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Light a Candle

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Chartres Cathedral, France

Today and tomorrow mark holy days on the Christian calendar:  November 1 is All Saints Day, and tomorrow is the Commemoration of All Faithful Departed.  I was going to write something new for this year, but last year’s musings still express what I’d like to say about these quiet, underappreciated holidays.  So here ’tis:

The connection between All Saints Day and Halloween is not coincidental.  Originally celebrated in May, All Saints Day was moved to November 1 in the eighth century as a way to compete with the pagan celebration that also honored the dead.

All Saints doesn’t have the dazzle and bling of Halloween.  We don’t serve candy, dress up in costumes, or play scary music to celebrate it.  But to me it’s one of the most meaningful holidays of the year, a time to recall those we love who are no longer with us.

The heart of the remembrance is very simple:  we are invited to come to the altar to light a candle in memory of someone.  It’s a simple act with profound symbolic meaning.  Candles are one of those inherently sacred objects, I think, in the same category as bells and incense.  In the simple strike of a match, they create an opening for the holy to enter.

One of the things about candles, you see, is that they are most beautiful in the darkness.  Light one on a sunny day and it’s easy to overlook.  Light one on a dark night and the flickering, beautiful glow becomes a magnetic focus.  A candle, like many sacred objects, becomes most valuable to us when we cannot see our way.  And it’s especially appropriate to light a candle to honor the dead, who have gone into the great darkness of the grave. 

Sometime ago I discovered a website on the Internet where you can light a candle.  It’s a digital candle, of course, which isn’t nearly as good as a real one.  On the other hand, you can light one at this site and not have to worry about it setting your office or house on fire.  I click on this link when I’m at my computer but unable to work because of a worry that is stuck in my mind.  Something about it is very comforting.

On the site, it explains that from time immemorial, people have lit candles in sacred places.  And then it asks, “Why should cyberspace not be sacred?”  Why, indeed?

Today I invite you to light a candle for someone you love who has died, as a symbol of the light they brought into your life. (Here’s the link again.) And if your computer becomes a holy place as a result, well, so be it.

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