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Carrying the Candle

Sitting and waiting in the dark never accomplishes anything. I know that firsthand.


During my years of UC Berkeley, I spent most of my study hours in the marvelous libraries. My favorite was the reading room in the Doe Library, filled w/ huge light-bearing windows, which was fitting. The Cal motto is Fiat Lux, Let there be light.



But to seek further knowledge, you often had to enter into a darkness of sorts – specifically, the stacks where millions of books were stored.* At the end of each stack was a switch; turn it on to find the book you are searching for.


Or turn it off – all of them off – if you want to sit on the floor and think … or languish and lament.


The stacks were dark and lonely. So was I. On several occasions I went to one of the top floors and sat in the dark for an hour or two, accomplishing little besides sinking further into my self-disdain, as I longed for my life to be different.


I need to place these episodes in a timeline. My tendency to sit in the stacks, waiting in the darkness for something to happen, lasted for about two years, and was sandwiched between two powerful events.


Before they ever occurred, early in my sophomore year at Cal, God had become real to me. More than that, I learned that God loved me and had invited me into his service. In an earlier post, I wrote about it here. But it took me a couple more years before I could take the first step towards accepting and liking myself. That happened in Guerneville, California, just six months before I graduated. But that’s a story for another post.


I don’t recall any of the specific incidents that sent me spiraling into darkness, but I do know that my return to the light – standing up, grabbing my backpack, and leaving the stacks – took place for the same reason every time. As much as I was longing for a change – in me or in the dynamics of my life – I reminded myself that a split-second transformation was not likely. I also sensed that waiting in the dark just makes one weary.


Hold that thought. We’ll return to it.


I look back on those episodes with compassion and gratitude. Tenderly, I see one of the early indicators of my genetic disposition to melancholy. I’m not presently on anti-depressants, but a few times over the past twenty-five years they have been helpful in maintaining my emotional equilibrium through some tough seasons. I’ve counseled many people, but have also been on the receiving end of therapy.


I also see an early pattern of spiritual health, for which I am grateful. In this I give credit to the Holy Spirit more than to myself. My hours of lament also included a form of self-analysis, a talking-to-myself that comes straight out of the Psalms, which is a rich resource for honest prayer and self-examination: Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God. **


Looking back, I realize I was lonely in those moments, but I was not alone. What an amazing thought – God was with me in those dark moments! Not scolding. Not standing above or apart, impatiently waiting for me to come to my senses. In those formative years of learning to be a disciple, he sat with me in my gloom, and helped me remember that Jesus, the Light of the World, had entrusted me to be one of his candle-lighters.


That’s what brought me out of my hours of gloom, which meant it was time to return to the light. And I’m still carrying the candle.


Have you sensed that it’s getting dark outside? I mean that literally, in that the days of December are the shortest. But I also mean that metaphorically. I’m not one to be listening for or trying to identify the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse – Conquest, War, Pestilence and Death – but I definitely believe that we are living through some dark days.



And as a result, the stacks are getting crowded, especially around the 200-299 aisles – the religion section of the Dewey Decimal System. Like the Jews of old, it’s become all too common for the people of God to sit together in the stacks and lament the dark world we live in, crying out for the Messiah – Maranatha, Come Lord Jesus. We’ll just sit here and wait for you.


For many, that sums up the life of faith – try not to mess up too much, because some day Jesus will take his flock of scared sheep to heaven and show everyone who is the Boss. Whew – made it!


Uh, no. A hard no. That’s not what it means to be a disciple of Jesus.


Yes, this is the season of Advent, a time for believers to focus on waiting for the Messiah. It’s about light coming into a time of darkness. And my favorite Advent character – after Jesus, of course – is Joseph. His life got turned around when he received a message about the Messiah. His response points the way out of the dark for believers today.


God’s people had been longing for the Messiah for hundreds of years, while living under the rule of oppressive foreign powers. Waiting in the dark just makes you weary, which is a fair description of Joseph. The one bright light on the horizon, his engagement to Mary, was snuffed out by her unbelievable explanation of how she became pregnant. After considering it – a better translation would be fuming about it ­– Joseph finally decided to call the whole thing off and quietly divorce her. Great. Back to square one. Maybe find someone new.


But the light came back on for Joseph that night by way of an angelic vision, one that included both an explanation and an assignment. No more waiting wearily for him – he became a willing participant in God’s drama, which the prophets had predicted for centuries.


He became protective of Mary and her reputation, taking her into his home. I have no doubt that his inner life also changed, learning to accept and interpret events with a new infusion of godly wisdom. Walking to Bethlehem; visits from shepherds, angels, and magi; escaping to Egypt – all were part of God’s larger plan.


We are not called to wait wearily for a Messiah. Like Joseph, we have received an angelic message. Like Joseph, we are called to be willing participants in God’s plan since the beginning of time, carrying candles given to us by the Light of the World.


Waiting in the dark just makes one weary.


If that last phrase resonates deep within you, receive this benediction:

May you sense the lovingly patient presence of God by your side, and in your pain.

May you receive the candle from his tender hand and step out of your weariness into the light.

May you carry it forward the rest of your days as he guides your path.


Let there be light.

* * * * * *

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All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version, NIV. Copyright 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc. TM



* During my years at Berkeley, Doe Library's book collections were stored inside a seven-story building in a central space called the Doe Core. The stacks are no longer in that building. The Gardner (Main) Stacks were constructed in 1997 – a four-story underground structure, consisting of 52 miles of bookshelves. Four large skylights bring natural lighting to each floor.


** Psalm 42:5

Picture of Doe Library Reading Room:

By Louis H. G. - https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=70837197


Woodcut: Albrecht Durer, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, c. 1490’s