So This is Christmas

It’s the service but not actually the whole thing. It’s the end. When everyone lights a candle; they draw the lights down and everyone sings.

Silent night. Holy night.

He understood the holy part. Taking away light made from turbines and fed through hundreds of miles of wire – something made by forcing electric through metal – and leaving something elemental. Something you can make by hitting rocks together.

The sanctuary is lighted but still dark. And with the lights gone, the other senses take hold.

The sound of all the voices is big but peaceful. They work together, climb on top of each other and hoist each other up. You can feel it move along your bones at the slow pace the organ reverberates.

Everyone is standing and it fills the spaces between them. Like warm water. Like a bath.

Long slow notes lift you like a slow wave.

It’s not really even that, that gets him.

It’s the smell.

Three hundred candles lit and melting. Pure flame, the way it’s supposed to smell. Not like cigarettes, a campfire, a stove. Reduced to basic properties.

The wax smells like sun, and snow, and clouds. That’s what he thought they put in them when he was a kid.

And everyone holds the last note, because they don’t want it to end either. They stare at their candle, the flame waving like it won’t last even if they let it. And with a puff of breath, it’s out.

But a little ribbon of smoke comes with it and with it another smell. The Old Testament spoke of burnt offerings, their aroma. How it pleased the Lord, as though it was filtered into something better through the clouds and the ground of heaven. Saul always assumed that’s what it smelled like.

And then you shake the pastor’s hand and step outside. It’s cold, but everyone stands in little groups near the door, hoping the feeling might come back. Or at least linger.

An encore. A second coming.

It’s like being a baby. Like already clean in so many ways, then having Johnson & Johnson rubbed through your thin hair. The water will never be cleaner.

Like a baptism.

Like reaching into a smoker’s chest and sifting out the black.

— We are an Old Town

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