I searched four stores before I found them. I sifted through piles of white and red before my fingers curled around purple and pink. Finally, a full compliment of Advent candles to round out my wreath.
The first person I told was my girlfriend, Charlotte. We now have a double dose of candle-prayer rituals, which is perhaps unexpected, given that Charlotte once asked me if she should check atheist or agnostic on a survey. But it was her idea to buy one of the glass-encased religious candles they sell at our grocery store.
“You can find the right prayer for us,” she said. We were weary with job-searching. We chose a rainbow candle.
This began a nightly ritual of lighting the candle, breathing out the day, and speaking aloud. We take turns choosing readings, from the Bible, from poetry, from the writings of physicist Richard Feynman. They have in common a cord of beauty that binds them, a blaze of hope in full view of evil and despair.
When Advent started I got out my wreath and taught Charlotte “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” I haven’t been to Mass since Advent began—tricky schedules and ambivalent desires—but something in me craves and leaps to these rituals.
On the subway recently, there was this preacher. He spoke of renewal, of Christ, of powerful love, and I quietly assented. He spoke then of evil. He spoke of men marrying men and women marrying women. I stood straight-backed. My face was still. My inside changed.
“What’s Emmanuel mean?” Charlotte asked me when I’d finished singing.
“God with us,” I replied.
I am taking Charlotte home for Christmas and we’ll attend my home church. I will probably not introduce her as my girlfriend—it seems disruptive and risky in this public and casual context—but a day is coming when keeping the bits of myself separate will bleed me dry.
You see, the only God I know is Emmanuel. Sometimes I hate God for it, and sometimes I doubt that a real God would be present in the mirrors of angry, frightened, hungering faces and not, to me at any rate, in blinding visions and streaming glories.
And so, I cannot hold myself too carefully, lest the queerness, in whatever sense, be revealed. Because when I have sex with my girlfriend, I am praising and wrestling God, and when I speak prayers before flame, I am sharing with Charlotte. When I walk down the street and quiet overtakes me—it is my Emmanuel I seek.
I am full of confusion. Should be one thing or the other? A bisexual liberal or a mystical Catholic? But something lifts my head and hands. I’ll read this to Charlotte tonight. Our lights will stay lit, and we will breathe together to blow the candles out.
Rebecca Fullan wants you to know that the intercessory candle did the trick and now she has four jobs. She is hoping to find the candle for a less exhausting schedule next time, but is also deeply grateful for work.