I liked Tara immediately, because of the name of her business: "Anam Cara" which means "friend of the soul" in Gaelic. I search for these sorts of people in my life, and try to be one as well. Tara and I knew each other for a while before we serendipitously met in line at a book signing at the Festival of Faith and Writing. Not only is Tara lovely, and so personable, but her writing is a balm to a tired soul, again and again. I'm so looking forward to her upcoming book.
I hope you'll enjoy this deep breath of a de(tale), today.
Wood and cardboard. Sulfur and friction.
It’s an unconscious action by now, the drag and spark of the match against the matchbox. The head ignites and I hold the newly born flame steadily against the candle’s wick.
When is habit ritual or ritual habit?
Each time I sit down to listen to someone’s sacred story in spiritual direction, I light a candle. Whether the soul I’m tending is in the room or thousands of miles away, transported into presence by Skype, there’s a wick burning here with me, the room filled with the faint smell of wax and warmth.
A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out. (Is. 42:3)
Although I tell those whom I sit with that this candle is a tangible reminder that the real presence of God is with us—and I believe this, deeply—mostly the candle is my anchor. More often than not, one of us is bruised, one of us smoldering. More often than not, the lingering smell of char from the match reminds me how sooty I am, how burned by burdens of the world.
More often than not, I need the smell and taste of smoke and wax to bring me back to the kindness of God, the memory of when Isaiah’s words were all I had to cling to, my whole story ashes around me, darkness so thick I could not believe floodlights would brighten it, let alone a single candle flame.
More often than not, the dance of the fire in the slight currents of the room, shifted so slightly by our breathing, reminds me of God’s movement and playfulness when I, so earnest and recovering so slowly from habits of performance, burden the space with the need to be ever-so-serious.
When the sun slants through the window in that room, the lengthening light casts the candles shadow against the wall. But flame throws no darkness, it is only light upon light, and I am held in the truth of God’s constancy no matter the circumstances. Whatever enters the room with me, joy and celebration, sorrow and pain, the flame of love remains, burning.
When is habit ritual or ritual habit?
I participate in the lighting, but I can’t make it burn.
I replace the candle when it has burned low. I dig into the candle’s reservoir when pooled wax drowns the flame. I trim the wick when the flame smokes, filling the room with grey fingers grabbing our nostrils and clothes. But the burning isn’t up to me. So much is out of my hands in this space, so little in my control.
When we leave this room, my breath blows out the flame, although my heart doesn’t want to. Practically speaking, this unattended candle will burn down my house around me, a small flicker become an inferno with enough fuel and neglect. How much more am I reminded to tend to myself as well as others? To keep watch and attend carefully to the clutter in my own soul, my own story.
It has become an unconscious action, this lighting and blowing out. The match, the wick, the flame, the breath. But through it the Holy burns and dances, and I walk through the fire without pain.
Tara M. Owens, CSD, is a spiritual director with Anam Cara Ministries, the senior editor of Conversations Journal, and a Dr. Who nerd. Her first book, Embracing the Body: Finding God in Our Flesh & Bone, published by InterVarsity Press, releases on March 13, 2015. She lives and continues the search for the perfect red velvet cupcake in Colorado with her husband, Bryan, her daughter, Seren, and their rescue dog, Hullabaloo. You can find her on Facebook, follow her at @t_owens or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can check out the other de(tales) (so far) here.