by Alwyn Marriage
Deep in the dim interior, pilgrims and casual visitors pause to light a candle, stand to watch as white wick glows then flickers into life, the quivering flame rising so small a distance towards heaven. What thoughts or prayers accompany this ritual action? From the shadows where I sit unnoticed, I half-envy their devotion and the concentration they display. Some come to offer thanks for good things that have happened, acknowledge them as blessings and accept the brightness that illuminates their lives; some shade their faces from exposure, ashamed of actions that they now perceive as sin, and come to crave forgiveness; others simply want to test the magic of folklore religion by simulating faith that might lay the golden egg. For all of them, their gaze follows the flame as it reaches up, becomes invisible and bears their prayers skywards. The simple act completed, they bow their heads, or cross themselves and mutter ritual words beneath their breath, slip a coin in the waiting box, then move away, grateful for this vehicle of grace, provided by the church. at so small a price. As I ponder, wondering whether perhaps I too should avail myself of such a simple sacrament, a verger emerges from a door beside the altar with a cardboard box. As at a birthday party he takes a deeper breath and blows, extinguishing all the candles except one, then picks them off the stand in twos and threes, packs them in his box and goes away. I fail to shout in protest or leap across the rail to follow him, demand the prayers remain until complete. I know it shouldn't matter but I feel he's desecrated something pure and precious and the votive offerings were not his to take. Will the prayers that hovered in the smoky air be the same if someone melts the candles down, inserts fresh wicks and returns them to the stand, ready to bear the next burden of prayer?
Alwyn Marriage’s twelve books include poetry, fiction and non-fiction — most recently, The Elder Race (novel) and Pandora’s pandemic (poetry). Her new collection, Possibly a Pomegranate, will be published in Spring 2022. She has given readings all over Britain and Europe and in Australia and New Zealand. Formerly a university philosophy lecturer and CEO of two international literacy and literature NGOs, she’s currently Managing Editor of Oversteps Books. www.marriages.me.uk/alwyn