One of the gifts I was given during my time as General Secretary of the NSW Ecumenical Council was a small seven branch candelabrum, from the Indian Orthodox community in Sydney. I love it for many reasons: not least as it helps me recall something of the wonderful life and faith of Indian Christianities and cultures; since it reminds me of the inheritance and shared values which Christianity owes to Judaism; and because it is such a beautiful item for life. for all For light is such a vital symbol for spirituality in so many different forms and context, and, In our current COVID-19 crisis, this is a particularly lovely thing to explore.
Within the Orthodox and Catholic (including many Anglican) traditions of Christianity lighting of candles is certainly a very life-giving established form of prayer. As the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America expresses it: 'Upon entering an Orthodox church, for example, it is customary to light candles and offer prayers for one’s personal needs or that of a family member or friend. Candles are lit before icons as a sign of one’s faith and hope in God’s help. .. By lighting a candle and offering a prayer, one enters into closer contact with the Church and her ministry to the faithful, invisibly warming the soul by the visible light of the candle.' See further, and for an opportunity to light a virtual candle here.
In my case, I often like to use my candelabrum to bless the classic seven directional dimensions of my life and world: north, south, east, west, beneath, above, and within. In doing so I can remember particular people or aspects of life. At this time for example, when I light one candle I hold in prayer, and offer intention, for those in the northern hemisphere, including those in Italy, Spain and the USA, who have been so badly affected by the coronavirus, and my family and native land in the UK. Praying for what is beneath me similarly enables me to recall the land of which I am a part, and the first nations of the place where I now live. Lighting a candle and praying for/with that which is above can also be a way of connecting with the greater universe and the powers which create, sustain and evolve within it. Working through the different directions thereby connects me more deeply with all that is, transforming my own little consciousness in the so much bigger and richer tapestry of all. Whether you, or those you know, draw on traditional pathways of spirituality or not, praying in similar ways with candles might be a helpful aid in our COVID-19 days?
Here, below, is my wife Penny Jones using our candelabrum in a brief prayerful reflection for her YouTube series for Milton Anglicans...
Grieving is a hard thing to do at any time, but Christmas can be especially difficult. Avoiding the season or not facing the pain however does not help. Instead there are ways to integrate our loss into the Christmas celebrations. The following suggestions (courtesy of Burstows Funerals) – written by Allan Anderson, a Minister with the Churches of Christ– may be of some assistance…
For many years I have been involved in organising events (taking a whole variety of different forms in diferent places) for International Peace Day (21 September). This year is no exception, with community candle-lighting in St Luke's Toowoomba, use together of the Universal Prayer for Peace, and a special One Day One Choir community sing led by Women In Harmony (who will then sing a concert at 12.30 pm). What difference however does such a day make? It is impossible to say properly, in terms of prayer, awareness, many aspects of education and the strengthening of wills and partnerships for peace. These are real and vital and alone make everything worth doing. Yet International Peace Day is also effective in specific ways, as Jeremy Gilley, the founder of Peace One Day, illustrates (see video below and the Peace One Day website). So what will each of us do to make Peace Day every day?
“If one part suffers, every part suffers with it." (1 Corinthians 12.26) - this is part of the reality of our contemporary lives in the one world we now inhabit. It is very difficult not to be affected by the sufferings of other parts of the world, particularly if we share in Christian relationship. The situation in Iraq is a particularly grave one. As the Archbishop of Canterbury observed recently:
what is happening right now in northern Iraq is off the scale of human horror… we cry to God for peace and justice and security throughout the world, and especially for Christians and other minority groups suffering so deeply in northern Iraq.
It is therefore a sad but important duty to share in prayer and solidarity with those who suffer. As we do so, so much of scripture also comes alive in a powerful manner and we are drawn back to the cross and mercy-power of God.
Yesterday, in St Luke's Church, we shared a particularly poignant Prayer together with other Christians. The initiative was from a young Christian, Courtney Heyward, from another (independent Evangelical) church, who has been touched to the heart by the situation in Iraq. It was a reflective occasion, with readings from scripture interspersed with times for silent or shared prayer. Stones, or 'prayer rocks', were given to everyone present to hold as we prayed, reminding us of the hard things endured by others (including the burying of loved ones by the side of the roads of flight) and of the rock of God's love at the heart of all things. Towards the end of the gathering, each of us laid our stone at the foot of the cross and lit a candle of hope. We also shared some ways in which we may offer practical support to the persecuted, including giving to appeal funds and advocating for the needs of refugees. May God's mercy and strength comfort, turn the hearts of those who inflict terror, grant wisdom to those in leadership, and renew all who suffer.
From the 2011 flood to future hopes, one of the important features of our life in the parish of St Luke Toowoomba has been prayer for our City, especially at Candlemas. For the feast of Candlemas (or Presentation of Christ in the Temple), traditionally celebrated on 2 February, is an important pivotal festival of the spiritual calendar, as Christians turn from the light of Christmas towards the greater light of Easter and healing for our world. In Australia, it also enables us to celebrate the full return of the working year and the beginning of the school year, praying for our local community as a whole. At Candlemas, we therefore hold a special gathering each year, involving others from the wider community, and we pray for and give candles to key figures, groups and organisations in our city. The following is a special prayer I wrote for this occasion, for the start of the new school and full working year and for other times of transition. May it be a blessing for us all:
May this time be one of delightful new beginnings for you
and for all those with whom you love and live.
When you look to the future may you rejoice,
and when you look to the past
may you be thankful and forgive.
May the peace of the Christ child
continue to bring you joy.
and may the hope of the resurrected One
bring you new life.
When you take up new challenges
may your candles burn bright
and when you stumble
may they still flame and flicker in the night.
So may you always know light in darkness
and the Eternal Light within you. Amen.
Jo Inkpin is an Anglican priest serving as Minister of Pitt St Uniting Church in Sydney, a trans woman, theologian & justice activist. These are some of my reflections on life, spirit, and the search for peace, justice & sustainable creation.