We got a chiminea that we used for candles that were too big to just have lying around. Our house is the one that smells like pumpkin spice in the middle of summer because we got bored and could really go for lighting a thread covered in wax ablaze. We’ve got one of those screens with tealights all up in it, and we will spend gladly the 15 minutes it takes to light all of those suckers just to watch them glow for 2 minutes (because whoever invented tealights couldn’t be bothered to figure out how to make a wick that lasts longer than that).
You can tell a lot about a house by looking at the table. Ours usually has a newspaper or two, taken out of the bag, but typically untouched. This is because (as far as I can observe) my family truly loves the idea of a newspaper, but is actually uninterested in reading one. Then there’s a lazy susan with salt, pepper, a napkin holder, sometimes a candle, and two bottles of Tabasco: original and chipotle. Whenever there is a candle there, we typically don’t light it, partially because fire has a habit of burning things like napkins. But it’s still there, it still provides comfort and familiarity to us.
We have the Tabasco because all other hot sauces are inferior, thank you, amen.
Last night ACU held its annual Candlelight Devo for the incoming freshmen. For anyone unfamiliar with what that means, it’s fairly self-explanatory: there’s a devotional in the amphitheater, held after the freshman process through a sort of little-league-style tunnel of upperclassmen and faculty, each holding candles, surrounding the new students, and singing worship songs.
I didn’t understand why it was such a big deal to everyone when I was a freshman. I knew tradition was a huge deal at ACU, but as a first generation wildcat, that really couldn’t matter less to me. And I’d already felt sufficiently welcomed with the onset of Welcome Week. And watching groups of people snap candlelight selfies as I was walking past, the whole thing seemed, frankly, self-indulgent.
Being on the other side of it this year showed me how wrong that notion was.
Even though it’s a devotional time, it makes more sense to me for it to be called Candlelight Blessing. Because that’s all that was in my heart as I watched the freshmen file past me.
It is not about tradition. It is not about being a wildcat, even.
It’s about knowing who your family is.
During the holidays, we switch out the lazy susan at our table for a much more decorative, festive arrangement. There are ribbons and holly and artificial pine branches and cinnamon sticks that, tested and proven, do not taste even remotely like Cinnamon Toast Crunch, despite what the commercials try to make you believe. And there in the middle of that menagerie of cheerful holiday symbols is a pillar candle that smells like berries when you light it.
And the whole arrangement, that centerpiece, makes eating at the table so uncomfortable.
I can’t focus because I’ve got a freakin’ pine branch plopped down in my potatoes, that cinnamon is an overwhelming scent (that is full of lies), and there’s no Tabasco on the table to remind me that we are a family of warriors who don’t count it as a meal unless our tongues burn at least a little. And all hyperbole aside, it is a legitimately uncomfortable experience and I can’t wait for January when we can pack it up again.
But the candle’s there, isn’t it? It should feel familiar.
But the candle’s not the point there. It’s everything else. It’s how the candle’s used, how it compliments the rest of the table.
So for Candlelight Devo, the tradition’s still there (and that’s a good thing). But it isn’t what makes the experience.
What makes the experience is that feeling of blessing, that knowledge that now those freshmen filing in in front of me are part of the ACU family, but more importantly that they are part of Christ’s body and Kingdom and that I see them. There they all are.
So now I want to speak directly to any freshmen that may be reading this, and to all my other brothers and sisters in Christ. Because I don’t think I’m the only one who may have missed the heart of it, getting swept up in the excitement.
What kept coming to mind were Christ’s words at the start of the Sermon on the Mount:
Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Before he said anything else, before he taught a single lesson, he spoke one word, one truth to all: blessing. And as you begin your year, begin your college experience, before you hear anything else…
To the one who isn’t sure what you’re going to do with the rest of your life,
To the one who came with all your friends and can’t wait to start making memories,
To the one who doesn’t know anyone and is afraid it will stay that way,
To the one who is only here because your parents wouldn’t pay for you to go to college anywhere else,
To the one who’s wrestling with whether you believe there’s a God and how you’ll be treated if you decide there isn’t,
To the one who got the finances for this by the skin of your teeth and are grateful for every moment, good and bad,
To the one who will stand in the middle of a party and struggle with whether or not to drink,
To the one who will stand in the middle of a party and not see it as a struggle at all,
To the one who doesn’t know your roommate, to the one who doesn’t like your roommate, and to the one whose roommate doesn’t like them,
To the one who was separated from their significant other to be here,
To the one whose mind is still at home, dwelling on the love or on the problems there,
To the one who walked through Candlelight Devo allowing cynicism and an inexplicable bitterness to pervade a close encounter with Christ,
And to each one of you who is here today, even if you won’t stay:
You are welcome here. You are welcome at the table of ACU with your brothers and sisters. But more importantly, you are welcome at the table of Christ. You are called to His Kingdom.
We are called to His Kingdom. It’s not tradition, it’s not a dear old Christian college, it’s not even the worship songs that we sing that are the centerpiece of His table.
It is Him. And we are gathered around it together to focus on that and know that we are home.
I am so blessed to be gathered with you.