I have been thinking about these images from Charlottesville. The first one is an image of angry young men carrying torches and chanting threatening choruses. Torches are often associated with mobs and with violence. “Torches and pitchforks” are the accessories of choice for the angry mob. In fiction torches are prevalent. They are found among those searching for the monster created by Dr. Frankenstein. The mob held torches as they pursued the Beast in the classic fairy tale. In reality the KKK carried torches as they went about frightening and lynching. People carrying torches often seem to be angry. They often seem to be afraid. They often seem to think getting rid of someone else will solve all of their problems.
In the Gospel of John we are told that when Jesus was praying in the garden a detachment of soldiers and some officials from the chief priests and Pharisees, led by Judas, came looking for him. John specifically says,
“They were carrying torches . . . “ (John 18:3b) The torches are an ironic addition to the story. It was Passover. Passover is a lunar holiday. It is always on a full moon. On a moonlit night they did not need torches and lanterns to see. I think John is pointing to their spiritual blindness. They needed torches and lanterns to see the “Light of the World.” That is how dark, the darkness of their hatred had become.
It seems to me that people who carry torches seem to struggle with a personal darkness of hatred. It is a deep darkness. It prevents them from seeing that every person is created in the image of God regardless of the color of their skin or nationality, or religion, or gender or anything else. The sad thing is that it is a learned darkness. They have turned the lights off on themselves.
In the second image people are peacefully gathered, holding candles. They are singing. There is music instead of angry chants. Candles are quite different from torches. Candles aren’t threatening. They are a more subtle light than a torch. They aren’t used by mobs. They are most often used in vigils. Torches are symbols of violence. Candles are symbols of suffering. Torches are symbols of division. Candles are symbols of unity.
During Advent we light candles. Every Sunday at the beginning of the worship service candles are lit to remind us of the presence of the Holy Spirit with us. Candles set the mood for quiet reflection. There is a real difference between those who choose torches and those who choose candles to make it through the darkness.
We have been stumbling around in the darkness of racism and white supremacy for a long time now. We will need light to find our way through this. I will choose to use a candle, not a torch. Join me?