This year I have decided to mark Lent by setting myself the challenge of creating something new each week, relating to the themes of repentance, restoration and rest.
As I mentioned in my previous post, for Christians, Lent is intended as a season of preparation as we build up to Easter. Part of that is about taking a serious look at our lives and inviting God to show us where we might need to change things, or how we see things. People often choose to fast something, as a mark of this openness to God and willingness to engage. Others may choose to focus their attention outwardly, on being more generous and charitable.
For me, I’ve decided to combine the discipline of committing to creative practice, along with the openness of listening to God through the process of making…which brings us to my first piece: the candle.
I had an idea about doing something using old candles a while back, but this has been my first chance to try it out. The candle fits the theme of restoration beautifully, and I’ll explain why shortly.
I deliberately chose odd bits of leftover candles, gleaned from different places, melted them all together and then poured them into an old plastic water bottle (which shrank a little from the heat, which is why the base is smaller than the top!) As I was making, I some thoughts which you might also find helpful…
Let’s start with the wax itself: which piece do you most relate to right now? Maybe you’re the white candle, which has burnt evenly and strong throughout its life? There’s enough left still to do something worthwhile, but it won’t be long before the wick is used up, even though there’s plenty of wax. There’s willingness, but maybe not capacity or energy?
Or maybe you relate more to the red candle, which is the leftovers of an Advent candle. There was a time when you had a clear sense of purpose and calling, but now that’s no longer clear and you’re wondering where you fit?
Or maybe you’re the purple candle – there’s so little left now, the flame would expire before it even took hold, or maybe you’re the fragmented wax – broken into a million unrecognisable pieces, with no hope of bringing light to anyone.
One of the first things which has always resonated with me is that candle making – especially when using old wax, is an amazing metaphor for the work God does with us as human beings. No matter where we are in life, and no matter what has happened to us, God can and does find value and worth in us. That wax – even the crumbled pile of leftovers, can be something special in God’s hands. All it needs is to be molded, shaped and re-formed into something new. But what is most important is this: the essential DNA of the candle doesn’t change. The shape may change – it may even come to be blended with, and added to different things, but it still retains its core identity. When God works in your life, he doesn’t drastically alter who you are – he made you in the first place. Instead he shapes you – the real you, into something new.
Candle making takes time and pouring a candle needs to be done in stages. If it’s done too quickly, the wax won’t cool evenly – there might be pockets or bubbles and it won’t burn well. There’s also a risk the wick won’t be straight, creating a possible fire hazard later when the candle is finished. In the same way, God works in us and with us, slowly. We’re not mass produced, we’re crafted. Individually hand-formed and shaped, in order to make the very best of who we are. It takes time for us to learn and understand all there is to know about ourselves and our place in the world – and God knows that. Our life’s work is God’s life work.
As human beings we bear the marks of God – whether we acknowledge him or not. The container I used for my Easter candle was, in hindsight, perhaps not the best choice! (I admit to being an enthusiastic amateur when it comes to most crafts!) I wanted to find a container which might add a texture to the finished candle, but also one I could cut away from the wax, so I could get the candle out without damaging it when it was finished. The finished result might be a little top-heavy, but I did achieve my intended outcome – the candle has texture.
I truly believe that everything which is good and kind, faithful and generous, funny and accepting, beautiful and inspiring, finds its roots in God. Those things which we see in each other, which restore our faith in humanity – those I believe are the marks of God. But wax is a fragile material; it can be easily marked, scratched or even shattered. God knows that.
“He knows what we are made of; he remembers that we are dust. As for us, our life is like grass. We grow and flourish like a wild flower; then the wind blows on it, and it is gone…” Psalm 103
The beauty of this material is that it can be re-made. It can be re-formed and re-shaped – even when it seems as if its life and purpose and potential are all but snuffed out. God sees what we don’t or can’t see: where we see endings, he sees beginnings. Where we see failure, he sees potential. And where we see despair, he helps us to find hope. Wax can be malleable, flexible and re-formed into something purposeful and powerful.
And that is what restoration means. If something is restored, it is brought back to a quality which is ‘better than before’, ‘like new’. In biblical terms it means “to receive back more than has been lost to the point where the final state is greater than the original condition”. Easter is all about how God restored our relationship with him, by getting rid of all the rubbish in our lives which gets in the way.
So the next time you light a candle at home, or see a candle at church, remember the story of the wax, and how a candle is crafted and invite God to talk to you about your story.