I removed my shoes silently in the dim room, illuminated only by the fading sun through the skylight. The heating had been off and the north facing room was cold, but not uncomfortably so. the soles of my feet enjoyed the chill as they sunk into the pile of the carpet. My steps laboured and I watched my feet as they placed themselves before each other. Suddenly very aware of each movement, allowing the sensation almost like strain–almost like an ache to come into consciousness, I reached for a box of matches.
My fingers glowed in the flaring light of the small stick. I couldn’t remember which order the candles were supposed to be lit–I figured if I’m doing this, I ought to make an effort to do it right. Apparently one candle symbolises the Old Testament revelation of God and the other represents the Gospel. One must always light the Epistle candle first to remember that the Gospel only makes sense in light of God’s historic acts.
So I reverently and dutifully lit the stubs of the worn down pillar candles on the Lord’s Table (Not an altar, I was enthusiastically informed by one of the more Evangelical tutors). Upon the table was an ornament of Christ with the Twelve sharing the last supper. It was in an African wood carving style and I enjoyed how the dark, glossy wood contrasted with the neutral table.
I wasn’t quite sure why I had lit the candles on the table, but I knew I wanted to do something. It seemed wrong to enter this small quiet space without somehow participating in the usual activity of the room. As I pulled up a stool, I thought I ought to explain to myself what exactly I thought was happening with the table.
My hasty theological solution was that around this table I would meet Jesus. Just like when he would sit around the table with the sinners, so just across from me–on the other side of the large wooden counter–sat Jesus.
I immediately looked between my feet.
If he was that close, I dared not look.
In the rapidly expanding silence between us I became very aware of the sound of my own body. Air entering and exiting. Bones creaking. Clothes moving against the skin.
Why can’t I be still?
I relished the distraction.
At the point when I realised the silence had become painfully awkward, I drew a breath.
It escaped me, hissing through my teeth.
Frustrated with my inability to utter a sentence to the One seated so close, I tried again.
And as the breath again seeped out I caught the last of it in my throat, allowing it to vibrate my vocal chords in a kind of low growl.
Gulping air for the third time, I forced out a groan.
I hung my head again. I could not pray. I could find no words.
The chilly room clawed at my exposed arms and I realised the absurdity of my situation. Hastily blowing out the candles I turned from the table and briskly strolled away.
Yet the memory has not left me. Nor the sensation that those few minutes were watched by every eye in heaven.
If they truly were watching, they would be sorely disappointed.