I light candles for a God I didn't grow up with, a custom I borrowed from my first husband's childhood. His mother used to light them for him before important tests, a habit she couldn’t shake even after conversion. He went on to accomplished degrees from top British universities, leaving behind candles burned at the wick and an unconditional mother.
I light candles for us, for me, mostly him and our children. Lighting for this new life with life long responsibilities.
I come here to pray, something I haven't done through religious obligation in a long, long time.
When I light these candles, I stumble, my tongue unable to form words fast enough. It's not one prayer but a monologue, I have so much to ask for in a humble way.
I am not part of this culture so I can appreciate it. The sacrificial Jesus on the altar has no connection to biblical stories for me, having my guilt steeped in another religion. I can pray freely here, paying my 30 pence to lay may candles amongst other's dreams and devotions. I sometimes even write a note if there is a book. Neat words about serious illnesses and forgiveness. Messy words about love and meaning. Everyone is praying for the same thing in different hand writing.
Is there room for every one's absolution in this crowded line?
Its a habit that has turned into hope for me. Finding these churches amongst the cobblestones. Dragging my stroller in these stony rooms, illuminated by stained glass windows, my babies and I sit, transfixed by the flames. We are both quiet, and the silence allows for me to pause. It's a therapy of some sorts, talking silently in my head. Making a wish before I blow on the dandelion. Its always the same. For love and understanding, for realizing my ambitions and a new one in the last years, for being financially independent and secure. Also for my boys.
Perhaps that is why I feel the need, to push open these middle aged doors, to take these moments for its no longer just me, but me plus three. I must ask for these prayers, I need to say them out loud enough, in witness of places were so many have gotten down on knees on well worn benches, so they may have a chance.
The prayers I grew up with were relegated to time slots, requiring ritual and cleanliness, often accompanied by waking at odd hours. I spoke in a foreign language, knowing enough of the gist and not the individual words. Prayer to me was loneliness, whispering in a crowd, seeking help in an entity you respected but never saw. I was often told but when it came to climbing the mountain, I was left to do so on my own. It was all so serious and sterile, constantly submitting, afraid of going astray. It felt like a burden.
Then many, many years later I was taken by the hand in the south of a cold country. Taken into a village church, a Protestant island in a Catholic sea, and he told me how as a red haired boy his mother would sneak him in here. A place were she could pray for her son in her own language, relapsing for this one tradition. It seemed so easy, praying about a current need without a thought to past transgressions. It was a nice story that made me believe that prayers could be wishes too.
So I too duck into churches, careful to tell my mother about the aesthetic beauty and not my pious prayers. Instead of four individual candles, I light only one now, as we are all intertwined. Sometimes I shut my eyes really tight and hold my breath in before I place mine in the middle of the cluster. But mostly, I make my wish and hope it comes true.