Yeah, that’s what the present is. It’s a little unsatisfying because life’s a little unsatisfying. – from Midnight in Paris
For every moment of big beautiful joy or small hidden victories or tender quiet encounters with love and peace, there is the ache and the longing for everything – sometimes just one something in particular – to be made right.
This week alone, I have listened to stories of bitterness and unforgiveness, adoption struggles, death and sickness, betrayal and addictions, loss and grief, sleepless nights with sick children, and longings unfulfilled in the hearts and lives of people I love and there are more questions than answers. Among us, there is sorrow. And then there is world around us: the hungry bellies, the dirty water, the vicious war, the waiting and lonely children silent behind chain link fences in refugee camps, the women caught in sex trafficking, our culture’s exploitation and violence masquerading as entertainment, and Lord have mercy.
I spent a few years as a mega/modern church exile and as I curled away from the culture I used to love, I found myself in Anglican churches learning to light candles and love liturgy, I met my ancestors in the ancient ways. I carry those practices with me even as I’ve returned to evangelicalism and charismatic churches (can we ever really leave our Mother Church?).
Like so many of us, I’ve learned to light my candles for the days when life is a little unsatisfying, like I learned to sing old childhood songs while I bath all the tinies. After a tantrum in one tiny or a heart-to-heart with another or even just a rainy day of boredom, I’ve learned to put babies into the bath and let the ministry of bubbles baptize us into a renewal of sorts. I don’t do the holy and hard work of long prayer, that’s not my gift, but I light a small votive in my house after I listen to a friend on Voxer, after I meet with another friend from church, after I walk out of the doctor’s office with another prescription for antibiotics for a strep throat in the tinies, after I read the news, after I am hurt, after the dissatisfaction and the longing for God to come near to us rises up in me like an altar begging for fire to descend. It’s one of the habits of my heart: I light the candle in the middle of the house and every time I see it, I breathe out the names and their places, the people I’m carrying for the day. Maybe this little girl taught me to pray this way, I don’t know.
And then I sing the old songs. I didn’t grow up on hymns like some others, I grew up at the kitchen table of grateful baby disciples humming happy-clappy choruses of the renewal movement, so I sing into the cavern of the bathtub with my hair bound up and my hands slippery with soap, hanging onto the last few baby dimples that remain in our house.
I’ve got a river of life flowing out of me. It makes the lame to walk and the blind to see. It opens prison doors and sets the captives free. I’ve got a river of life flowing out of me.
The little candle is lit today for a handful of friends and for Syria. Maybe for me, too.
Tomorrow, it might be for someone else or someplace else. But the candle is lit for a few hours, I’ll remember you and put on faith and hope, my prayers are joining with yours, life can be a little unsatisfying – it’s okay to admit it out loud – and I’ve got a river of life flowing out of me.