Monday, July 29, 2013

Candles for Mark

We met some wonderful people on our cycling trip to Corsica last fall. Among them were Michelle and Malcolm, a couple around our age who are from Washington State but are currently living in Germany. Not that that matters, except it is important for my story - not that they are from Washington but that they are living in Europe.

Michelle, like me, was raised a Catholic. Unlike me, she never felt the need to join the Mormon Church; and her life has been far less complicated as a result. She still struggles, however, in some form or another, with the faith of her youth. And I totally understand that. The faith of our youth holds a special place in our hearts. Like our first love. And as we confront the ugliness and realities of life, even though we know we can't go back to the nursery and believe in the fables of our youth, we still hold a spot of secret comfort in our hearts as we age.


Anyway, when Michelle heard about Mark's cancer, she embarked on a crusade of sorts. No, that's not the right word. She decided, in her travels around Europe, to light candles in small and large Catholic churches across the continent in remembrance of Mark and the journey he is now on.

How beautiful is that?

Malcolm and Michelle in Corsica

Not that Michelle believes that the Virgin is going to intercede on behalf of Mark. Her offering is far more sacred than that.

I was raised Catholic, like Michelle, but I honestly don't think I've ever lit a candle; though I remember them in front of the statue of the Virgin Mary at a side altar (not the right word), flickering away, in the midst of St. Polycarp's vaulting modernity. Quite a contrast to the churches that Michelle enters on her travels across Europe. And saints were never a big deal to me. And novenas and rosaries and all that other stuff that Catholics are known for.

Which is why I think I connect with what Michelle is doing and think it is so awesomely cool.  (I know I sound a bit like a juvenile, but whatever.) I read on a website that lighting candles is "a way of extending one's prayer and showing solidarity with the person on whose behalf the prayer is offered." To me, it is similar to the thought behind Tibetan prayer flags: the wind catches the flags and releases the prayers, blessing unknown beings throughout the world. 

The difference with a candle is that it is lit as a prayer, as a remembrance, for one specific person. And I think that is even cooler. Not that some saint or even the Virgin is going to reach down and bless Mark - who has a decidedly Lutheran background which I'm not sure the Virgin would entirely approve of. The point is that he is being remembered across the breadth of Europe, or as Michelle put it, from the Chapel of Dachau to the Notre Dame de Paris. 

And what can you do with friends like that except embrace them across the miles and thank them for their offering from the heart. The point is not whether there is actual metaphysical efficacy in such offerings. That doesn't matter. At least not to me, and I suspect to Mark. The point is, that someone on the other side of the globe is thinking of him and is making efforts to go into centuries-old sacred spaces to send a prayer into the universe on behalf of my beloved.

Thank you, Michelle. 

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