December 13th: On Burning the Candle at Both Ends

In Scandinavian homes this morning a little girl with candles in her hair may have brought morning rolls to still-sleeping parents. Or, in a home without any little girls, perhaps a Star Boy with halo and star wand did the delivering.

The Feast Day of Santa Lucia is an odd day on the face of it, especially when you take into account that this Italian martyr’s memory somehow made its way to the Northern Europe and his held sacred there.

Saint Lucy is a young girl who died in the 3rd Century, supposedly by burning or, maybe, having her eyes gouged out in the Diocletian Persecution of Christians (that last torture appears to be a late addition to the lore).

Her visage is now a young maiden adorned with candles, representing the “light in her eyes.”

Saint Lucy’s memory is a reminder for me, and maybe can be for you, not of her gruesome death, but as an invitation to contemplate how we live life.

Poet Edna St. Vincent Millay has this wonderfully brief condemnation on a contemporary view of work-life balance:

My candle burns at both ends:
it will not last the night:
but ah, my foes, and oh, my friends–
it gives a lovely light!

In years past my candle would be burning at both ends in these Advent days, both as a parish pastor and as a parent who loves this season.

But not this year.

This year my pace is slower, both because of this pandemic and because, well, I’m finding it’s a better way to be in the world, Beloved. In many ways I love the hectic festivity of these days…but it can be too much, yes?

Sometimes we all fall martyr to the expectations of Christmas, my friends.

And don’t take me saying that as some sort of chastisement or call for “remembering the true meaning of Christmas.” This season has many meanings, and has throughout human history.

I merely note it as an invitation, at least some years, to light the candle at just one end in these dark December days, and just wait a bit. Watch a bit. Have a sweet roll, in honor of Saint Lucy, and rediscover the slow joy of a softer, but more consistent, light.

For your Advent playlist, cue up “Let it Fall” by Over the Rhine. This powerful ballad is all about taking stock of how we let our candle burn at both ends and, though it is sometimes a “lovely light,” it doesn’t last, Beloved…

Have you been trying too hard
Have you been holding too tight
Have you been worrying too much lately
All night
Whatever we’ve lost
I think we’re gonna let it go
Let it fall
Like snow

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