Light a Candle & Say a Prayer for Someone

A burning candle resting on a brown table

I straighten up my room. Clear off my desk. Place a candle on it as well as a very special rock.

An explanation about the rock: last year, I lived and worked in Jilin City, China, through the Maryknoll China Teachers Program. On Saturdays, I volunteered to teach English at Jilin Catholic Seminary. The sanctuary has a well, and right next to the well is a gorgeous shrine built into the rock. The spot is named 圣母洞 (Shèng mǔ dòng), after the Virgin Mary, and it’s a beautiful, peaceful place to sit and to pray.

a sanctuary with a statue of the Virgin Mary built into a rock cave
圣母洞 on a green, summer day.
Photo by Cam. N. Coulter

As I was saying my goodbyes last summer and preparing to return to the States, one of the seminarians gave me a rock. I was about to pack up my bags and fly across the Pacific, so I normally wouldn’t have been excited about getting a rock that I needed to take back with me. My bags were already going to be heavy enough. However, as soon as I saw it, I was very excited about this rock. It was a miniature version of 圣母洞. It’s easily one of the coolest gifts I’ve ever received.

a small rock with a figurine in it
Photo by Cam N. Coulter

Now, let’s get back on track: I straighten up my room. Clear off my desk. Place a candle on it, as well as my very special rock. On my phone, I start playing my favorite album of chanting nuns, and then I make sure my phone is on “Do Not Disturb” mode. I light the candle, and then I start to pray.

Adam, may you be free from suffering. May you be safe, nurtured, and joyful. Maria, may you be free from suffering. May you be safe, nurtured, and joyful. Pat, may you be free from suffering. May you be safe, nurtured, and joyful.

I’m borrowing from Buddhist loving-kindness meditation. I’ve been a meditator since college, where I was first introduced to it by one of my teachers who is both a Catholic and a Zen teacher.

I start with my JVC community-mates: Adam, Maria, and Pat. And then I move on to the teachers and students I worked with at my service placement. And then I move on to other people I encountered in Baltimore that year, before moving on to the amazing JVs I met that year who served in other cities.

a decorated rock and a lit candle upon a wooden table
Photo by Cam N. Coulter

After JVC, I spent two years as a live-in assistant at L’Arche Heartland in Overland Park, Kansas. So it’s on to Kansas next.

Victor, may you be free from suffering. May you be safe, nurtured, and joyful …

And finally, to China, where I spent my fourth “formation year.”

Wang Wei, may you be free from suffering. May you be safe, nurtured, and joyful …

A couple weeks ago, right here on The Ruined Report, I read Cait O’Donnell’s post “So Much More Than Mud Huts.” In it, she shares about her time working in South Sudan with the Jesuit Refugee Service. The end of her post particularly resonated with me:

As time goes by and we get farther away from our service with JVC, … faces become blurry, the details are lost, the names fade. Our motivation to fight and advocate … wanes over time. The distance slowly reasserts itself, and eventually that place is reduced to mere mud huts and hungry children beneath a TV headline again. I’ve been home from South Sudan for just three months, but I find this distancing is happening for me already.

Remember someone who you witnessed and accompanied during your time as a Jesuit Volunteer today. When South Sudan is in my prayers, it helps me to picture the faces and name the names of my colleagues at JRS and the friends I had in Maban. It’s a long list, and often it’s just a list, but the practice helps me remember them and keep South Sudan closer to me. It reminds me to keep sharing their stories and to keep working towards justice.

There are so many amazing people I met over those past four years, but today I’m still in touch with only a handful of them. It’s painful to think back on all the people I’ve loved and lost touch with — it’s also painful to look back on the people I didn’t get along with — but it’s important that I do this. All these people were important pieces of the social fabric of my life. I inflict a type of psychological harm to myself when I don’t occasionally pause and remember these people. When I think back on them, I often feel sad, disconnected, and hollow, but through the tools of loving-kindness meditation it’s easier to feel warm, positive, and blessed. And of course, Cait has an important point as well: remembering the names, faces, and stories of the people we’ve met helps us keep honestly working towards justice.

Then, this past Sunday at Mass, the priest urged us all to light a candle and to say a prayer for someone. I figured I better start praying before God has to send another hint my way.

It hasn’t even been a full year since I left China, but I’m sure I’ve already forgotten names, as regrettable as it is. So before I blow out the candle, I make sure I’ve covered all my bases.

Everyone I met in Baltimore, in Kansas, in China, may you be free from suffering. May you be safe, nurtured, and joyful.

And everyone I didn’t get to meet, may you be free from suffering. May you be safe, nurtured, and joyful.

Featured image by Paolo Nicolello on Unsplash

“Light a Candle & Say a Prayer for Someone” by Cam N. Coulter is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

About Cam N. Coulter

Cam N. Coulter thinks incessantly about speculative fiction, gender, and intentional communities. Their poetry has appeared in Eternal Haunted Summer, Eye to the Telescope, and Polu Texni, and their academic nonfiction has appeared in the Pedagogy and Theatre of the Oppressed Journal. Cam reviews short genre fiction for Skiffy and Fanty and blogs about social justice, simple living, community, and spirituality at The Ruined Report. After their year in JVC, Cam spent two years as a live-in assistant at L'Arche Heartland and one year in China through the Maryknoll China Teachers Program. They currently work with adults with developmental disabilities in the SF Bay Area. Cam can be found on their website or on Twitter @camncoulter.