I have been thinking about icons after visiting the Icon Exhibit at our local Cultural Activities Center here in Temple. It is a remarkable collection of artwork by a Russian woman done in response to ancient iconography. Icons are not part of my Presbyterian religious tradition and seem like an exotic concept--one in which I have not participated. But then I notice the Jesus candle that is burning next to me as I write.
I told my seminary classmates during my time at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary that Jesus was my nightlight. It is a wonder the old dorm building in which I lived during the week in my two years there did not catch fire from the many candles that burned in many rooms at all hours. A power shortage would not have been a problem. I kept a candle with Jesus and his Sacred Heart pasted on the glass container near the window on my built-in desk in my dorm room. And I kept it lit all night long. I took great comfort from the visual reminder that Jesus was with me during that challenging journey.
I do not remember when the Jesus candle habit originated. I think perhaps some years ago when I taught an adult Sunday school class using Richard Foster’s book, Prayer, a follow-up to his book, Celebration of Discipline, which included prayer. In the class, I used the Jesus candle as a focal point for our prayers. I still keep a Jesus candle burning on our kitchen table. I light it first thing in the morning while I wait for my coffee to brew. My youngest son teased me once a few years ago about the practice, and for probably the only time in my life, I said the right thing at the right time: “The candle is a reminder that Jesus is Lord of this house.” I usually keep a spare Jesus candle on the kitchen counter so I never run out of the light of Jesus.
Recently the candle burned out on Sunday afternoon, and we were without a replacement until I returned from the grocery store Monday morning. I missed the light more than I expected. I do not spend a lot of time sitting and looking at the candle, except at times like now when I’m working at the kitchen table, but it is a comfort to know it is burning there. The candle is a reminder of who, and whose, I am. I’m a visual person, so I value visual symbols, icons perhaps.
I do not normally keep the candle burning here at home overnight. But sometimes I leave it lit as a constant prayer in time of need for individuals, for whole communities, or for myself and those I love. At such times, the light of Jesus is a reminder that Jesus continues to pray for us. Sometimes, Jesus is still my nightlight.
Grace and Peace,