Lanterns in the Church

Sometimes you find a story within a story. This story is one of those. I heard it nestled within a story called “Christmas has a secret” by Michael Drury.  The larger story left me kind of wanting. It was about giving bread to others while you are comforted by the knowledge/hope/expectation that in your time of need you will be given all that you need – and more. For me that is kind of like the platitude that the measure with which you give you will receive in turn, and you will receive it back pressed down and flowing over.  I KNOW I am missing something with those stories, but I keep hearing them as teaching that you should be generous because of what it will do for you in the long run – generosity as self-serving and selfish.  Call me old fashioned, but I want to be able to find it in myself (and others) to be generous just for the sake of being generous! Altruism for altruism sake.   But, that is another blog.  So here is the story that really resonated for me (of course with my own little quirks and tweaks:

Once, many years ago, outside a small village in the Tatra Mountains in Poland a lone Gypsy woman heard the bells of a church ringing. Intrigued and cold, she followed the sound thinking she might find some warmth in the church.  When she found the church, it was dark and she could not see anyone else around. But she decided to wait for a while and watch. What else did she have to do that evening?

After a short while, she began to see lights like fireflies in the surrounding woods. As she watched the lights grew brighter, and soon she could tell that those lights were lanterns carried by the families of the congregation as they assembled for the evening’s service. As each family entered the church they would hang their lantern on an iron hook secured within the church’s stone walls. As the families arrived, the church began to glow with the brightness of each and all of the lanterns. After the service, each family removed it’s lantern from the hook and set off through the woods back to its own home.

The woman lingered after the service and asked the pastor about this practice. It was after all a unique way of lighting the church.

The pastor shrugged and said, “it is the only means that we have of lighting our church. When the church was built, it was far too costly for the parish to provide candles to light the church. But it was usual for families to carry their lanterns with them to services. Our church has chosen to carry on that tradition. Now, even to this day, if one of our families does not come to a service, we all feel it. The church is darker by one lantern.  The light and brightness of each family contributes to the whole.”

In the dark night when the earth sleeps – in the time of the winter solstice, of Chanukah, of Christmas, lights dance, the air is scented with hearth fires and spices, homes are polished and decorated. Bells ring and voices are raised in laughter and song. People greet each other and exchange gifts and more freely share their love – all because each human being makes it so. It is up to each of us to shine our light and brighten the darkness.

This time of year is a poignant and powerful reminder of the importance of each lantern, of each light, of each act of loving kindness.

Indeed, if everyone lit just one little candle . . . if everyone gave just one little smile . . . if everyone shared just one act of kindness . . . ah, if!