Since Taizé prayer services often have impressive displays of lights whose beauty helps aid prayer, I was not surprised to see a darkened room full of candles when I arrived at the light service, but I was surprised to see them hovering in midair!
As a part of World Youth Day last month, I went on a pilgrimage with a group of youth from all over the world. This light service had been planned for us by the Jesuit novices of Cascavel, Brazil.
They had painstakingly hung each candle from above with wires. Underneath these floating lights, sat a geometric mosaic with different pieces of colored foam. On the wall, they projected images of Jesus as well as the lyrics of the songs. They then handed us a lighted taper candle and we sat around the display.
The scene was surprising, beautiful, overwhelming – almost too much beauty to take in. I quickly became caught up in wonder: wonder at the display of lights and colors and people and prayer. Back and forth, back and forth, my eyes raced to try and capture it all.
That night must have overpowered my wonder capacitor as well, since I found myself doing what seemed, to me at least, a strange thing. In the midst of all of this grandeur and dramatic sensory stimulus, I gradually stopped looking around and started turning my attention away from it all. More and more, I became mesmerized by the single tiny flame that I held in my hands. It was a skinny, straight white candle. I had seen them hundreds of times in church before. It was so nondescript. I could even picture requiring to press it into service as a stubbed-toe prevention mechanism in a sudden blackout. Really, it was nothing in comparison to the elaborate display going on around me.
Yet this lone flame too was charged with life and grace, light and heat, power and playfulness. The more I paid attention, the more I noticed the depths of its own beauty. This one flickering wick was itself truly wonder-ful, just as the larger service was as well. My prayer that night: If there was but this one candle in the world, it would have been enough to prove the generosity of God. We human beings could not have complained – God had given us this thing of infinite beauty; complaint would be truly ungrateful.
“It would have been enough…” During the Passover celebration, Jewish people offer this refrain as the various works of God are remembered, one-by-one: If God had just brought the people out of Egypt, if God had just given them the Sabbath, if God had just given the Torah…any one of these would have been enough. But, of course, God didn’t stop along the way but kept piling on gifts until the final result was truly overwhelming.
Indeed, “it would have been enough” became my mantra for the pilgrimage. A single candle would have been enough, but the novices hung multitudes from the ceiling. A single song of heart-breakingly beautiful French folk music would have been enough, but my companions had an endless supply. A single piece of fresh grilled steak would have been enough, but my host family in Cascavel offered me more and more at lunch. A single belly laugh while the family gathered around the kitchen table would have been enough, but the good spirits of José, the family patriarch, provided many.
This spirit came to a peak when we visited the Falls of Iguaçu (remember The Mission?, yeah, that’s the one…). They are extensive—and gorgeous. At 2.7 kilometers wide, they extend more than 4 times as wide as our own Niagara and have many different cataracts that make up the whole falls. The jungle cliffs (which are impressive in themselves) regularly host waterfalls that anywhere else in the world could have served as the basis for national parks, but here go nameless because by some accident of geology they occur next to a series of football-field length neighbors.
Yes, any one of these falls would have been enough. Yet God grants us a hundred or more in one place! It is too much… too much to take in, too much to ever hope to make a return, too much to do anything but fall down in worship.
And so that is what I did. The most intense confluence of falls has a walkway that brought me out to the edge of one of the rock shelves in the midst of the falls. Here the wind and spray is constant, engulfing all those who dare to enter it. This area is named – or in my opinion misnamed – “The Devil’s Throat.” But the devil cannot even begin to understand such comprehensive power as I found when out on that walkway. Only God could buffet me in such a joyful and pleasant manner. Moment after moment, the spray covered me just as God has covered me with graces during this pilgrimage: every passing second, each one more a gift, and every gift enough for a lifetime, but immediately surpassed by one gift more. So on that walkway, in the midst of such insane, awe-inspiring generosity, I prayed: “Thank you. I accept.” The response I heard was the booming, raucous belly laugh of God as the falls crashed around me; the laugh of a delighted giver who simply cannot or will not stop giving
The cover image by Flickr user wwwes can be found here