Monday, December 21, 2009

The Candlelight Service

My ears perked up. A candlelight service? My church! Were they actually going to have a special service in the evening? Pardon me for thinking this, but this was highly unusual for a church that believes worship at Christmas time should be like any other Sunday of the year, that we should celebrate Our Lord’s birth every week...well, we all believe that, don't we? I was thrilled to find my church at the threshold of change. Forgive me if I did a double-take. This was one service I would not miss!

That night I took my cane in to church for the first time. I felt a little self-conscious using it front of our small congregation. I just wanted to be seated and out of view. Marilyn waved to me and motioned for me to sit next to her. Her husband, John, stood up to let me pass. Thankfully, I began to fold up my cane and place it near my feet when one of the elders took the microphone.

“Come on, everyone, up t’ the front of the church. Let’s fill up those first few pews.”

I groaned. Everyone would be moving forward, and I would have to use my cane in front of them as we resituated ourselves. We all shuffled forward like obedient sheep.

I now found myself seated next to Paula, the elder’s wife.

She turned toward me, “Now, Amy, I don’t know very much about this—is it mac—“

I smiled, “Well, it’s a form of macular degeneration…” I gave her the short take on it. She herself had suffered breast cancer so I felt at ease in discussing it.

Richard, our elder, leaned on a lectern in front of the church and began to speak, “So how many of you will be participating in this service?”

“Would you like me to get you a candle?” Paula asked.

“Oh, thank you. I can get it myself.” I assured.

“No need, John will get one for all of us,” my friend, Marilyn, piped up.

Richard launched into a complicated set of instructions. Oh no! I had envisioned simply holding a candle at my seat, and singing, or listening to a devotional. Not so tonight!

“…now if you are married, both husband and wife can come up together to light your candle, and stand while the scripture reading is being read. Then you will be seated in the pews opposite, on the other side of the church. If you're single, you'll go up alone…”

The “what-ifs” began in my mind. What if I trip over someone’s legs and sprawl out in front of the congregation? What if I knock over the candle? What if I can’t find my way to the opposite pew? What if run into the communion table? The possibilities were endless. Okay, that does it! I am not participating! I whispered as much to Marilyn. She whispered something back, but I couldn’t catch it. I wasn’t even wearing my hearing aids.

The lights began to dim, one-by-one. Finally, we sat in darkness. I mean it—darkness!

But a little voice inside me began to lecture, You can’t shine “the light” only when it’s convenient. God expects more from us than that. Remember Amy, he never asks us to do anything without equipping us. You remembered your cane. You know how to use it. So when it’s your time, just stand up and get goin’.

I bit my nails as I waited my turn. Finally, Paula stood up and set out. She would walk alone as her husband was already up front leading the scripture readings. Paula had survived her cancer. She never seemed to worry or hesitate. She looked out at the audience with a serene smile. As she left to sit down, I stood up. My heart was pounding.

Marilyn stood up, too, as did her husband. “We’ll go with you,” she said quietly. She held onto my shoulder and we moved out. My cane smacked against the heat register at the end of our pew. Oh no! I quickly turned right. Marilyn guided me to the table ahead. My hand trembled as I lit my candle, then I stepped aside for her and John to do likewise. The three of us stood in front of the church while the scripture was read. My candle illuminated my cane--or at least part of it--in front of the whole congregation. I tried to smile. I have no recollection what the scripture reading focused on as I stood there. With a tap on my shoulder from Marilyn, I moved out and headed for the pew on the opposite side. I didn’t know where the next person was seated so rather than stumble over them, I chose to move to a new pew. At last, I was seated in the audience and watching others move forward; why, even children participated!

Singing followed the devotional; all our songs contained “the light” somewhere in the lyrics…send the light; this little light of mine; walking in the light, to name a few. I relaxed and sang along with the rest of the congregation. My brothers and sisters. What a great family--and feeling!

As the lights slowly filled the room, I rose. Naturally, I reached for my cane. God had provided for me, as usual. Nothing had gone wrong. I didn’t embarrass myself in any way—unless you count banging the heat register. That didn't last very long.

Lord, continue to show me that You are Master of every new situation I face. Give me courage to move through the darkness—both literally and spiritually. I want to become the light You so desire me to be at every turn. No matter … how unfamiliar the territory… who is watching … who I feel may be judging me. What if I do trip? Maybe I won’t know exactly where to go … or what to say or do in my position as Your child. Simply fill me with courage to move out of my comfort zone.

God, You so clearly wove the physical and the spiritual together in an extraordinary lesson for me: Don’t be a light only when it’s convenient. Between my cane and my friend’s assistance, you supplied my needs to enable me to move forward in the physical darkness. I only needed to do one thing: trust You and take that step.

Let me apply those same principles in the spiritual darkness that this world holds. Help me to always take that first step forward.

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