I was reminded last night of an important lesson that candles have to teach us. I had the honor to co-facilitate a Living Compass Wellness Circle at Crossroads Presbyterian Church in Mequon, Wisconsin over the last six weeks and last night was our closing session. Each person was invited to share what they had learned during the program and as they did so, they each came forward and lit a votive candle, placing it around a large pillar candle in the center of a table.
Some of the participants lit their candles from the central pillar candle while and others lit theirs from the votive candles that were already lit. Each time I observed a person lighting their candle I was reminded of the wisdom that a single candle can light a thousand other candles, and yet doing so never diminishes its own light. While it was not necessarily a new lesson for me, it was good to be reminded of it, especially as we approach the darkest day of the year. It is good to remember that it is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness, whatever form that darkness may take.
Candles are an essential part of two religious traditions that are both happening right now. Our Jewish friends began the celebration of Hannukah this week and Christians continue their observance of the season of Advent, preparing for Christmas. The central ritual of Hannukah involves lighting the menorah with its nine candles. The shamash candle, the taller candle in the center, is used to light one additional candle each night of Hannukah, until, over the eight days of Hannukah, all of the candles are lit. Similarly, the observance of Advent includes a wreath with four candles, often placed around a center candle. In each of the four weeks of Advent, an additional candle is lit, often from the center candle as well.
For Jews, the candles of the menorah recall the miracle that occurred when one day’s supply of oil lasted eight days during the purification and rededication of the Temple of Jerusalem over two thousand years ago. For Christians, the candles symbolize the light of Christ that came into the world to overcome the powers of darkness. Followers of both faiths commit to not let the light go out, to keep the miracles of light and love burning brightly, sharing it with others whenever possible.
I came across a quote from a rabbi by the name of David Wolpe sometime ago that continues to inspire me. “The shamash is the candle that lights the other candles. Be a shamash.” I was reminded me of this just the other day when someone called to thank me for something little I had done that meant a great deal to them. If they had been able to see my face, they would have seen that it was lit up with a big smile. In that moment, with a simple expression of gratitude and kindness, this person was being a shamash.
What opportunities will you have today, this week, this holiday season, to be a shamash? And remember, as you go around being a shamash to others, your own light will never diminish-in fact, you may even find your inner light burning just a little brighter.