Saturday was a big day, our first retreat at Christ the Reconciler. It was a family event featuring several hand-crafts - crocheting, book binding, jewelry making and ornament painting. But the most popular activity of the day was candle dipping.
Before last week I had never dipped a candle. I learned the method on the internet and practiced a few days ahead of the retreat. What a treat that practice session was! There is something delightfully contemplative, relaxing, peaceful about the process. Wick in the wax, wick in the water. Wax on, cool off. Breathe in, breathe out that warm, oil scented air. No noise. No rush. No predetermined size or color or shape. A slow, gentle dance of gravity and thermodynamics.
Apparently others found candle dipping as therapeutic and fascinating as I did. The table was crowded all day long, producing a steady stream of candles which I hung in our pantry. Some were long, elegant tapers. Others were thick and bumpy with bases fat enough to stand on their own. As the day went on, the candles became increasingly whimsical - sculpted candles, intertwining spirals, split-wick candles which looked like little aliens. I was happy and satisfied with a good day's work, but my spiritual lesson was yet to come.
During our closing session Thomas asked if anyone had experienced any revelations about the rhythm of work and prayer. A couple of friends offered observations about candle making which I hope to remember always. One brother mentioned that he sometimes struggled to find meaning in repetitive tasks, but as he watched the candle grow fatter, he realized that there is a cumulative effect to those tasks which may not be visible on any given day. A sister likened candle dipping to feeding a child. You don't see a child grow at the dinner table. Fixing meal after meal is not glamorous or exciting, nor even memorable. Yet children must be fed several times a day for proper growth. Faithfulness in little chores produces increasing efficacy, just as each layer of wax adds potential energy to the candle.
These observations set me to thinking about prayer. What is true for work, I believe, is also true for prayer. Persistent "dipping" in the presence of God adds layers to our souls, even if we observe nothing in the moment. Most of my prayer times are entirely unremarkable. Sometimes I cannot tell you what scriptures I read 30 minutes after prayer. At times I do feel the Holy Spirit moving in my thoughts or in my feelings. Some days I gain some insight into scripture or into my own heart. However, that is the exception rather than the rule. There are times when my morning prayer is so distracted or sleepy or dry that I wonder if it even counts. But thinking of the candle, I feel confident that every time I set myself to pray, the Holy Spirit is present, coating my soul with another layer of truth, or faith or hope.
It is a gentle dance of man's will and God's design. The warm oil of the Holy Spirit alternating with the cooling water of work which makes solid each touch of the spirit. Prayer and work; prayer and work; building up layers of potential energy which enable us to burn brightly until the Bridegroom appears.