I can’t tell. It’s the nature of what happens. I become one, single, away from. The space, the dim, slightly cold space, the smooth wood of the pews as I run my hand along the back of them all add to the experience. I am in a space where I am by myself with mind open, heart open, and eyes turned toward everything. looking for light.

Ever since I was small, I’ve had this feeling when I was in a church that someone was watching me. Not some villain, not some person, one who could sense my veracity. Maybe the one I’m sensing is myself wanting so to be present in a place that deserves such presence from me.

I’m always drawn to the candles. I take my time getting to them, getting to know the space and their place in it first. I might look and touch for an hour before I find myself before the candles. Then I might stand, watching them for minutes, long minutes longer. I notice each one individually. I try to imagine the person who set a prayer to each flame. I'm usually thinking of the people and the candles in the church where I grew up, where I first learned about lighting candles and saying prayers.

It’s rare that I don’t choose to light a candle and say a prayer, but deciding what to pray for seems such an important idea. Prayers are conversations I take seriously. Prayers can seem like asking your closest friend for what is not available. I don’t want to talk about frivolous things. I don’t want to speak of things that aren’t truly me either. Yet the things that pull on me seem so small when I stand inside a 200-year-old cathedral. Only the candles seem the same as me.

And prayers can feel like so many wishes . . .

Standing, staring, still. I surrender. The silence and the flicker are enough to soothe me.

I take the long slender stick and light it from a candle already aflame. I use that fire to light my own. The act itself makes me think of people. I watch the wick take the flame. I watch without moving, without blinking, unaware if anyone sees me.

I pray that I always might be surrounded by candles in a cathedral.
—me strauss Letting me be


Dawn said...

Yet the things that pull on me seem so small when I stand inside a 200-year-old cathedral. Only the candles seem the same as me.

This is a beautiful and very thoughtful post, Liz. The above asks me to stop and reflect on permanence and impermanence. The cathedral presents an illusion of timelessness, while we are like candles that take a flame and burn for only a short time. Perhaps that's why they draw us so. I relate to the dynamic nature of the candle, while the building and it's treasures are breathtaking, but static. I also relate to the significance behind the candles and the prayers that rise from each one, unbroken flames of need and gratitude.
I, too, take seriously the prayer/conversations I make when I light a candle.

ME Strauss said...

Hi Dawn,
I thought you might find something special in this one. The conversation is important, too important for the kinds of things we hope for in birthday wishes and everyday hopes. Mayve that's why they makde cathedrals so big and imposing--to remind us of that.