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Votive Candles

Votive Candles

Particularly here in the Bible Belt but certainly throughout the Internet and elsewhere we are reminded as this Christmas season reaches it’s crescendo that the reason for the season is to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. Certainly I can’t argue with that sentiment; although the exact birth date of Christ is now believed to have more likely taken place in June and the December 25th date more to bring pagans in who were more comfortable with celebrating holidays in that time period the tradition is now engrained in Western culture that December is among the most holiest of times for those who follow the Christian faith.

Faith. That’s a difficult word these days. We all claim to have it in some form or another, be it a religious faith or faith in science for example. I myself must profess to having a hard time with faith these days – not so much with a faith in higher things, but more with my faith in organized religion. I have said elsewhere that I was raised Roman Catholic and grew disillusioned with the Church after the pedophile priest scandals – not so much for the fact that there were pedophiles among the priesthood but because the Church knowingly and willfully covered their own asses rather than and ahead of protecting their flocks. I couldn’t accept moral authority from an organization that felt the former was more important than the latter.

My views on the Church remain heavily in doubt, although I admit that the new Pope has given me some hope that perhaps things may change. He is going a long way to healing some wounds and if he continues on the road he’s on, he might just get me to reconsider my position but for now I’m a man who believes in God but is of no particular faith.

But do we need to belong to a church to have faith? Of course not. Atheists have their own sort of faith – they believe that there is no God. Because the existence or non-existence of the Almighty is largely unprovable both the atheists and theists simply have to take it on faith that their position is the correct one. For myself, I do believe that there is a higher power, one we do not understand and are in fact incapable of understanding as much as a dog is incapable of understanding quantum mechanics. I don’t insist others believe as I do, nor do I feel the need to prove my belief system to others who demand proof of my belief structure. It is simply something I believe to be true. Knowing that there is something greater out there, something that unites all of us and gives us all something in common, is comforting to me.

I also believe I don’t need a middleman in my relationship with God. I don’t need a priest or pastor to tell me what to do, or to insist I give my worship every Sunday to a being who quite frankly is unlikely to need it. Why does an all-powerful God need someone to worship Him/Her?   That never made any sense to me. My belief in right and wrong largely follows these lines – that I must live a life that brings harm to as few as possible while making life better for as many as possible, that I will not judge how anyone chooses to live their life assuming that how they live their life does no harm to others. Offer help when it is needed but never insist when it is not wanted. To give what I can and accept with graciousness what is given. To learn to embrace the diversity of beliefs and cultures and to explore what is new to me with the wonder of a child. To realize that my time here is limited and to live each day with the understanding that it is a beautiful gift to be cherished. To fight with passion for the things I believe in and to listen to those who disagree with me with respect.

I aspire to these things but being human and full of frailty I don’t always meet my own expectations. Sometimes I fail, particularly in treating everyone with dignity; sometimes I get frustrated with the religious right and radical conservatives and react with anger and venom. I don’t have to agree with them, I can even fight against their agendas but I need to remember to treat them with compassion and respect. After all, they are as entitled to their beliefs as much as I am entitled to mine – even if they’re dead wrong. Sorry, couldn’t resist.

Lighting votive candles are a tangible expression of one’s faith. The flame that burns is a symbol of the flame that burns within. The form that flame takes is as different for each individual as each individual is from one another. For me it is not just a declaration of my faith, but a promise to try to do better within it. To give more and take less, to comfort more and be less combative. I still choose to follow no specific religion but I respect those who choose to; I recognize only that this is not the path for me at this time. That doesn’t mean I can’t learn from those who follow a specific religion, nor accept their own faith as a part of who they are. While I decry the things about organized religion that disturb me – the hypocrisy, the agendas that often seem at odds with bringing their flocks closer to God and more about bringing power and wealth to individuals, I cannot in good conscience ignore the good that has been done by organized religion as well. You can’t accept one without the other as you can’t accept the good in people without accepting that which is bad in them.

So in this season which is sacred to so many, let me wish all a season of joy and love. May the new year bring peace and understanding, prosperity to all and malice towards none. Let us learn to have faith if not in God than at least in each other. Let the new year bring focus less on ourselves and our own needs and more on the world around us and the needs of the many. I pray in 2014 we start a movement of unity – to promote understanding and compassion, to stand up against violence and bigotry and for all of us to do the right thing. To make a priority not the acquiring of things or the ability to wage war and impose our doctrine on others but to feed the hungry, to heal the sick and to shelter the homeless. Turn our attentions not on new ways to kill each other but on new frontiers to explore in medicine, science and the arts. And to you, my dear reader, may you have a holiday season regardless of which holidays you celebrate – or even if you celebrate no holidays at all – that is safe and filled with love. May your own votive candles burn brightly and long.


One Response

  1. Some scientists believe that it was ingrained into our DNA the need for and belief in a creator. Whatever, you have written a beautiful statement, thank you.

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