Candle In My Window

Mary Jo Loebig, O.C.D.

One of my most favorite Christmas customs here at the monastery is that of placing a white candle in our chapel window facing the east. There is a quiet little house a mile down the road that seems to have the same custom. Each Christmas, near Eldridge Corners, I look for a candle in its window, hidden somewhat by the faithful pampas grass left over from autumn. Although I do not know the people, I think they must be special.

Placing a candle in the window is an age-old custom among many different peoples. The candle is a reminder that heaven is about to visit earth again. The candle also welcomes the stranger, especially the stranger who may be lost or in need. Helen M. Luke, in a chapter entitled “The Stranger Within,” speaks of “the strangers who knock on the doors of our souls.”1

Who are these strangers?

Who are these strangers? In order to find out, it is my feeling that we need to find a place where we can be alone and quiet, even during the busyness of the Christmas season. Maybe we should say, “especially during the Christmas season.” Jesuit Karl Rahner exhorts his readers to “have the courage to be alone.”2 He tells a friend that this is the way to find a Christmas heart. This kind of prayer entails being quiet and going deep down where we can light that candle. It means listening for the knock at the door and opening it, no matter who the stranger may be.
Among the peoples of old, the stranger who came to the door was treated as an honored guest. The stranger could be an angel, or maybe even God, the God one so ardently longs to see. It is not unusual for the stranger to bring a message or a gift from the Spirit. After all, as Helen Luke points out, the stranger brought a child to Sarah in her old age. Sarah laughed. Perhaps, she is still laughing.

The stranger within looks for acceptance and asks to be a part of our lives. The stranger wants to be at table with us. Often, this unusual visitor feels lost and unconnected. The one who knocks may be a mood, or feeling, that always seems to be around. The stranger could be that sorrow, or disappointment, never accepted. There is one thing we know for sure. Meeting the stranger changes us.

Christmas is the time for lighting candles. Any candle will do. Open the door to the one who knocks, and set another place at table. Receive the gift you may not have asked for, but which could make all the difference.

1Helen M. Luke, Kaleidoscope, (New York, NY: Parabola Books, 1992), p.196.
2Karl Rahner, The Great Church Year, (New York, NY: Crossroad Publishing Company, 1995), p.63.