Eskimos supposedly have over fifty words for snow. It attests to the centrality of snow in an Eskimo’s life (or so I’m told, and don’t email me any links to disprove my meaningless trivia on this blog. Some things are true whether or not they actually happened or exist). As for me, I only have one word for snow. However, by February in New England I do have to modify that word with twenty nasty adjectives (none of which are appropriate for this blog).
The point is clear, the things that mean the most to us often have the most names, richest descriptions and a myriad of phrases and terms to describe our experience with them.
We may only have a couple of words for snow, however, in English we have dozens of words for the computing devices, and ways to compute, that consume our daily lives. In fact, we’re adding more to the lexicon all the time: “tweeting," "googling"….(imagine saying to someone “Google me,” a decade ago. You’d probably end up taking a punch in the face).
Whereas we have sixty-seven different names for different types of computers, when it comes to the most central aspect of our life, our "soul", our vocabulary is painfully shallow. “Spirit,” “energy,” “breath of life” - the list is short, pathetically short. And this makes it difficult to talk about matters of spirit in general, and even more difficult to talk about it when one of those beloved spirits leaves this world.
When it comes to matters of spirit, we need more language, better language, new language to communicate the depths of this experience. Or maybe what we need is old language, really old language, like the language of the Bible and Book of Proverbs which likens the soul to a flame - “the flame of God is the soul of man.”
Thinking about the soul as being a flame, the spirit as talked about as fire - now that’s imagery that resonates.
Indeed, our bodies are like candles. They are in this world, of this world and, like all “things,” sooner or later they melt away.
Our soul, however, is in this world but not of this world. It certainly isn’t a "thing". However, anyone who has been with a person as they die and watches the change, in just a split second as their spirit leaves the body, knows that the soul is not "nothing". Indeed, the soul is something. Indeed, the soul is like a flame.
Candles are static; flames dance.
Candles can be touched, held and put down; flames can not be touched, can’t be held and though you can’t pick them up, once they've illuminated your life, you also can’t put them down either.
Whereas candles burn down into the ground; flames burn up into the heavens reminding us to look up, see the light and feel the warmth that was, is and always will be the one we love. Their bodies may have merely been candles, however, their life, their essence and their love will always be like a dancing, luminous, eternal flame.