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The hour was so early it was still night outside as I entered the church. To call it a church was almost a misnomer. More like a cathedral, its vaulted ceiling so high it shimmered in the dim lighting, the arches swooping up as if great arms held the heavens in their carved and smoothed never-ending strength.
The damp chill almost crystallized on my face as I closed the huge wooden door behind me. The silence set upon my ears like an insulating blanket, warming me despite the chill.
Emptiness echoed my steps as I turned to the left and walked the isle toward the chapel I needed. I passed two other alcoves on my way, but their saints were not the one I had faith in.
For years it’s been a habit of mine that whenever I visit a church or cathedral, I light candles. Thin ones, fat ones, tall ones, short ones, sometimes in little glasses, red or clear. Sometimes they sit on spikes, sometimes in metal holders in rows. Sometimes the candles just take up space on a wax-dripped surface all mixed up in size. Once, in a small chapel in a cave, the candles were on an uneven, smoothed by time and many hands part of the wall that jutted into the tiny chamber and served as a candle holder.
Traveling as much as I have, churches have become a mainstay, some famous, most not, yet each of them infused with a sense of purpose, and solemnity, of quiet and peace, and sometimes hope, no matter the faith of those who built or used it.
This time I had not come just to visit. I’m not a religious person in the traditional sense. I feel Spirit in everything and everywhere. Sometimes it doesn’t feel god-like to call it God, but I do because others are more comfortable with that name. The moment I entered this church, that by someone’s deeming was unfit to be labeled a cathedral, I felt the calm and peace I so desperately needed. I hurried my steps. My heart yearned, my need overshadowed everything.
I reached the small chapel of St. John and now felt trepidation. I had lit so many candles all over the world thinking of the many friends or family I knew that I felt would be happy to know someone thought enough of them to light a candle in another country for them. This time was different. This time my heart was on the line, and so was another's.
I have, since the day I met her called my mother in law my other-mother. She took me into her safe keeping before I even met, much less married, her step-son, and made me her own. She is the cherished being who understood much in me, a young woman searching the world to find herself but still at the mercy of random bouts of homesickness. She gave me tea, aspirin, and a hot water bottle when the homesickness hit, without questions, and then taught me how to walk a dog and polish a silver teapot. A practical woman.
Now my other-mother lay in a hospital fighting for her life. Her amazing, loving heart was damaged. So, I approached the chapel now with my own heart fighting against doubt and hoping against hope that lighting a prayer candle for her would help. She was in another country from me, so I couldn’t sit by her bed. I couldn’t hold her hand or give words of comfort. All I could do was this simple act. A simple act that had over time become more meaningful for me than anything I could describe as simple.
I stood in front of the chapel. There was the candle rack with at least ten candles burning. There were the new candles waiting to be lit. There was the little box for my coins or paper money. And there were the matches in case they were needed.
Seeing the ten candles already burning on the rack fortified me against my worry. The warm golden light they cast created shadows within the arched chapel area. St. John stood with arms spread, hands open, vulnerable, offering, as if of himself, to sacrifice whatever it would take to give solace to those in need.
I didn’t want to ask anything for myself and yet my need overwhelmed all but the image of her. The thought of losing my other-mother was more than I could bear. She was my angel on earth. She was my haven. She had given me strength for over thirty years and I wasn’t read to lose her.
But today was not about me. I sighed and walked to the candle rack. The first candle my fingers touched was white, smooth and cold. It had a small seam running down its side, slightly damaged, not perfect. I smiled. This was the right one. I reached over and lit the wick from a ready flame on one of the ten who awaited this one. The candle flickered in my hand while I searched for the right spot on the rack. Once I placed it, my eyes found St. John again before I closed them and lifted my face to the heavens. It was my turn to give to my other-mother as she had given to me. So, I gave my prayer to her, to the chapel, to St. John, and to the heavens.
In the shadowed, cool silence my heart lifted, leaving behind my worries and doubts. The slender candle resting in its place on the rack unerringly sent out its warmth and light. It didn’t know how hard its task was, didn’t know how far away she was. Just as my other-mother had given me love over all these years without question, the candle gave light and warmth and hope to me in the dusky cradle of the church.
Copyright Lisa Buie-Collard
Thank you Write...Edit...Publish, so much for the opportunity to participate in this challenge!
