My first experience of using candles for prayers was in my late teens, visiting Gloucester cathedral. The cathedral continues to offer spaces where a person can light a candle as an act of prayer, and it’s something I and my family continue to do. The cathedral is a place I go to connect with my ancestors, amongst other things.
There’s an immediacy to using a candle – the flare of light as you strike the match, or the transference of flame from one lit candle to another. You literally put light into the world. It’s a good focus for will, for petition, for need. The observable effect of the lit candle feels like having done something, so it makes the spell, or the prayer seem more real, more in the world. Then, if you so desire, you can spend time with that candle and with your intentions.
I’ve become uneasy about burning things and using fire in any spiritual context. With so much of the world burning and overheating, I’m ambivalent, these days, about the role I think fire can play in my spiritual practice. Gone are the days when I would want to do ritual around a fire.
There is however comfort in a candle. It’s a small flame. A small gesture of hope even at a time when fire seems problematic to me. The warm light of it is inherently comforting, and when you are praying from a place of need, distress, discomfort, that small comfort can be worth a lot. When distress makes concentration hard, the focus of a candle flame can be a welcome thing indeed. There is light in the darkness. There is warmth and cheer. There is hope, be it ever so small.
So long as the candle flame holds, there is hope. So long as there is the means to light it, there is hope. So long as I refuse to give up on hope, there is hope. Sometimes, small symbolic actions can make a great deal of difference.