How far that little candle throws its beams! So shines a good deed in a naughty world

(William Shakespeare)

The chapel at Launde is a very special place early in the morning, especially on Sunday.  In some ways it is even more special in the winter as all is dark.

When I come in I light the Pascal candle and renew the water in the font in preparation for our very first service of the new week, The Blessing of the Water and Renewal of Baptismal Vows.  Then I wait in the darkness for any who might come.  That is a precious time of quietness, wrapped in soft, hazy darkness, listening only to the early morning call of the wood pigeons and the occasional gentle rap of a branch on the windows.

Once this short service is over, we take a light from the Pascal candle and light all the other candles in the chapel, the two on the altar and those beneath the beautiful Coptic style icons behind the altar.  Now the atmosphere changes.  There are pools of light but not enough to flood the place.  The chapel is full of warmth.  People sit quietly in the shadows and all look towards the candles, look towards the altar.  We wait in this almost breathless, time out of time space; we wait for the first Holy Communion of the new week to begin.

I try not to be sentimental about religious practice but I don’t think I am being when I express my huge thankfulness for this Sunday morning ritual.  It always calms me, always steadies me.  Today, for instance, I was feeling very ‘growly’, very fed up as I began my day.  My private time of prayer didn’t seem to shift my mood or to help much.  But as I lit the candles from the Pascal candle and as I sat at the back, robed, ready to begin when the time came, I gazed as I always do at the altar and at the icons.  The icons seemed to grow with the candles beneath them.  Each ancient and venerated saint seemed taller, his feet in light and his head in the shadows.  The quiet, the silence seeped into me and I was at peace.

Our chapel is actually never without candlelight.  We have them constantly lit in various places.  One burns before the reserved sacrament, reminding us of Christ’s constant presence.  One blue one is placed before the icon of the Virgin, reminding us of the incarnation and Mary’s “Yes” to God’s invitation.  There are two on the windowsills, one, surrounded by barbed wire, reminds us of the many prisoners of conscience there are around the world.  Another has been there for the last eighteen months as a prayer of solidarity for the people of Syria.  At times we will also introduce another candle for a while, when there is a disaster in the world or a particular individual we want to pray for.  There is one there now.

And of course, others come in all the time and light a candle for people they know who need prayer.  These burn on long after the people who lit them have left.

Sometimes the world seems so dark and all our prayers seem so pointless.  The candle reminds us of the light of Christ, the little beam that shines like a good deed in a naughty world.  It is the sign that we are not alone, that there is hope at the end of the tunnel.  It reminds us of good and brave deeds being done all the time which we do not hear about.  It calls us to stop being so self-centred and remember others.

Candlelight and quiet also have their own very particular gift.  They soften sharp edges, chase away shadows and bring peace.  They enable us to let go and enter another space, to be less ‘growly.’