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“Give me a candle of the Spirit, O God,
as I go down into the deep of my own being.
Show me the hidden things.
Take me down to the spring of my life,
and tell me my nature and my name.
Give me freedom to grow so that I may become my true self –
the fulfillment of the seed which you planted in me at my making.
Out of the deep, I cry unto thee, O God.”   Amen
— George Appleton

Sitting on a hard plastic chair that night, in the basement of St. Luke’s Methodist Church, I did not know that I had ‘signed up’ to uncover my true self.    I had no particular interest in that bit of fact-finding.   My purpose was much simpler:  I came to pray.  That’s all.  I came to pray and to meet people who also desired nothing more than to pray.

As with most of everyday life, we get more or less than we bargain for.  In my experience as a student at HeartPaths Spirituality Centre, I received more.   It began that first night, reciting that first printed prayer of George Appleton’s with a few others — a small community of students and two leaders — from the first of many handouts I would come to receive as a student at HeartPaths.

Every HeartPaths session begins by lighting a candle.  The lit candle symbolizes the light of God.   Candlelight shimmers soft and invites confidences.  Never is it harsh and circling like a  penetrating searchlight.   Instead, everyone and everything looks better in candlelight.

Candlelight slows life down.  When traveling by candlelight, we tread carefully.  Not every bump in the road is illuminated.  It requires us to sometimes retrace our steps for a missed turn.  Like life itself, candlelight will not clearly define answers  or destinations.  Yet, candlelight bids us forward into the darkness.  As we step in, questions previously covered by darkness grow into recognizable shapes of answers and if not destinations, that at least rest stops along the way.

I have not arrived at my destination of becoming my true self.   The prayer I recited that first night in class is not yet fully answered.  Paradoxically, the more I know about myself, the more I find there is to know.  Does anyone ever arrive at Xanadu?

Yet, with the help of prayer by candlelight, I do know myself better than I did four years ago.  I’ve uncovered both warts and beauty spots.  And in the topsy-turvy truth of life, traits I once viewed as warts I’ve since come to know as beauty spots — and yes, some of those areas I once called beauty spots I’ve found to be nothing more than worldly warts.   But here, I get ahead of myself, as I am apt to do.

Backing up to the start, I see that self-knowledge (and self-acceptance) is where true growth begins.  And as it happens, along the way, I’ve learned that prayer is no more than being yourself before God.

Fancy that.  Looks like I got exactly what I signed up for.  And more.  In worldly terms, this candlelit path was a true bargain.