They give me an unlit candle when I enter the service. We sing “Our darkness is never darkness in your sight: the deepest night is clear as the day,” but the candle, still unlit, dangles from my fingers. Then we sing “Wait for the Lord, whose day is near. Wait for the Lord: be strong, take heart,” and down the aisle I see a small child, no more than four, carrying in her tiny hand a shining taper, its flame high and bright. Her mother, hunched over her, helps her hold the candle steady as the end person in each row bends their candle sideways and brings the wicks together till the flame is shared.
When the child nears my row, I watch her beautiful little face. She is old enough to be frightened of strangers, but though these unknown adults bend over her, one after another, she looks at nothing other than the bright flame. It is mirrored in her dark eyes.
The symbolism overwhelms me. She, too, began with an unlit candle. She, too, held it sideways, a picture for me of bowing down, of worship. Now she is captivated by the light. She has lost sight of herself and can share the flame with others without self-consciousness.
The mother shuffles, crouched over, keeping pace with her daughter’s short steps, aiding her in this beautiful work. This, too, makes me draw a sudden breath. For don’t we all share this responsibility as well at times: to slow our pace to match the faltering steps of another, to steady others’ hands so they can see the light, to bend our backs if that is what they need?
It is my turn. I tip my candle and receive the light. I hold it straight so my friend can do the same. The director sings the lines of Psalm 43, pausing at the end of each so we can respond with “Alleluia.” We lift our candles high as we sing, and my eyes follow the light. The flames from the individual candles, held above our selves, blaze as one.
“Oh, send out thy light and thy truth: let them lead me,” the director sings.
Thy light and Thy truth, Lord. Let them lead.