candle without wind

My favourite coffee roster in Vancouver is called 49th Parallel. Their coffee is extraordinary—complex and luscious, satisfying. It fetches a price in a competitive market that demonstrates why—in some places at least—coffee is now more profitable for farmers than cocaine.

There is also a new brewery in town—Parallel 49. Though it took several minutes with the waiter at my favourite pub (The Alibi Room—what a brilliant name!) to establish that the Parallel 49 stout was in fact NOT made with an infusion of 49th Parallel coffee, after enjoying a pint of the dark brew I’m convinced that despite unavoidable name confusion, both the brewery and the coffee roaster are permanent fixtures in this city.

These organizations underscore two important points: Vancouver is by far the northernmost city I have ever called home, and the lack of sun at this latitude’s winter months drives people (myself included) to consume significant quantities of both coffee and alcohol.

I had been warned.

“It is physiologically impossible for your body to produce enough vitamin D at this latitude,” a doctor friend told me soon after my arrival in Vancouver. “Impossible. You must take vitamin D supplements, or suffer the consequences.”

“Such as?” I asked, intrigued, but with a tone verging on mockery. (My dad occasionally went on health kicks as I was growing up, and I tend to be more than a little suspicious of vitamin-kids.)

She glared at me. “It’s called Seasonal Affective Disorder. Beyond general depression and lethargy, potential symptoms include hysteria, mania, and in some cases, suicide.” She slapped me with another glare to be sure I wasn’t missing the point. “It’s not something to mess around with.”

No it isn’t.

And ever since I have dutifully practiced the daily discipline of vitamin D.

Maybe it’s because I’m now in my fourth Vancouver winter, but vitamin D doesn’t seem to be doing the trick anymore (nor, sadly, does my regular patronage of both 49th Parallel and Parallel 49’s respective wares). I find that I’m hungry for something more substantial, for seasonal affective disciplines of significant, radiant effect.

I may have found one.

I try to begin my days in twenty minutes of silent prayer. Of course some mornings go better than others, but on the days I actually manage to extract myself from the warm cocoon of my bed to face the cold air and frigid floors, I’ll sit cross legged on a futon, straighten my spine, notice my breathing and do my best to stay awake and corral my thoughts long enough to hear what the divine Whisper might say.

This morning my memory returned instantly to Sunday’s church service. We begin each service with a liturgical call and response. In it our pastor lights a tall candle on the altar—the only thing there until the Body and Blood of Christ are brought later in the service.

“Jesus Christ said ‘I am the Light of the World,’” she says. To which we all respond “Christ, Be Our Light.”

And then the service begins, the candle presiding over it all—through the songs and confession, through the times of silence and the passing of the peace, through the offering and the prayers of the people, through the reading of scripture and the sermon. It presides still when, at last, we are all invited forward to partake of the Body and Blood, to be nourished and fortified yet again by the Light of the World. And still the Light of the World presides.

This all came back to me in a moment this morning—a sort of fast-motion summary, blurring together into a breath what had taken the better part of two hours.

So I turned out the lights in my cold room and lit a candle in the darkness. I sat there with knees bent, spine straight, mind awake and alert for once, noticing my breath and testing the candle’s warmth with my fingers. And then, with a lift of heart and a gasp of breath I saw that—without my knowing it—dawn had broken outside, and that my single, fragile flame had been but a foretaste of all that is to come.


O Lord, thou greatest and most true light, whence this light of the day and of the sun doth spring! O Light, which dost lighten every one that cometh into the world! O Light, which knowest no night nor evening, but art always a mid-day most clear and fair, without whom all is most dark darkness, by whom all be most resplendent! O thou wisdom of the eternal ‘Father of mercies’, lighten my mind that I may only see those things that please thee, and may be blinded to all other things. Grant that I may walk in thy ways, and that nothing else may be light and pleasant unto me. Lighten my eyes, O Lord, that I sleep not in death. (John Bradford ~ Burnt at the Stake in 1555).

(From 2000 Years of Prayer.)


 Photo Credit: Creative Commons License topher76 via Compfight