I am afraid of fire. Maybe it goes back to the time when I was five or six and my family and I, along with all our neighbors, were standing outside in our bathrobes in the middle of the night watching a nearby structure burn to the ground. Whatever the reason, I am skittish around fire and flame. So when I entered the monastery and was assigned to the sacristy, I found myself feeling some fear as day after day I worked with matches, lighters, candles, and wicks. Yes, I was afraid. And yet there was the necessity of my assigned work.
Somehow, over the years, at the intersection of fear and necessity, I developed a way with candles. Somehow I learned how to coax recalcitrant candles and how to tame ones that had become a bit overwrought. I don’t know how I do it or how I know what to do. I just take a candle and work with it. And somehow, the candle responds. Some in the monastery have called me “the candle whisperer.”
It happened again tonight. Two Sisters tried unsuccessfully to coax a shy candle into flame. I went up, looked at it, and stirred a bit in the wax. I tried again to light it, the wick caught, and the candle began burning steadily. “What did you do?” I was asked. “I don’t know,” I replied. Because somehow, at the intersection of fear and necessity, I had become a candle whisperer, and one can’t explain these things.
Today, many are afraid. No matter where in the world they are, perhaps they feel as if structures are burning down around them. Perhaps structures are burning down around them. They are unsure whether to hope, or how much to hope, or whether to let their hope snuff itself out like a wick that has collapsed in a puddle of wax, or whether to fan their hope into a steady flame that can light their way forward.
And yet, in the midst of fear and uncertain hope, there is still the necessity to keep working. No matter where in the world we are, there is the necessity to do one’s daily tasks with as much integrity, joy, compassion, and skill as one can bring to bear on the work God has called us to do, to walk with fidelity the path God has laid before us.
Perhaps somehow, at the intersection of fear and fidelity, a flame of hope can be lit. Perhaps by acknowledging fear, leaning into necessity, and being anchored in prayer, we can nurture hope both in ourselves and in others. Perhaps we can become hope whisperers – coaxing collapsing hope, trimming false hope, stirring a bit to let the spark catch the wick, and, with a steady flame and steadfast fidelity, light the path ahead.