Yesterday I went into the Cathedral to light a candle, to let it hold my prayer and stand in brave fragility against the darkness – only to be told by one of the wardens that the Cathedral was about to close, and that (despite the fact that choir practise would be happening twenty metres away) they were not able to allow a flame to burn when the Cathedral was unattended. As graciously as I could (rolling my eyes inwardly at the rigidity of OHS laws) I assured the lady that I understood completely and thanked her for letting me know the reason. Then she told me that she would be sure to re-light my candle in the morning.
I cannot think why this was such a comforting thought. I am a logical, rational, left-brained person. Rationally, I know that the presence or absence of a single small flame in a deserted Cathedral can make no difference in the world. It will not lighten the load of suffering or bring illumination to darkness or despair. It won’t make a jot of difference to my Saturday. I will never know, in fact, whether it was lit or not this morning. For all I know, she could have forgotten, or come down with a cold and been unable to get to the Cathedral. But the idea, the knowledge that the flame I had called into being and left to stand for me – the knowledge that today this flame burned quietly through the morning, to hold my prayer for me some fifteen hours after I had originally lit it – is comforting. On a level beneath and beyond and above my twenty-first century, reason-dominated logic, I am grateful. Because whether I can justify it or not – whether I can understand it or not – the presence of that small flame re-lit for me by someone else as an act of kindness makes a cold day just a little warmer, and brings just a flicker of light to darkness.