Light a Candle. Say a Prayer. Breathe.

The Rev. Gary Manning, rector of Trinity Episcopal Church in Wauwatosa, WI wrote many of the daily readings for this year's Living Compass Advent booklet entitled, “Living Love.”    This year we gave away thirteen thousand of these booklets to many Episcopal churches across the country and I have been delighted to hear about all the creative ways in which they are being used. What pleases me most about the feed back we are getting is that it reflects a desire by so many to find space in the midst of this hectic and often stressful time of year to reflect on what matters most in their lives. The title of this column is a quote from one of the readings that Gary Manning wrote for the Advent booklet. Light a candle.  Say a prayer.  Breathe.  I read those words last week, and then two nights ago, on a cold, blustery evening, I had a delightful chance to live into these words.  Perhaps the best part about the experience was that it was a total surprise--I had no idea it was going to happen.  Please allow me to explain.

I arrived at St. Peter's Episcopal Church on Belmont Avenue in the Lakeview neighborhood in the heart of the north side of Chicago a bit early for a program that I was going to be a part of that evening.  Our evening was to include a worship service at 6:30, a simple soup supper at 7:00 and an hour program starting at 7:20.  When I arrived early, the members of the church invited me to enter the hundred year old chapel where the worship was to take place for some time of quiet contemplation.  I received the words “take some time of quiet contemplation” as if I was being offered a cold class of water for my overly busy, parched soul.

I entered the hundred and twenty year old chapel and found it to be almost,  completely dark except for a handful of small lit candles.  I took my place in this historic chapel that seats about twenty-five people and joined the few others were already there.  During the next twenty-five minutes, one by one, another fifteen or so people arrived.  As people came in from the bitterly cold night (the wind chill was well below zero) I noticed that they would each sit down, and proceed to slowly remove their layers of coats, scarves, hats, and gloves--a powerful metaphor for the emotional and spiritual layers that each of us felt comfortable removing in the midst of this warm and welcoming space.

Light a candle.  Say a prayer.  Breathe. I encourage you to do this for yourself, even if it's just for five minutes.   It's amazing what a simple and profound experience it can be.  It can keep us centered and aware of the gift of this season.

I also learned from the good people at St. Peters in Chicago what a gift it can be when someone lights a candle for us and creates a space for us to just be.  Inspired by their example, perhaps each us can think of someone in our lives for whom we can light a candle this time of year and create a space for them to be free to pray and breathe.

It doesn't have to be a literal candle that we light, of course.  We may be able to create a space of light for them by simply reaching out with a phone call, a note, or a visit, and then being truly present to that person when we connect. Lighting a candle might look like taking the time to truly listen to a family member who you will be with during this season or setting aside a grievance and offering a heartfelt hug of forgiveness and reconciliation.  It might just make all the difference to someone who is in an especially cold or dark place this time of year--and to ourselves as well.

Light a candle.  Say a prayer.  Breathe.

What a priceless gift we can both receive and give this time of year.

And if you are ever in the Lakeview neighborhood of Chicago on a Wednesday evening, be sure to stop in and receive the gift of their gracious hospitality