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Reflection on a Candlelight Service

I just came home from the “Candlelight Carol Festival” at The Riverside Church in the City of New York. Some of you may remember from a previous blog post, that I used to work here. My old boss had raved about the Candle Light Service. Constantly, people – even non Riverside staffers – were telling me it was something extraordinary.

Naturally, I had to check it out. I grabbed my brother and a friend and we headed to the service. I was having a great time at the show, enjoying the harp player, the children’s choir, and the unbelievable rendition of O Holy Night.

Then, we got to the Ritual of Light.

In a matter of seconds, the nave darkened entirely until all that remained was a strange shadow of a person reflected on the stained glass windows. It took only minutes before I realized that the strange shadow was signing what the leaders were saying in ASL. Inclusion for all.

This perhaps goes with saying, but it was dark – I mean really dark. It was almost the kind of dark where you wonder what it will take to feel light again. It was the kind of dark that you think a candle can do nothing to impact.

Then, one by one, the leaders spoke their lines and lit their candles until the front of the sanctuary was glowing. I watched as other individuals walked down the aisle, lighting the candle of the person on the outside.

When they got to our pew, they lit my brother’s candle and he passed it to our friend, who passed it to me, and I to the stranger beside me. The lights kept multiplying.

Finally, I looked up. The nave was illuminated with single flames, almost as if a reminder that many voices standing in solidarity will almost certainly drown out darkness.

And then those voices sang. Silent Night began to ring from the organ and the voice of even the stranger next to me, who, after my hour of sitting next to him, I had noted, had not been a singer.

Then, I focused on only my light for a moment. I noticed the way the flame seemed to grow the longer I stared at it - the way good things are more abundant when it is good things you are seeking out. I watched this one tiny light that I held in front of me shine onto my program in front of me and shine onto the faces of those surrounding me.

Light by candle didn’t seem dimmer. It seemed more aware.

At the last stanza of Silent Night, we rose our candles into the sky and I looked around at the hundreds of people standing around me – all singing in unison, all contributing something amazing to the hall that made it beautiful.

Without the light of every person in the room, the effect wouldn’t have been the same. But on Sunday, December 18th at The Riverside Church in the City of New York, everyone was on the same page.

The only way to fight back against the dark is to band together and share the light.

Let your light be your love and may the darkness never reach you.

Love always,

Liz

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