A Story for All Ages

This is a story that begins, not once upon a time and far, far, away, but one that takes place in homes all over the world, and right here, right now.

And how does it begin?

>Cup of JoeWith people gathered together and a spark, the striking of a match, a cloud of sulfur, a flame that erupts from nothingness into suddenly being. The candle is lit, the lights are dimmed, and a small, curious voice breaks the solemn silence on this holiest of nights and asks, as children often do, “Why? Why do we light candles tonight?”

The child’s words seemed to hang in the air forever as the adults in the room desperately search their own memories—what is that story again? What words shall we use? What are the most important parts of the story to share with the next generation? And then it occurs to the elders: they don’t remember hearing these stories for the first time, or what words were used, or even who told them.

The stories are just part of them, the stories are in their bones.

Meanwhile, the “why?” still hangs in the air, and this time, perhaps, the silence is of the stunned sort until, finally, perhaps the wisest elder in the room responds, “I don’t know. Why do you think we light the candles?”

The child considers this, then carefully, quietly responds, “Because it is dark?”

Silence.

“…and because it is beautiful.”

Another voice chimes in, “Yes… and, Yes. And, sometimes, we light candles as a prayer.”

Another: “to remember our strength.”

And another still, “for the lessons and stories and people that we carry with us.”

But this story doesn’t end there, because like the spark that brought the candlelight into being, the question has ignited sharing and storytelling that lasts long into the night.

“We light candles to light the way home,” the elders say. “To remind us to open our hearts and homes to others who seek a safe place to stay.”

“We light the candles to bring light into the darkness, and to remember our ancestors; to remember struggles won and lost.We light candles for miracles.”

“We light candles for a star in the sky, to remind us to stop, look and listen, and to celebrate the promise of a newborn child. For peace; in my heart and in the world.”

“For the sun,” the child chimes in. “And for the night, and for longer days ahead.”

The hearts of the elders become full as they begin to remember the stories; they are overcome with child-like wonder and awe: “For those who keep telling our story and for those who listen, for faith and purpose and togetherness.”

“We light candles for dedication and blessings and love and wonder.”

The flame is passed from one candle to the next and the next, as stories are passed from generation to generation; and the room grows brighter in the midst of the deep, dark winter night.

“We light these candles to spread the light, because we seek the light.”

Suddenly, it is clear that the spark that began it all brought not just light into the room, but also somehow managed to fill the room with stories, and miracles, strength and beauty, peace and promises, prayers and ancestors and the promise of newborn babies.

And this story still does not end here; because once upon a time becomes a day in the future when the children will be the elders who search their own memory for the stories and meaning as they strike a match to light a candle, and hear the question, “why?”

This is a story of light; it is a story that never ends.

The Holiday Shuffle

The Holiday Shuffle
I am going to miss going to my Grandparents’ Lutheran church on Christmas Eve this year.  It may be weird to hear such a thing from a Unitarian Universalist (a life-long UU, at that), but I really, truly have always enjoyed the Christmas Eve ritual of joining my grandparents in worship at their church.

As is the case with many families, Christmastime for my family was packed full of places to go, gifts to be bought and wrapped, and cookies to be baked.  We called this, in our house, the “Holiday Shuffle.”  Truth be told, I always did an excellent job pretending to hate it all and could “Bah Humbug” with the best of all possible Scrooges, but, between you and me, I loved every bit of it.

I loved rushing to wrap presents and the butterflies I would get in my stomach as I wondered if we would make it on time (thrill issues, perhaps?).  I loved getting dressed up and smelling the Swedish Meatballs, potatoes, homemade lefse and dinner rolls that were keeping warm in the oven while we went to church.  I especially loved the sharp, cold air and the countless stars that filled the dark Wisconsin sky, wondering if we would be lucky enough to see a snowflake or two that night.  But most of all, as my family filed into the long, wooden pews in the dimly-lit sanctuary, I loved the sound of the choir and pipe organ that filled the cathedral ceilings as one and all waited in quiet anticipation for the stories to begin.  It was magic.  It was, what some people might call, “Holy.”

As is the case with many UU kids, I often wondered why most Unitarians bothered to celebrate Christmas; after all, we, by definition, do not believe in the divinity of Jesus.  I totally stand by that; but what I have decided that I believe in is the Holy of the holiday.

Decorating the treeI believe in the magic of inspiration and I believe in soaking in the wonder and awe of things greater than you; no matter where you find it.  For most in my Grandparents’ Lutheran church, the “bigger” was found in prophecy and story and song about the birth of their Savior and the miracle of His life.  For me, it was just being a part of this ritual, knowing that my presence was valued and treasured, and being reminded, once more, of the miracle of family.

These days, it is nearly impossible for us to make it to my Grandparents’ Christmas Eve celebration and to join the worship at that beautiful church in Wisconsin six hours away from our home.  But as I create new traditions and rituals for my children, I hope that they, too, will feel the Holy of this night.  Merry Christmas!