I remember hearing Eleanor Roosevelt’s famous quote so early in my life:
“It is better to light one little candle than to curse the darkness.”
Or something like that.
As Advent approaches, I have become aware that I have indulged in way too much cursing of the darkness recently.
I picked up an Advent book I had read a few years ago, Watch for the Light, an Orbis anthology. In the introduction, there was a quote from Alfred Delp, a German priest martyred under Hitler:
“Light your candles quietly, such candles as you possess, wherever you are.”
This seemed to be a more specific version of Roosevelt’s prescription. Since I am a preacher, and love things in three’s, I thought I would begin this Advent unpacking Delp’s words just a little.
Light your candles quietly . . .
If nothing else, Advent does offer the opportunity for some spiritual practice that can lower the volume of hyperbolic news and global catastrophes. God, grant us serenity – which can only come with some quietness, somewhere, in every day. Just for today, I will try not to listen to news in my car, but choose light classical holiday music that is not on a loop. I have to comfort the impulsive, activist in me who suspects that quiet reflection is procrastination, an indulgent waste of time. I know it is not. And, I need to resist the tyranny of the “TO DO” list that bullies me even in quasi-retirement. God is greater than my “TO DO” list, even when it is shouting at me. God is the still small voice that yearns to be with me in quietness. Being truly awake can only come after being truly still, and quiet.
Such candles as you possess . . .
In other words, don’t make a special trip looking for perfect, new and improved Advent candles. The ones you have will do.
Surely, a new, more improved me, or new resources, will make me more useful, will help me make more of a difference. They won’t. Consumerism has invaded every space in our lives, including the spiritual space. Don’t buy the newest Advent book, just look on the bookshelf you have. Underline a new paragraph this time. Savor a different phrase.
Simplicity, and less-is-more is good practice for the little Lent that is Advent. And, by the way, for the planet. Not the shiny new object, but the familiar one, the practice you have not perfected, this is what still has the power to teach you.
Wherever you are. . . .
Stay put, just for a little while. Be present to those around you. The impulse to run off somewhere to save the world is not for you right now. Your plants need watering, someone in your life needs attention, someone else needs an errand done, yet another needs company or coffee. Everything you cannot fix (there is so much more of that!), needs your prayers. Not just your promise to pray, but, actual prayers. For Syria, for those screwed over by our justice system, for refugees, for children who are hungry and neglected. Fill in the blank. They don’t need my anxiety or despair, or yours.
They don’t need us to curse the darkness for them, they need our earnest prayers. Prayers that take actual time to pray. In the quietness.
I am not at the center of the Universe, and it all does not, never did, depend on me.
So, I am going to look for some old candles, and make a space to light them and pray, every day. In watchful preparation for something, a surprise, a light that is coming into the world. . .