During a December worship service, we lit lights for Hannukah. We looked at this tradition, that has spread hope among Jews through the centuries, from the perspective of the courage of those who took the leap of faith and lit the lamps. This is a story of abundance of having enough and of being enough. In Judaism, lighting the menorah on Hannukah connects Jews with the abundance and courage of this moment. The symbol of the flaming chalice of Unitarian Universalism was born in World War II, when the Unitarian Service Committee was hard at work trying to find safe routes to help people escape from the Nazis. Because the people they were helping spoke many different languages, they needed a symbol that would identify their organization. Rev. Joy, the head of the service committee, also wanted the symbol to impress governments and police who had the power to help move people to safety. Hans Deutsch, a cartoonist who was in danger because he drew cartoons showing people how evil the Nazis were, created the symbol of a chalice, or cup, that was used for giving a healing drink to others. And it showed a flame on top of the chalice because a flame was often used to represent a spirit of helpfulness and sacrifice. Isn’t that a wonderful beginning for our tradition?
Each week, we light the chalice as we gather. Our worship associates take time to think of words that will bring this tradition alive. During our Hannukah service, I suggested that we make chalices of our own and continue the tradition in our homes. Having a chalice in an important spot in our living spaces could remind us of the light and energy of Granite Peak and our connections with the interconnected web of life. We can light our chalices as a tradition to remember the light and to remind us, when our own oil levels seem low, that the flame is a shared ministry of many. Later that day, I received a photograph from the Willison family of the chalice that they had created for their family. They used the bowl from Empty Bowls, a reminder of the goodness that is spread from our community to heal food insecurity in the Quad City area. Have you made one yet? I challenge you to do so. If you are afraid that you might leave the candle burning, please use a battery candle!
Once established, this tradition can go with us when life happens and we are struggling with illness, depression, separation, and the many ways that change appears without warning. The flame could remind us that we are never alone in our sorrow and in our joy.
For our chalice lighting for the coming new year, I have written these words:
We light this flame to remind us of the community that holds our sorrows as well as our joys. As we have passed through Solstice, may the flame remind us of the growing light of the days. Seeds, bulbs and hibernating animals are nurtured in the darkness. We light this chalice for the Earth that is preparing for spring.
I wonder what words will seem right for the chalice of your own. Please feel free to share those words and photographs of the chalices you create for your living spaces.