I’ll Light a Candle for You

“Happiness can be found in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.”
Dumbledore, The Prisoner of Azkaban, J.K. Rowling


Someone lights a candle in prayerIt arrived as a simple get-well card, a pot full of soft purple flowers etched on the front. Inside was her neatly inked greeting of warmth and comfort:

I need you next to me for comfort.
Come back real soon.
I have been lighting candles for you and praying.

Fondly, Gloria.

At 86, Gloria is the oldest member of our Pilates and Yoga classes. She never misses unless she has driven 500 miles to care for an ailing sister in Connecticut or she is organizing the kitchen staff at the Senior Center. Our mats are always next to each other in the classes, so we can tease and urge each other on during the difficult drills. I’ve known her and her husband for years. He died three years ago, and their son died nearly twenty years before that. She has shared her pain of these losses with me as we have sat recovering from the rigorous exercise.

Gloria attends 6 a.m. Mass. She is a Catholic firebrand, fiercely independent, abundantly compassionate, vocal and active against social injustice toward the least, the lost and the marginalized of our society.

I was deeply touched by the gift of her note, her personal expression of concern for my health, and the affirmation that my presence added safety to her life. My eyes became moist with the knowledge she was lighting a candle and lifting me to God in prayer. Her gifts brought hope to quiet my fear and loneliness; her love extended me into a larger circle of faith while her trust gave me courage. Her light diminished the darkness in my own dreary days of slow healing.

She even made me laugh. She told my wife that she had accidentally put $20 in the candle box, far more than the normal price for a candle. So she lit a few candles for me that she considered pre-paid. She said, “That explains why your recovery was so slow…the church expects payment each time.”

I receive prayer and the lighting of a candle as actions of trust and concern, be it from one person or from a prayer circle. This gift deserves great respect for it crosses miles and untold barricades to stifle loneliness, sadness and despair.

Recently, I had the experience of one of my medical doctors turning to me as he was leaving our appointment. He said something I seldom expect from the buttoned-up, tight-lipped medical professional, “Please pray for me. Life has been rough for me lately.”

I didn’t need to know the details. I simply responded, “Thank you for your trust. I shall definitely hold you in my prayers.”

Ian Fleming, the scribe who crafted the James Bond, 007 tales, is seldom thought of as a religious person. Your opinion may shift when you read my book on Fleming and Bond. While Fleming was not a regular church goer, he often visited old stone churches. When asked about Christianity, he quipped, “You can’t grow up in the English school system without it having an effect on you.”

During a visit with his friend, Ivar Bryce, in Vermont, Fleming had such a serious kidney-stone problem that he was rushed in agony to New York’s Presbyterian Hospital for treatment. While there, he was visited by his long time Catholic friend, Clare Blanshard. She recalled times when other friends had teased or demeaned her for her religious beliefs, while Fleming had always treated her beliefs as sacred.

While lying in the hospital bed, Fleming surprised Blanshard by requesting that a candle be lit for him in St. Patrick’s Cathedral. She was puzzled, but Ian insisted. Blanshard called publisher Naomi Burton, whose office was near the cathedral, to accomplish Ian’s request. In true ecumenical style, Naomi’s Jewish secretary performed the request.

Ian Fleming was extremely pleased but insisted he know the time the candle had been lit. When he learned that it was at four o’clock, he declared that was exactly the time his pain had lifted. Fleming informed his wife, Ann, that “the Stone Age at least is passed and now to strangle Dame Sciatica.”

In a world filled with violence, rudeness and disrespect, it is a gift to know that someone cares enough to say a prayer or light a candle to invoke love, healing and compassion into our world.

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  1. Virginia says

    Thanks, Ben. This reminds me of one thing that has stayed with me. When we went to UCLA for my husbands rather risky surgery, he mentioned being Quaker. Dr. R asked what a Quaker prayer would look like, and listened intensely as he heard what his patient was telling him. Then he called in the entire surgical team, and we stood around the bed holding hands in silent prayer before going into surgery. After that, every time Dr. R came in he took his patient’s hands and stood for a time of silence.

