Chalice Flames and Bonfires

Chalice Flame and Bonfires

One of my fondest memories of growing up in a Unitarian Universalist church involves lighting the chalice as a part of our youth group and youth conference gatherings.

But we didn’t just light the chalice. We lit.The.Chalice.

We would gather together burnt, used leftover matches and pile them carefully into the center of the candle to create a magnificent, brilliant light. While we discussed the topic of the day, one or two of us would tend to our chalice flame, keeping it contained yet bright as possible. When we ran out of used-up match fuel for our fire, we would find a use for our broken crayon stubs and melt them in the flame, letting the colorful wax drip down the side of the candle. We thought it was more pretty this way.

Over time we learned that the bigger the flame, the quicker the candle would burn. Our beautiful fire would suffocate when the pool of wax grew too deep or when the wick simply met it’s end. We weren’t too concerned then with making the candle last through our whole gathering, though. This was more about experimentation, pushing our limits (and, as it turns out, the limits of our advisors), and the instant gratification of making that chalice REALLY shine.

Occasionally, but not often, this ritual might have gotten a little out hand; an especially overzealous youth might add a few scraps of paper in an attempt to add a little more height to our fire and discover that the now bonfire was too hard to control, or we would create a waxy mess trying to clean out the candle. Those were the times when we found we had pushed our limits a little too far and our advisors would step in to dole out the logical consequences, and sometimes we could expect to lose our fire privileges for a while.

But that seemed to be part of the role of our advisors once we reached high school- to watch us tend to our own flame (hopefully not in panic-stricken horror) and step in when it became too much for us to handle on our own. Since then, I have learned that the line between a manageable brilliant light and an out-of-control blaze is very thin, and it takes a unique individual to help youth walk that line.

Sometimes I wish I still had an advisor to help me find that line in my day-to-day life. I might wake up in the morning, feeling calm, peaceful, yet determined and focused. But I might find that by dinnertime, after encountering a day full of frustrating news– stories of children taught to recite hate, thoughtless violence, and fear-mongering politics– I have crossed the line and transformed myself into a fuming, sarcastic, out-of-control blaze.

When I have crossed that line, I respond to antagonistic articles, Facebook posts, and conversations with not an ounce of understanding; I find myself seeking out news stories filled with mudslinging and hate, just to keep that fire fueled. Then I spend hours reading the comments and adding pointless lectures that won’t be read by anyone other than the people who were trying to create a bonfire in the first place.

And I know that I am not the only one– I think that UUs in general can be pretty susceptible to crossing that line. We are a passionate people and we care a whole awful lot. But sometimes our flammability lands us exactly where we don’t want to be and we react in exactly the wrong way. We turn into blazing, out of control bonfires.

We need our congregations and fellow congregants to be our advisors; to help us discover that line and to help us sustain our calm, brilliant lights. We need to help each other remember to respond in love, and not in-kind, when someone tries to fan the flame. Most importantly, we need to hold each other accountable so that we are compelled to react responsibly, especially when the temptation not to is great.

 

Time for Self

I am going to say what anyone reading this undoubtedly already knows: Life is busy. So busy, in fact, that sometimes we just can’t muster the energy at the end of the day to take care of ourselves in the way that we should.

But who am I kidding? This isn’t about you; this is about me.

I love to write. In fact, I have discovered after months of not keeping up on my blog that not only do I thoroughly miss writing and blogging, but that I am simply not functional when I skip out on this practice; even if it means staying up later and missing out on a little precious sleep. Even knowing this, somehow I allow life, schedules, stress, to-do lists to get in the way of what I most need to do to maintain my mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual health.

Each day can feel like a race to the finish, and things that were once important get lost in the shuffle, especially when all you want to do is crash. And even though I know that I know better, I sometimes allow care-taker burnout to happen. You know, when your life revolves around the well-being of others so much so that you start pushing aside that really important thing you need to do “just this once.” Then pretty soon “just this once” turns into “maybe next week” and eventually into “it’s too late to do that now.” Before you know it the stress of missed opportunities seeps in and transforms a once fulfilling practice into something weighed down by the heavy baggage of resentment and regret.

Not only does neglecting my spiritual practice drag me down and stress me out, I have found that I become forgetful as my brain-space becomes cluttered and preoccupied with an epic inner tug-of-war for peace of mind.

You see, my writing process goes a little something like this:

Each day I take mental notes and file away my observations and reflections for future use (blogging). In the best of all possible worlds, I sit down in the quiet of a post-bedtime house and put it all into words. The problem is that my brain never stops taking these notes even if I never do anything with them.

Now picture a section of my brain covered with Post-It notes about big “Ah-ha” moments and earth-shattering paradigm shifts. Just go with me on this. (I would ask you to picture a file drawer, but let’s face it, even on my best days I am not that organized).

The more days go by the more Post-Its seem to litter my brain, leaving little room for other new, time-sensitive, important information, and my daughter shows up for a beloved school Pajama Day in her regular play clothes. Now not only am I stressed out, preoccupied, and forgetful, but my4 year old is heartbroken and I have nothing left to do but to leave myself an ironic Post-It note reminding myself to clear out some brainspace.

I always have great excuses for keeping these personal notes-to-self locked away in the cluttered mess of my brain, and they usually have something to do with “later.”

“The inspiration will hit me… later.”

“I’ll have time… later.”

“Things will be more quiet… later.”

Well, self, later isn’t coming. And pretty soon those Post-Its are going to be gone with the next strong breeze. Then you’re really going to miss out on some extremely important stuff that is infinitely more real than those little yellow pieces of paper you are running around trying to collect.

I am ready for a change.

About a week ago, my husband started a blog of his own sort of out of the blue. It is a lovely online gratitude journal documenting everyday events that he (we) might otherwise forget to appreciate. And so far, he has successfully written at least one post every day. It has really inspired me to get my stuff together and stop making excuses. I am not sure if this shift came about because of my competitive nature, because he just inspires me so much, or perhaps because in a moment of complete honesty he revealed to me that it was always his evil plan to kick my butt back into gear. Whatever the reason, I am ready to recommit myself to my spiritual practice, writing at least 2 times a week to start. Of course, I say this knowing that my spouse (and perhaps some of you) will hold me accountable. I have decided that while accountability can be at least a little bit scary, it is completely necessary.

I think we all need this; a support group of people who will hold you accountable to your commitments to self care. Without someone who has the audacity to hold up a mirror, it gets much too easy put ourselves last and forget to practice what we preach. We forget that we can tell our friends and family to love themselves all we want, but if we don’t show them what that means our words are lost. Taking care of ourselves means giving others the permission to do the same and it allows us to be fully present in our roles as parents, teachers, friends, neighbors.

For the foreseeable future, I am posting two times per week, and in the process I am going to do my best to shut down that little voice in my head that tries to tell me that self care is a selfish desire. I am going to nurture my spirit to recognize my worth and the worth of those around me.

I am ready to take the plunge. Who’s with me?

Aside