Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Candle Wishes

Another birthday. I've racked up quite a few of these. It's funny, the association we have with that one calendar square that marks the day on which we were born. On that day, each year, we are made to feel special, honored, and wished well by our family and friends. Just for being born. Not for being a father, or a graduate, or someone's valentine. Just for being. That's nice. Hazzah to birthdays.

I had to work today, but I was treated to a 5 AM hot breakfast and coffee, and got a birthday hug from my wife and all three children! Each of the kids leaned briefly out of their dreams to smile and breathe "Happy Birthday Daddy" and "I love you Daddy" into my ear. I didn't wake them selfishly. I was keeping a promise they had all procured at bedtime last night. Besides, it's summer vacation. They easily tumbled back into whatever dreamscape I had borrowed them from. They were all rightfully asleep again by the time I left for work at 5:30.

Now it's only a guess, but I suspect that there may be cake tonight, and that my wife and kids will possibly sing "Happy Birthday" to me, and more than likely there will be at least one symbolic candle on the cake which I will be responsible for extinguishing (a literal application of 1 candle for each year would lead to all of the clich├ęd scenarios including, but not limited to, smoke alarm soundings and retinal image stamping.) The responsibility of "blowing out the candles" carries with it the entitlement of a birthday wish. The birthday wish rules are as follows: 1.) the blower must make the wish prior to blowing out the candles; 2.) all candles must be blown out for the wish to be granted; 3.) the wish cannot be audibly spoken to others or it is invalidated.

I've never put much faith in wishes, although I feel they are harmless enough. I do make them. I think I categorize wishes as little prayers. When I make them, I make a mental hop from the wished upon object to the true hearer of wishes. In that way, the wish becomes a prompt for prayer. A reminder to pray. I put a lot of faith in prayer. All of my faith actually. My prayers and the prayers of others.

It's interesting to note, when contrasting wishes and prayers, that we light a candle when offering a prayer, and we extinguish one when making a wish. We wish on "blown out" birthday candles. We wish on falling stars. We wish on coins tossed into a fountain. Extinguished lights and lost treasure. There seems to be a pattern of wishing on diminished things. At least a connection of the wish to a loss or a cost incurred, unless the birthday candle wish is more appropriately linked to the accomplishment of the snuffing by way of the huffing and puffing, and not with the metaphoric loss of light. I know. Over thinking.

A prayer is a thing begun, a cry called out, a sounding to God. When we light a candle, the flame represents our prayer, reminds us that our prayer speaks on throughout the day and into the long dark hours of the night. Our prayer continues to burn in the presence of our all knowing God long after we have moved on, returned to our cares and our distractions.

There is the tradition of wishing on the evening's first star. "Star light, star bright, first star I see tonight . . ." This image more fits that of the lit candle. Here's an idea. The next time you see a "first star," attach a prayer to it and watch as it flickers before the God of the cosmos. Watch next as all of heaven fills up with more stars, and know that your single prayer has been joined by the prayers of the entire mystical Body of Christ. Soon candles fill the sky as heaven and earth joins your prayer. Cloistered nuns interceding on your behalf, the infirm and suffering who join their trials to the work of Christ. The rosary ladies at daily mass. The email prayer-chain warriors. Saints and angels. The most forgotten souls in Purgatory. All of them saying amen along with you, helping to carry your petition before the face of our great and generous God. Hazzah to the pray-ers.

This will be my wish tonight, my prayer, actually: that our great, mighty, and awesome God will hear and hold each of our prayers. That our God will visit us like the sleeping children that we our, seek us out in the midst of our dreams, and whisper into our hearts. That God will smile when we reply with our imperfect and half awake prayers, when we speak into His ear, whisper that we love Him, before slipping back into the distracting dream that is our temporal world.

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