    • Benjamin Pratt says

      That is such a beautiful story. I know that many will, as I do, cherish your comment.

  2. Bert Sikkelee says

    A wonderful writing, Benjamin. So well expressed. Touching. As Samuel Johnson once said, “We need not so much to be told something new, as to be reminded of what we already know. Your article reminded me of the power of small tokens of love and expressions of meaning.

    Thank you.

  3. David Meyer says

    When I was a college freshman, a group of us bought a ring of balsa wood (that one would use for an advent candle) and other strips of balsa and crossed the inside of the ring with the strips and also built a cage-like structure above it and attached the ringed bottom. We put small candles equidistant around the ring and across the middle. We then covered the sides with clear, medium-weight plastic, leaving a hole at the top. While two guys held the sides, I reached inside and lighted the candles. We then gently set the structure on the ground and waited. After 1-2 minutes, this contraption began to rise in the air, reaching a height of 15-20 feet. Much to my surprise and consternation, it began migrating across the athletic field towards a wooded area. We chased it for 200 yards, where it finally collapsed harmlessly, Hindenberg style. We could not stop laughing.

    Reflecting more seriously on this college hijinks, I am reminded that only when we are in community with each other can the warmth, the power, and the energy of mutual concern and love be experienced fully. One candle would not have lifted our silly contraption 45 years ago, but when joined collectively, we can all lift each other. And it begins with just one candle. As Peter Yarrow writes in his song, “Light One Candle,”

    Light one candle for the strength that we need
    To never become our own foe;
    Light one candle for those who are suff’ring
    A pain they learned so long ago;
    Light one candle for all we believe in,
    That anger not tear us apart;
    And light one candle to bind us together
    With peace as the song in our heart!

    Shalom to all this season.

    • Benjamin Pratt says

      Bert and David, Thank you for your beautiful and poetic additions to this article. Wonderful comments that will hopefully help all of us work to make light diminish the darkness in our world. Benjamin

  4. Jack Erickson says

    Ben –

    Your image of the candle lighting brought back a powerful childhood memory.
    We were raised Lutheran on the frozen tundra of North Dakota.
    On Xmas eve, our church held their candlelight service
    at 5 PM. Since Xmas eve was one of my father’s business days at work, my mother took
    us three children. It gets dark early in ND and our church was pitch black when
    the lights were turned out and the pastor lit one candle from the altar and lit ushers candles
    to pass among congregation.

    As we sang “Silent Night” the candles lit up the church until it looked like a sky of bright stars.
    I sat next to my mother who gripped my hand, tears in her eyes, probably remembering
    her parents and growing up on a small ND farm, with little money and only hard work.

    This Xmas I’ll be in another church far from ND, sitting next to my 4 year old grandson, passing lighted candles.
    I’ll tell him about earlier candle lighting services and the memory of my mother’s tears and hand gripping mine.

    • benjamin Pratt says

      Jack, Thank you for sharing that beautiful story. Ah, how we need to light up the world that feels often like a dark night without stars. I’m very grateful for your comment, Benjamin

  5. Dorea Jones says

    I haven’t lighted (lit?) any candles this year, but I do keep a daily prayer journal. Throughout the year the list of those we know who lost a spouse has grown to 12. The saddest for us was the death of our granddaughter’s husband who was KIA in Afghanistan June 20. We’ve watched her move through her grief with grace and are so proud of each step she takes. She has moved nearby so we are watching her closely and stepping in to care for her two young children giving her a little time to be herself. Last Sunday during our choir program, candles were lighted by the congregation as they sang “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.” Singing from the chancel gave me the opportunity to see the faces of each congregant as they sang and I was touched when the sanctuary grew brighter as each row passed the light. This week has seemed more peaceful. Perhaps our grief eased as the candles were extinguished and we left in a renewal of Christ’s light.

    • Benjamin Pratt says

      Dorea, I did not know about all the grief you and yours are suffering. I am deeply saddened and shall hold you all in my prayers and light a candle for you. Blessings of Hope and healing, Benjamin