LIGHTING CANDLES IN THE WIND, by Mark Koenig

May your strength give us strength
May your faith give us faith
May your hope give us hope
May your love give us love
– Bruce Springsteen, “Into the Fire”

Hope is like lighting candles in the wind…

The northern and southern parts of Sudan engaged in periodic conflict since the country achieved independence in 1956. In at least two instances, the conflict rose to the level where it was considered a civil war. The second began in 1983 and lasted, off and on, until a Comprehensive Peace Agreement was brokered in 2005. The CPA, as it is called, provided that the people of the south could vote to remain part of Sudan or to become their own country. After six years, that referendum finally occurred.

From January 9-15, 2011, the people of southern Sudan had their chance to vote. In support of their effort, an interfaith community in New York City held a prayer vigil on January 11, 2011. We met in the Church Center for the United Nations directly across the street from the UN compound. Petero, Katherine, and other friends in the faith communities and I gathered in Tillman Chapel, joined in spirit with Milcah and Michael and the people of southern Sudan, some of whom stood in line to vote. We also gathered with other people from Sudan, people we had never met but whose photos we clutched tightly in our hands and held to our hearts.

After prayer and song in the chapel, we went outside to continue our witness in public. The cold blast that greeted us as we walked through the chapel doors and onto the sidewalk failed to deter us any more than long lines deterred our friends who were voting halfway around the globe. 

On the sidewalk, we sang and prayed. We lit candles and worked to keep them lit. Wind gusted down First Avenue as big, wet snowflakes swirled in the wind. We cupped our hands to protect the fragile flames until our fingers were warmed and singed. Then we turned to song sheets to fashion protective shields. When the wind triumphed for an instant, or a snowflake momentarily extinguished a candle, we turned to one another, sharing light, keeping alive the tender flames which proclaimed connection, commitment, and hope.

As we experienced the reality that lighting candles in the wind and snow takes a community, we realized that hope takes a community as well. To hope, I need to be connected to God. I need to pray and read Scripture and worship. To hope, I need to be connected to others.

Hope is an amazing grace, a gift from God. But like so many of God’s gifts, hope is not given to individuals in isolation. God gives hope to the community. Hope is corporate.  Like light passed around a circle, hope comes from one another. Hope is shared. Like neighbors helping to keep candles lit, together we call forth hope in each other.

Hope grows. As candles in wind and snow are never all lit in an instant, hope does not spring forth full-blown. In tiny, tentative steps, hope comes to life among us. Hope is relational. It is experienced in the grace of God and in the wonder and love of others who hope in me, hope for me, hope with me, even hope when I cannot hope.

Your hope truly gives me hope.

The Rev. W. Mark Koenig currently serves as the Internal Communications Specialist for the Administrative Services Group of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). In this role he writes for the national staff of the church – think employee handbook revisions and COVID updates and the like. In his 42 years of ordained ministry, he has served in congregations, presbyteries, and on the national level. The events in this reflection occurred when he was the director of the Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations. 

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