When we encounter a season of gloom, light becomes powerful. Now that I rise well before dawn, the first thing I do in the dark house is light an oil lantern on the dining room table.
Throughout the day I continue to light candles and lamps. Now, I have electricity–I can turn on those glaring lights and I do soon enough. But I like live flame. Here are three lamps I keep on the table. Each serves a purpose.
The first one, the oil lamp, puts out a fair amount of light, so I light that first. I feed the milling cats, light the woodstoves, water the cat fountain, and dress by this light. When the boys join me for Latin and Math later, it continues to burn. In this context it represents enlightenment. Every time we study together we light it. The flame lives in constant motion, like our thoughts as we parse our Latin sentences. It reminds me to take education seriously, theirs and mine, because in some sense our studies light a fire that will continue to burn throughout our days.
The light on the right has a colorful collection of fruits, bark, and pinecones. Smokeless lamp oil fuels the fiberglass wick. I refill it now and again. This light always burns when we are gathered together for a meal, even if we don’t have company to keep us on our best behavior. As much as we study independently, our meal times together carry extra weight, since they are usually the only time we come together. That light reminds me to draw each person out as we share our day or chew on some idea. “What do you think is the difference between philosophy and theology?” “In what way is The Tale of Two Cities about London?” “Which cat threw up in your room today?”
The middle lights, the candelabra, signify for us the beginning of the Lord’s Day. We used to do this every week, sharing a fresh loaf of braided bread and putting out the nicest dishes. Lately I have revived at least the lights; going gluten free has taken challah off the table. (Boo hoo.) We have created a little ceremony to light them.
Someone lights the first light and says, “This candle represents Creation.” We recite, “In the beginning the Lord said, ‘Let there be light'”. [Genesis 1:3]
The next candle is lit and the lighter says, “This candle represents Redemption.” Response: “Jesus said, ‘I am the light of the world.'” [John 8:12]
The last candle: “This candle represents Sanctification.” “You were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light.” [Ephesians 5:8]
And that, my friends, is the three-part foundation of every worldview. Every comprehensive philosophy seeks to answer, “How did we begin? Why are things so bad and what can save us? How should we live?”
I fight depression in the winter. Ho hum. Nothing startling in that; I have yet to meet someone who stays perky. I think a lot about darkness, and of the strange qualities of light. Darkness cannot wrap its leathery wings around light and quench it; darkness cannot comprehend light. Like love over hatred, kindness over cruelty, light conquers darkness.
As I type this, the librarians are starting to turn out the lights and so gently chase out the lingering patrons.
May you always have the light for which your soul yearns.