240 East Washington Street
Martinsville, Indiana 46151
It was the first Christmas Eve Candlelight Service that I had led in the Bloomington Hospital chapel—1990, I believe it was. Of course, back then it was in the old chapel—a very small windowless room, probably no more than 12 X 12, just large enough for ten chairs and a coffee table that served as a makeshift altar. It was a pretty dark and dreary little place, but not without its peculiar charm. On the far wall was a massive old Twenty-Third Psalm relief cut out of walnut, the same one that now resides majestically in the present chapel.
Anyway, I had planned the service for 8:00 pm on Christmas Eve. I posted signs all over the hospital, and Switchboard (as it was still called then) announced it overhead. To my surprise and delight, about eight people showed up, several of whom were patients from the behavior health unit. At that time, before they tightened security, mental health patients were permitted to come to worship services if a behavioral health technician was with them. I remember on that occasion, the tech sat in a chair near the door, as if he was not quite sure whether he wanted to participate or just keep watch to make sure things didn’t get out of hand.
It was a brief but fairly traditional (I thought) Christmas Eve Service: we sang a few Christmas carols (acappella!), someone read the Christmas story from Luke, we offered prayers for the world and for one another, and we recited responsively a Christmas litany that I had found in one of my worship books.
And, of course, the piece de resistance, the singing of Silent Night with lighted candles, the kind with the little cardboard protectors (Carl Chambers, the Director of Security back then, would have had my head for sure!).
Then came the moment that made this particular night so memorable. After the fourth and final verse of Silent Night, I blew out my candle as a cue for the others to follow. When I looked up to begin the Benediction, one dark-haired young woman, with bangs concealing one eye, sat there looking down with her candle still lit. After a long pause, she looked up and implored, “Can we sing some more? I’m not ready to blow out my candle just yet.” So, we all—not knowing quite what to expect next—relit our candles, and I led two more rounds (all four verses) of Silent Night. Sometime during the singing, I glanced over at the tech, still holding his lit candle. His eyes were brimming with tears. Following the third cycle of Silent Night, the woman, in silent satisfaction, and offering the hint of a smile, blew out her candle. Everyone obediently followed suit. We all then walked out in silence, hearts now a little lighter than before.
I never forget that night. It reminded me that you can’t hurry holiness. That night, Jesus was made real in his coming.
We are all meant to be mothers of God, for God is always waiting to be born in us. Meister Eckhart
Be well, and have a blessed season of Christmas,