by Sr. Sheila Campbell MMM Ireland 13.12.2021
Yesterday I went to our parish church for Mass and, as I arrived early, sat watching as other people came in.
The first old man who arrived took his time and shuffled up to the side altar and lit a candle to Our Lady.
Soon after he returned to his seat, a young boy, maybe nine or ten years old, danced and ran up the church and did the same thing. But he lit 5 candles and put the money carefully, coin by coin into the box. Next up was a young mother, with a toddler by her side. She was a bit flustered but managed to stop and pick the child up into her arms so that he could see the lit candle.
As I sat and watched this procession of all ages come up the church, I could not help but stop and think about what makes lighting a candle such a universal need. I began to think about the four elements – fire, water, earth and air. All religions all over the world incorporate these elements into their rituals. Fire is used for sacrifice, for the Pascal Fire at Easter for Christians, for cremations for Hindus. Incense is linked with fire – and air! Water we know well. We use water for baptism and for blessings. Here in Ireland, we have a plethora of holy wells where people come for cures. Bathing and cleansing are a part of many religious traditions. Earth is our base element. We will be buried in the ground and mourners invited to scatter earth into the grave as a symbol of farewell and committal.
So today I just want to thank God for these four symbols – these four realities – that we use to connect with the Divine. They help to keep us rooted in the day by day, ordinary life of humanity even as our hearts yearn for the immensity, depth and fullness of God.