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On two separate occasions I was told by a leader in the organization, “We ought to make that part of our ritual.” The first time was about 10:40 AM at the UU church. Early in the service, before the sermon, after announcements and greeting visitors, we have a Joys and Sorrows reading of cards where people have written out significant events in their lives. While that is in progress people are encouraged to go to the side of the assembly and light a candle for something they want to commemorate but don’t necessarily want to have read to the congregation. Typically about a half-dozen people will go to the line of a dozen unlit candles in little cups on either side of the main assembly and light a candle. It is a pleasant little ceremony and is one of the many things that make the UU services have a pleasant glow.

There is usually a single cup-candle lit and a couple of finger size unlit candles lying in the tray that the first person uses to get a flame from the burning candle and light one of the candles. Whatever the person is thinking when they light their candle is private, but the ritual proceeds with a pleasant solemnity, while someone on the stage is talking about something relevant to our community’s lives. This little ceremony has always gone smoothly until today. When it didn’t!

Whoever put out the cup-candles hadn’t lit one, so when the first person went up to the unlit candles in a solemn attitude there was no way to light their symbolic candle. I was the last one in the line and all of us were looking to one another for a lighter of any kind. None of us had one. The audience of about two hundred people was looking at us. The confusion lasted about five seconds, when I said, “I’ll take care of this.” Whereupon, I took one of the finger candles and walked quietly and deliberately up to the stage, up the steps to the sacred flame in the UU chalice, lit my candle and quietly walked back to the small group of people and gave the lit candle to the first person there. They proceeded to do whatever they intended to do and then handed the lit candle to the next person in line.

All went well, but I can’t imagine a person stepping uninvited out of the congregation in most churches, going up the altar, getting a light from the sacred flame and then returning to the congregation with the flame and giving it away. An hour later, after the service, near the exit door, one of the key people in the hierarchy came by and I asked how he felt about that use of the flame. He said it should be part of our standard ritual; after all, the candles to the side were part of the group cohesion and ought to be part of the main flame at the center. I’m glad he said that because what I did was a bit outrageous.

At the other group I attended, a friend of mine said about a totally separate situation, “We ought to make that part of our ritual.” I had done something that was perfectly appropriate but absolutely weird. I remember thinking it was a fine gesture at the moment but I don’t remember what it was. Hmm?

When you do anything unique write it down instantly because if it’s new it doesn’t connect well with past memories. 

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