Very moving! Love the imagery!ReplyDelete
Wow. Beautiful! Your description of that church reminded me so much of the church where my hubby and I got married nearly fifty years ago... and I was right there with you. Feeling the chill, seeing the shadows cast by the candles...ReplyDelete
Lovely! Heartwarming and wonderful images.ReplyDelete
I suspect that love like that travels effortlessly across the world and the other-mother feels it.ReplyDelete
And is comforted.
Your prose is so evocative, Lisa. Check your email for a tiny Christmas gift. :-)ReplyDelete
Hello Lisa! I'm so glad I got up at 5am and am reading this in the quiet of the house, listening to the birds sqwarking in the trees outside. What a beautiful ode to your other-mother and the comfort of lighting candles in churches. Your descriptive imagery pulled me into the story and had me re-reading some passages. Beautifully done.ReplyDelete
Thanks for returning to WEP this December. I hope you enjoy the experience and revisit in 2019!
So much love in this story.ReplyDelete
*LOVED* that, Lisa.ReplyDelete
Loved the "gentle" way you wrote it, and how the strength of the narrator shone through so clearly and so well.
Well done, and thanks for writing and sharing it with us all.
This was beautiful and evocative. Well done!ReplyDelete
Hi, Lisa! And just for you, I published my entry. I hope you enjoy it. Just be ready for the unusual!ReplyDelete
Such beautiful imagery, the warmth, the hope, the concern, and the love all came through with each word. I too feel hope and close to spirit in church and I hope you found the peace you needed during such a trying time.
Wishing you a Happy Holiday, and the brightest of New Year's!
Sometimes prayers are all we can offer and more often than not those prayers are our attempt to reconcile ourselves with the past, present, and future.ReplyDelete
Your essay is something to contemplate.
Tossing It Out
I liked how a non-religious person offered lighted candles and prayers because of her love for her mother-in-law. You captured the setting of the cathedral and the flickering flames beautifully.ReplyDelete
One word you might want to change is imbibed, which means to drink, usually alcohol. I think you're after imbued=permeate with feeling
Thanks C!Good catch. I used infused...Delete
Maybe you had 'imbibing' on your mind, Lisa!Delete
Too right Denise!!! Happy Holidays!Delete
What a sad, touching, and relatable story. Sometimes prayers are all we have. Your description of the love and connection between the woman and her other mother was eclipsed only by the description of candle light and smoke working hard to reach her so far away. Excellent. Thanks for sharing this.ReplyDelete
It is at these special times of the year, I believe, when we really see that it is the people we love that make the holiday season a joy. I like the way she offered up the time to go the church to pray for her other mother. I like the conclusion of her looking upward at the statues of St. John, because he is known as the apostle of love. And I hoped that her other mother lived to see some more years. A great take on the prompt.ReplyDelete
This is an absolutely beautiful story! Your imagery was so vivid I felt like I was there too. I love the way you described the relationship between this woman and her mother-in-law. I felt both sadness and hope in this, and that isn't easy to do. Well done!ReplyDelete
Sure can feel her warmth and want throughout. Something as simple as a candle can comfort one, and hopefully allow her other mother to feel it no matter the distance.ReplyDelete
Such an evocative piece. Gentle too.ReplyDelete
I was in the moment, every step of the way, and it tugged at my heart strings to read that, of all the candles that had been lit all over the world, at this significant moment a "slightly damaged, not perfect" candle was chosen to provide light and warmth and hope.
Thank you for sharing such a wonderful story!
Love the descriptions :)ReplyDelete
What an amazing post. This left me with a warm glow. Nicely done, my kind friend.
For those of you doing the Ribbons and Candles blog hop (or not!), my son read this and as an aspiring beginning writer himself, he said he recommended I cut all but the last three paragraphs. As an always-learning writer, I thought I'd ask and see what others think...?ReplyDelete
It is certainly tighter and the essential story remains but I liked learning that your main protagonist lights candles where-ever she goes, that it matters which Saint she lights them to, and that her heart - and that of her other mother is on the line.Delete
Thanks so much! I love the feedback!Delete
After so many twists and turns in other fun posts, it was wonderful to end my WEP reading with your beautiful and moving piece. Uplifting and, I must add, my festive blessings.ReplyDelete
Interesting question about the possibility of cutting it to use just the final paragraphs. I think you could, in fact, create a much tighter story that focuses on the candle and the other-mother. But I wouldn't want to lose the element of her questioning (not necessarily not believing, but not necessarily believing, either). I think that makes the act of love all the stronger.ReplyDelete