My life is full of routines, but not many rituals. Hours are broken up into segments, each segment filled with a task, that task simply serving as a springboard to the next. And so the hours pass without being really lived in or given meaning.
Lately I've taken to lighting candles at bedtime. This is the one time of day in which I am quite alone, quite silent, unhurried. It is a time to claim, to ritualize. The light of three small candles is so unobtrusive compared to electric light. It is concentrated in these little pillars and prompts me to gather my far-flung thoughts back into my little self.
I lie back with a Book of Hours and in the candlelight read about the Light of the World. For the first time, I actually grasp the strength of this name for the Messiah. The people of the ancient world (His world) saw nothing after night fell without moonlight, starlight, or fire of their own making. If none of these were to be had, they were helpless and in submission to the darkness til morning came. Imagine what a mental image this name, "Light of the World," would summon up in them. Imagine living in a world in which light and dark are severely, mercilessly delineated, and receiving news of a Light great enough for the whole world. Imagine a night so dark that one star could be a trustworthy guide. In my electric place and time, I can't fully imagine or know. So I like this ritual - plunging myself into the primeval darkness of night, making myself dependent upon this flame. It burns so confidently. Its rays are wide enough to illumine the words I need to read, the words that tell of the Light without which nothing in this world makes sense to me. The light brings to my mind the light of glory that shone at Christ's baptism, tearing the sky with purpose. All heaven broke loose when the sky was rent by Light, and the world was never the same.
Last night I fell asleep without blowing out the candles. I awoke and panicked thinking of the fire that could have been; but then I laid back feeling comforted by the thought that they had been beside me in the darkness all through the night. I hope that with each year I improve at observing this season through other time-honored rituals. But I think the candles - stars brought down to my bedside to give meaning to my falling-asleep moments - are a good start.