Minister’s Musings Among the Mountains – Week of August 21

“Torches and Candles: A Short Reflection”

Since last week’s events in Charlottesville, Virginia I have reflected on the basic difference between the use of candles and torches in American life.

I watched the (small) parade of mostly young white males carrying torches on the first evening of what turned out to be a tragic weekend confrontation. Granted, these weren’t the robust flaming torches of old. Tiki torches simply don’t have the pizzazz of older flaming sticks of fire.

That really didn’t matter. The sight of young men carrying torches and chanting slogans immediately caused me to have a visceral reaction. I thought of torches carried by the Nazi’s in Germany before World War II or the KKK parades during the first half of the 20th century. Movies with mobs with torches moving toward a jail to free or lynch a prisoner stay in my memory from childhood TV.

Flaming torches imply aggressive and male testosterone-driven events or crowds of people who are fearful and angry. Such sights can strike into our collective unconscious.

That’s not to say that flaming torches are of themselves good or evil. They’re simply objects that provide light and warmth. I understand there’s a torchlight parade at Seafair here in Seattle each year. I haven’t seen one but I expect the purpose is far different than those torches lit in Virginia last week.

Then there are candles. Here’s one observation from an online website about the history of candles: “Candles have come a long way since their initial use. Although no longer [our] major source of light, they continue to grow in popularity and use. Today, candles symbolize celebration, mark romance, soothe the senses, define ceremony, and accent home decors — casting a warm and lovely glow for all to enjoy.”

We see candles at memorial services or at the scenes of tragic events. Westside uses candles for Christmas Eve and once-monthly silent joys and sorrows rituals on Sunday.

Candles are torches tamed and domesticated into something softer and more humane. I can hardly imagine those young men in Charlottesville walking and chanting with votive candles in their hands.

A torch can be a weapon. A candle can be a reminder that life is more than beating drums, footsteps in marching formation or fearful anger.

My hope is that Westside can emulate that same gift of what a seemingly small and fragile candle flame can do for the world: light the way, warm the spirit, and be a lighthouse for those seeking solace.

Faithfully yours,


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