“If I say, ‘Surely the darkness will cover me, and the light around me turn to night,’ darkness is not dark to you, O Lord; the night is as bright as the day; darkness and light to you are both alike.” —Psalm 139:11-12.
At the five o’clock contemporary service every Sunday night at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, the nave is darkened and illuminated only by tealight candles on the altar in front of a large icon. After the usual Prayers of the People with a Leader and People response, members of the congregation are invited to come up and light a candle in front of the altar as they say a silent prayer of intercession. Tonight’s pianist plays music from the Taizé community, as almost all the members of the congregation come forward.
While I remain in the chair behind my harp, I experience the scene as a Spirit-filled synthesis of corporate and individual intercessory prayer. I watch men and women and sometimes children walk silently up to light their taper and put it in a large earthenware bowl filled with sand. I know a few of the prayers that may be on some hearts. There are many people I do not know, much less what they are praying for; but I see faces displaying earnest emotion, and even sometimes silent tears. Even when I do not perceive their prayers, I can feel their power and maybe even their connection. There is a stream of people connecting to God in prayers for others, and certainly sometimes for themselves.
The light from the many candles now brings brighter light to the nave of the church. The scene has become its own icon for teaching us what happens when we pray. Out of the darkened nave, prayers are germinated and born which transform the darkness into light. I keep remembering that C. S. Lewis once wrote that he “prayed not to change God, but to change himself.” These silent prayers being transported by candlelight are changing the appearance of the church and the pray-ers, and certainly they are changing me.