Today we had one of my favorite Marsh Associates’ meetings ever. Not to dismiss the stuff that we normally do in those meetings. But for this one, we sat on the floor on meditation cushions in the chapel. It was dark, and we lit a circle of candles, representing our own lights as well as the light of God. And then, at the end, Soren and Jen left us to sit there and meditate with the candles for as long as we wanted to.

Let me warn you now—I get emotional around candles. They move me. I was incredibly disappointed when, at Christmas mass this year, there were no candles to hold during the service (my mother informed me that the priest had decided they were a fire hazard). Since childhood, I had always associated that candle flame with Christmas—gripping that little white candle with the paper holder dripping hot wax down your hand, the little beacon of light held close to your face as you sang hymns of new hope in the dead of winter.

And in Italy, I loved the cathedrals filled with their banks of candles. I went through my euro coins like crazy, dropping them into the donation boxes and adding my candles to the long line of flickering prayers in every church I wandered into. As Italian grandmothers prayed to the saints and tourists shuffled by, I knelt before the candles and clasped my hands and teared up at the light and warmth that so many tiny flames gave off.


I love how fire has a life to it. There’s a reason we have the cliche about “dancing” flames. Our little circle of candles on the floor at our meeting tonight reminded me of people—our communities, our families, the strangers we sit by on the subway. Each person, no matter how discouraged they are or what wrong they have done, has that divine light within them. They have the miracle of life—the gift of being alive—and it links them to all other beings. We are all dancing flames. Or, as Elton John would have it, candles in the wind.

I am disappointed that I cannot light candles in my dorm room. The Hindus have the ritual of aarti, part of the morning puja ceremony, where they start off the day by offering light to the divine. They do this by circling a lighted lamp on a plate around a deity, singing praise all the while.

Aarti plate

Aarti plate

I think this is incredibly beautiful. When I have my own place where I can burn things, I plan to start the day with a candle. A spark, a flame, a light. A reminder of the beautiful, the dancing, the alive, the sacred within each person—and within every being.

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