“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.
I thought of this immediately, so I’m putting it down. 🙂
If you came this way,
Taking any route, starting from anywhere,
At any time or at any season,
It would always be the same: you would have to put off
Sense and notion. You are not here to verify,
Instruct yourself, or inform curiosity
Or carry report. You are here to kneel
Where prayer has been valid. And prayer is more
Than an order of words, the conscious occupation
Of the praying mind, or the sound of the voice praying.
And what the dead had no speech for, when living,
They can tell you, being dead: the communication
Of the dead is tongued with fire beyond the language of the living.
T.S.Eliot ~ Little Gidding, Four Quartets
Oh yes. Perfect.
And what about this one — same quartet, different verse? —
‘We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
and know the place for the first time.’
Dee @ Red Dirt Ramblings said:
Hi Janell, did I ever tell you I once attended St. Lukes? I went there as a teen and even went on a ski trip although I couldn’t ski. 🙂 Do we ever arrive at Xanadu? No, not in this earthly life, but we do get glimpses. A friend of mine started attending there recently. I hope you get to meet her. Her name is Cher.~~Dee
I didn’t know of your past connection with St. Luke’s. My connection is not as strong as it could be — for now, it’s the contemplative prayer group I began last year.
But who knows what the future will bring? Perhaps Cher and I will cross paths. I would like that. Maybe Everyday God will become a stepping stone toward more of an everyday presence at St. Luke’s for me — Or maybe Cher may find herself to me by following the path to Everyday God.
It’s great that stepping stones work both ways.