“Here, lad, these are for St. Christopher’s. Make speed with them now. The gatekeeper will take them up to the Convent. And don’t forget the payment.”
The boy lifted the box onto his head, straddling his feet to compensate for the extra weight.
“And mind the traffic!”
Outside, the road was congested with beggars, vehicles, vendors and shoppers. It was noisy. Sounds filtered into the dark interior of the box. In the lowest layer were the biggest and most expensive and, naturally, the most important. They were the Altar Candles, the thickness of a man’s arm. Lying on top of them were the domestic candles for the cells, refectory and work- rooms of the Convent.
On one side was a little bundle of long tapers, quite as long as the Altar Candles, delicate, elegant and envied by all the other candles for their useful mobility. And tossed on the top were many small prayer candles, of sub-standard grease that the candle maker re-cycled from chippings, drippings and spillages. In effect, these humble candles had a part of all the other candles beating in their hearts. One small candle, although a part of him was floor scraping, was also the base wax of an Altar Candle that had been too overfilled in the mould, earning the boy who filled it, a cuff on the head for negligence. This candle lay skew under all the other prayer candles. At last, something was happening. It had lain with the others for many days in a tray while the order was complete and now something was happening. Something was happening, although only indistinctly felt and heard inside the darkness of the box, the gate keeper was passed, the requisitions nun was passed, and at last, the box was opened.
Light and laughter filled it as the top dropped open. The small prayer candle that lay under all the others felt itself tumbling out to be added to the heap on the trestle. With a rustling of wimple, calico and starch, the hand that lifted it placed it carefully in a wooden box with many others, making sure that they lay neat, straight.
Suddenly, the small candle saw, for the first time, and for only a few moments as it was transported through the convent gardens to the Cathedral, a candle so bright that it out shone in candle power anything that the small prayer candle could ever have imagined. The light was so intense, so warm, so friendly, that the small candle felt an overwhelming longing to be able to radiate such a light. It was consumed with momentous vision, that from then on, every moment seemed dull, lifeless, point less.
Inside the vaulted cathedral, the box was placed at the door next to the plate with the coins. Gloom and echoing space seemed to surround the small prayer candle. Sometimes someone would come in, take a candle, drop a coin in the plate and disappear into the dimness of the nave. But the fingers that folded around the others never seemed to grasp the small candle. The Floor scraping, part Altar candle, prayer candle, spent much time remembering the light. Its humble origins knew it could never shine so brightly. Its proud, important and worthy aspect knew it could try. For many days it lay in the box, waiting. Nothing was happening now. Nothing was happening
” My Son also waited ” A beautiful statue standing in an alcove at the front of the Cathedral comforted the small candle. She was robed in blue and her eyes were filled with love.
“One day someone will take you to Him so that you may shine your light.”
“Is that where the others have gone?” questioned the small candle.
“Yes, my love. My Son is at the far end in the dimness of the nave. Down there is a candle stand where those who need place their candles to burn with the light of request. My Son attends to all their needs.”
“Would He also attend to mine?” asked the prayer candle, knowing that he had only one.
“And what do you need?” asked the statue.
“I need to shine with the brightest light of all” whispered the small candle remembering the Light. His voice was faint that the statue had to bend to hear him. A shadow crossed her face.
“You do know that to do so will cost you your life.” she said.
“What do you mean?” inquired the candle.
“The power of the light consumes those who radiate it.”
For a moment, the candle was appalled at these words. A silence fell.
“What do you mean?” he asked again, hoping for clarification.
“I mean” said the statue, “That in shining, you have to lose yourself.”
“What do you mean?” the small prayer candle asked for the third time, embarrassed that he was appearing so stupid. The statue smiled with infinite motherly love.
“My dear little one,” she replied, “Those who make light, put themselves aside so that they may shine the light.” There was a pause, “The light consumes them.”
Now a silence so deep and clear settled around the box that it seemed to blend into the vastness of the vaults and clearstories. There was a moment of eternity. At last, in a very tiny voice that made the statue have to put her ear to the box, the prayer candle asked the final question.
“Is it worth it?”
The statue straightened her back, a smile played about her lips and her eyes glowed with pride. “My Son thought so.” she answered.
It was not long before a set of filthy fingers wrapped themselves around the prayer candle, the ragged figure snatched a few coins from the plate. With a leap, the beggar was out of the door and into the street with the small prayer candle tucked under his disgusting arm. In the darkness, the small candle was stood up in a little heap of dirt that the man scratched together with broken fingernails, under the buttress of a broken wall. The hairy face with matted locks, breathed fetid breath close to it. A flame shook uncontrollably in the gnarled hand poised above while the heart of the candle cried out.
“Why? Why this? I wanted to shine for your Son! I wanted to shine the brightest of all!” Thoughts of the beautiful statue, standing safe in the Cathedral portico flooded his being. Disappointment entered the candle so painfully that laments of “Oh, I am so miserable, so unhappy, so useless!” resonated in the silence. “Oh, who is there to help me?” called the small prayer candle at last.
The trembling hands cupped the match, shielding it against the bitter wind and cold, the rancid body moved closer to the candle, anticipating its warmth. Suddenly a voice seemed to fill all of the small candle, including its floor scraping and Altar candle parts.
“Here is My light.” said the voice with infinite love. “Receive My light. I have answered your prayer. You wanted to shine the brightest of all. There is no brighter light than the one that shines alone, in the dark. Radiate My love. In losing yourself, you become one with Me.”
Such love was in the words, such gentleness, such compassion that the small candle stood straight and tall in the mound of dirt. The ragged arm lowered the flame.
“Is it worth it?” asked the voice as Divine bliss entered the small candle.
“Oh, yes!” cried the candle. “It is worth it!”
“I thought it was.” answered the voice.