Monday, February 3, 2020


We get our share of wind and snow 
     here on the Front Range, 
     but we also get some warm, sunny days 
     in a Colorado winter. 
That doesn’t happen in Russia’s Ural Mountains 
         this time of year.
Winter there sets in early and stays long. 
Their average temperature for this month 
            runs minus 6 degrees Fahrenheit.

Boris Pasternak’s poem A Winter’s Night is set 
     in the Ural Mountains in February.
The night is a dark, cold blizzard; 
       but in the poet’s room, a candle glows. 
He writes: 
     It snowed and snowed throughout the land
     A ceaseless snowing
     On the table a candle glowed . . . . 

     Out of the yard, snowflakes swarmed 
     To beat against the windowpane.
     The blizzard sculpted on the glass
     Designs of arrows and of whorls
     On the table, a candle glowed.
(quotations are blended from different translations
 for clarity)

David Lean directed the classic movie, Dr. Zhivago, 
             based on Pasternak’s novel.
In that film, Lean includes an unforgettable visual
      of this poem’s bitter night and the glowing candle.

For Zhivago, as for Pasternak, the night was a metaphor 
     of life in totalitarian Russia, where art and faith 
     were both condemned as counter-revolutionary.
Holy Russia, once the most Christian of nations,
     saw churches looted and priests murdered 
                in the Revolution.
In the land of Dostoyevsky, Turgenev, and Pushkin, 
     literature was broadly held in contempt 
                 and specifically censured
                 just for dealing with the personal life. 

Pasternak was a Tolstoy-disciple, 
     Russian Orthodox, mystical Christian
     and he was a Romantic artist who worshiped 
    at the altar of beauty.
He was deeply personal 
 – the opposite of a  political ideologue or propagandist. 
He lost friends in the Great Purge of 37.
His own name was on the execution list, but Stalin said, 
     Leave the holy fool alone. 
Then Stalin changed his mind. 

Pasternak’s mistress, Olga, was sent to the Gulag 
      for 4 years of interrogation 
      trying to get incriminating evidence against him. 
He had to reject the Nobel Prize on pain of deportation.
Pasternak’s time was no bed of roses. 
It was a night of blizzard.
But while the blizzard howled in his outer life; 
          inside, a candle glowed.
On this Candlemas, we ask: what was that candle?

The last two stanzas of our poem read:

To the candle a draft from the corner blew
And the flame gave a toss
And two angelic wings it grew
In the shape of a cross
All February is the blizzard’s to command
And so it goes
A candle glows near at hand
A candle glows.
The breeze, the draft, the Holy Spirit if you will, 
       blows the flame into the shape of a cross.
The candle is the light of Christ. 
February, the cold season of our life, 
        is the blizzard’s to command, Pasternak says.
But a candle glows near at hand. 

We Christians do love our candles. 
We love them because they emanate something 
         like the light of Christ. 
Last week we heard Isaiah prophesy, 
Those who walked in darkness 
          have seen a great light. 
Those who dwelled in a land of deep darkness
       -- on them the light has dawned.
Today’s gospel fulfills that prophesy. 
 When old Simeon saw the baby Jesus presented 
         in the Temple, he said, 
My eyes have seen your salvation . . . 
             a light to enlighten the nations . . . . 
 Classic Christian spirituality is called the 3-fold path.
It consists of purgation (which means ego-surrender),

illumination (which means seeing the light in our darkness), and union (finding our true selves in God).
They aren’t serial stages, so you do one, 
           then proceed to the next.
All three are happening every day.

In Epiphany, we learn the way of illumination.
Illumination can be a mystical 
            flash-of-light experience like Paul’s.
But usually it’s something more ordinary, 
          yet just as precious.
We stop to notice the candles glowing in our lives. 

We can find our blizzard pretty easily. 
These are challenging times for all of us as a people.
And each of us has our individual winds 
             of fear and despair.
But in the midst of all that, just look around ask:
     who or what are my candles?
Whose smile brightens my day? 

Who shows me some courtesy, even kindness? 
Who makes me laugh? Who holds the Christ light for (me)  
in the nighttime of (my) fear?

Our candles are oft-times people – but not always.  

It could be a book or a ministry.
It could be the choir or the Farmer’s Market 
        or the Women’s Gathering.
It could be a song, a poem, or skiing. 
So, what are the candles in your dark blizzard?
The way of illumination stops to notice them. 

Then we recognize them for what they are 
       – let the Spirit breathe on each flame
     until it forms a cross.
Recognize your candles for the light of Christ.
They are nothing less than Jesus mediated

 – knowingly or not, intentionally or not –
     by this utterly human world.
Look at your candles and say, Thank you, Jesus. 

Then remember what you’re here for. 
Jesus said, You are the light of the world.
Paul said, You are the light in the Lord. 

          Walk as children of light.
You are here to be the light for someone else. 
We don’t become the light by acting flashy or impressive.
It’s a candle, not a stage light from Vegas.
The candle’s glow is gentle, unobtrusive. 

We share the Christ light not so much  

              by what we do or say as how we listen.
We can be the light for each other just 

     by being faithfully present, and respectfully caring,
by seeing each other as God’s children
and ourselves as agents of God’s love. 

Our Evening Prayer begins,
     O gracious light, pure brightness 

     of the ever living Father in Heaven,
     O Jesus Christ, holy and blessed. . . 
Our Eucharistic Prayer says,
     You have caused a new light to shine in our hearts. 

So when the blizzard howls in your life, 
       remember Pasternak’s promise,
     Close at hand a candle glows.
Notice it. Cherish it. Share it.