They say a picture is worth a thousand words. That, I believe,
is a true statement. It seems to be true for no picture more than
it is for this simple one of a candle.
The candle is a photograph taken the night of Christmas Eve, 2004.
The round candle was standing straight and tall as part of the
altar display at my church, which I was photographing between
services. What makes this photo interesting from a photographic
point of view is that it was taken in a fully illuminated room.
Thanks to God's good graces or fluke exposure settings, what would've
otherwise been an uninteresting stock picture came to represent
so much more.
Candlelight vigils take place because of the power this image
holds to symbolize hope, memories, or souls of individuals.
There are many times in life when I feel like this picture, as
a single candle burning in darkness. It seems as though I am all
alone, with nothing in sight but the darkness which surrounds
me. At those times, I use what light I have just to see the road
in front of me, though only a little at a time can come into my
field of view. It is at those times that I fear I may be bound
forever to be a single candle, endlessly wandering between one
small group of candles and the next, searching for the one to
which I belong. It is also in those moments that the gentle fragility
of my single candle flame becomes most noticeable. Only the slightest
of winds or one unlucky raindrop is required to severely dampen
the candle's flame and threaten, each time more sternly than the
last, to put it out. Those are the times when I seem to have forgotten
that this picture was taken in a fully lit room.
At other times, this image is a reminder of the warmth felt only
through the love of friends and family. The flame stands straight
and tall, the warmest and brightest it can be. The warmth and
light outside and near the candle penetrate its opaque waxy surface
and reach down into the heart of its being, something that only
love and light can do. Although the image itself can appear rather
cold when set in a crystalline context (or viewed in black and
white), it can in context also appear warm and inviting, showing
within itself how deeply the love has penetrated.
Occasionally I find myself in physical darkness with only candlelight
to guide me. Every time, I find that I never cease to be amazed
at how much light a single candle flame provides. As part of a
demonstration I gave when directing Night Camp last summer, I
placed a single tea light (the smallest of candles) on a stone
in the center of the fire circle, and asked everybody seated around
there to cover one eye and stare silently at the candle for five
minutes, and the light from that one tiny candle was enough
to clearly see the faces of everybody seated in the circle, while
our large fire earlier was not. A single votive flickering in an otherwise
dark bedroom is enough to accomplish any reasonable work in the
room, yet we insist all too often on flooding our homes with hundreds,
maybe even thousands, of candlepower supplied by artificial bulbs
and controlled by the flip of a switch.
Are we afraid of ourselves becoming "candles in the wind,"
or do we fail to appreciate the power a single candle has to offer?
Novelist Edith Wharton once noted, "There are two ways of
spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects
it." In my work and especially in my work as a photographer, I generally imagine myself
more as a mirror reflecting God's light than the as the source
itself. This photo, in its simplicity and message, challenges
me to think about light-spreading in a different way. It refers
to the popular worship song known by two titles: "Carry Your
Candle" and "Go Light Your World." The song and
all that it stands for encourages listeners to use what gifts
and faith they have, no matter how little, to help others and
make the world a better place. 1 Peter 4:10, which says pretty much the same thing, forms the first part of my career mission statement. The song's metaphor is
present here in this image, a candle standing proud and tall,
ready to be carried out into the world to illuminate where there
is darkness and bring hope to those in despair. If one person can do all that, imagining the world-changing power of a church of 200 seems almost overwhelming. Yet, each Christmas Eve, that potential is
represented during the candlelight service and singing of "silent
night," our symbolic sharing of the light, and a very perceivable
illumination of the church amid the arrival of a new birth and
opportunity. It's a visual "what if," "what if
this were the year that we decided to change the world?"
So what if this were the year, this the day, and this the
very hour in which the changing of the world was to begin? This
image of a burning candle, a captured moment removed from place
and time, reminds us at the same time of both life's fragility
and potential. Will we accept the challenge to each carry forth
our candle, unafraid to stand alone, to seek out those whose flames
of life and spirit have flickered or gone out, to shelter and
strengthen them until their own flames are nursed back to life?
Will we accept the challenge to seek out those single flames bravely
wandering among the darkness and walk with them, combining strength
for protection from the harsh winds and heavy rains that accompany
life's storms? The choice is one we have the opportunity to make
each and every moment, a choice silently persisted for by this
simple image of a candle.
-WBT, "1000 Words: Candle," ©
author here. | Photos
home | Writing