Nicholas R. Wimmer

Put the Candle Back

One of the many hilarious comic sketches in Mel Brooks’ 1974 comedy, Young Frankenstein, is when Gene Wilder and Teri Garr do this bookcase scene with the candlestick. This scene puts me in stitches every time I watch it. It’s simplicity is profound- both comically and theologically.

A very dear friend recently asked me to evaluate the things in my life that were seen vs. unseen. To explain, he was asking what things did I think have prevailing importance in my life and could easily be named and displayed in the day to day. Then, what things were “crowding” my mind and time that weren’t specifically seen or considered important. So as I meditated on this cerebral challenge, the picture of a bookcase came to mind- actually this bookcase- Gene and Teri’s bookcase from Young Frankenstein.

I’ve always been fascinated by castles and manors that have secret passage ways with revolving bookcases and paintings. So, indulge the Scooby-Doo-esque illustration of life as a bookcase and the properties of life as the books that fill those shelves. Side note- I have realized that there is a very real violence with bookcases. We recently moved our bookcase across the bedroom and awoken one night by a middle-of-the-night non-emergency flogging from my dear wife (as if some raccoon was picking the lock on our front door) I ran face first into the newly located bookshelf and spun around saying way more than “put the candle back”, I can assure you.

I digress.

So, the revolving bookcase. First, let’s consider how it is like our life: it is a cavity that holds things. It can hold volumes of life, work, achievement, success, fame, fortune, relationships and the various impressions and experiences we’ve collected over time. For some people, these can fill the shelves in an ordered fashion: alphabetically, by date, by subject, etc. For others, it can look like a discount rack at Big Lots, with books jumbled up with unused picture frames, pewter jewelry boxes and assorted candle holders with small chips in them. But however it is displayed, the contents of the shelves are the seen items of our lives: Religion, family, friends, work, hobbies and other interests.

Question #1- How many of these things are active, functional in our day-to-day life? How many of them are important? Important enough to get down off the shelf from time to time and thumb through or re-read?

Questions #2- How many “books” don’t even make it on the shelf? The endless stacks beside the bed or on the desk yet they still consume our lives but may not be significant enough to share shelf space with the “important” things. This clutter of stuff that we keep around, trip over occasionally and even threaten to throw out, just continues to pile up over time. Never rightfully dealt with and ultimately keeping us from living right and ordered lives.

So back to the revolving bookcase. Life as a bookcase is a helpful illustration in and of itself but a revolving bookcase gives us a bonus metaphor when you consider it’s purpose: it’s hiding something. While still maintaining it’s function as a case for books, it’s real purpose is to be an entrance to something else altogether. A gateway to the unseen and unknown mysterious that lie down an uncertain pathway. It could be like Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, where the external bookcase is only a “shadow”, seen and displayed for years but turns out to be only a figment of the true reality that lies beyond. The substance of our lives is made up of the rudimentary thoughts, sensations and actions that rarely seen on the “outside”. These internal workings of the mind and soul: conviction, belief, survival, love, protection, forgiveness, self-awareness and truth are the real essence of our existence and participation in this life- yet, we never chose to display these things.

What is it that God wants to see (well, he can see it all, but within the context of this metaphor…)? The Word says that to come before him, he desires a broken and contrite heart- desperate for him, not out of obligation but out of an understanding that his unmerited favor and adoption is ours. If he already knows what’s on the shelf, beside the shelf and certainly behind the shelf- why are we so afraid and so damned determined to keep pretending that he doesn’t know? A desperate heart has nothing to lose- no image to keep; it’s open and willing to give free access to it all. The last question:

Question #3: What happens when the “candle” is moved from our shelf? What’s triggered by the displacement of the strategically order items of our lives? Are we too proud to find out or too repealed by the thought of what might happen. Both reasons are lame excuses for me to continue to call myself a true worshiper. It won’t stand up before him and he won’t stand for it. I hope the items displayed on my shelves are the substance of the truth that lies behind. I’m sure if an item doesn’t impress God than I have it there to either feel good about myself and/or impress other people- now who do I worship (again).  Remove the idols, the recognition and self-appraisal. Turn it around and let me boast in one thing and one thing only on the shelf- Christ the King.


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