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.


When It Rains…

One of the things that I have been vowing to do is to start running… again. It has been since before my daughter was born (4 years and a half years ago) that I have seriously pursued running. I remember loving it. But since I have strapped on my jogging shoes for the first time in years, I am finding it to be quite a challenge to overcome the “I am terribly (and I mean TERRIBLY) out of shape” hump.

For those of you who aren’t familiar, the “out of shape hump” is what one experiences when he or she first starts excersizing after taking an extended, shall we say, sabbatical from rigorous exercise. This is the period of time where everything hurts and there is nothing about the experience that feels even remotely rewarding. In other words, the pain factor severely outweighs the immediate gratification factor. I am pretty sure that this is an actual thing– look it up.

I expected it to be hard; I knew that I was going to have to re-learn form, regain some endurance, and locate some muscles that I forgot I had. But truthfully, it is a lot harder than I expected, mostly because I have yet to experience the feeling I used to love when I went running. I really miss it. Nevertheless “run a marathon” remains one of the top items on my bucket list, so I really feel like it is in my best interest to bite the bullet and get in shape sooner rather than later.

So today I went for a jog through town. When my running partner (my dog) and I left the house, the skies looked nothing more than a tinsy bit threatening. I would call it partly cloudy. Still, the breeze was cool, the town was quietly enjoying their Saturday morning snooze, and the thought of a little drizzle during my run didn’t frighten me one bit. I remember enjoying running in the rain–when I was in shape.

I would like to say that about a mile into my run (read: walk with a little bit of hop) I was feeling good, but not so much. My knees were hurting, I had a cramp, and I was just giving in to the urge to walk. And then it happened. Thunder.

I was a mile away from home and the sky opened up to release what I can only assume was Noah’s signal to get on board that ark (of course this is not at all an overly dramatic recreation of events). At this point, I was a little bit glad that it was early enough that I didn’t have to endure running past a heckling crowd of neighbors, sitting on their front porches pointing and laughing at the poor slob and her dog who didn’t check the weather before leaving the house. I was soaking wet, in pain, and to make matters worse my dog HATES getting wet. As I tried to muster the strength to jog the rest of the way home (yes, after only one pitiful mile), my (not so) fearless running partner began to pull on her leash, seeking shelter anywhere she could find it.

At some point during the storm I decided that I was not going to win. Even if I suddenly became the in-shape, marathon ready version of myself that I wanted to be, I was never going to outrun the rain. I was going to get drenched–whether I like it or not. My dog was probably going to be unhappy about getting wet–whether I liked it or not, and I wasn’t going to suddenly get into shape before the end of my run… whether I liked it or not.

I decided to walk. I slowed down and laughed at myself and my rain-soaked clothes and hair, the water dripping down my face. Then I laughed even harder when I passed two other walkers who were seemingly unscathed by the sudden downpour, their hair and makeup somehow picture perfect, as if the storm never happened. It seemed for a moment that Eeyore’s cloud had taken a break from making his life miserable just long enough to complicate my morning run.

The rest of my walk home was really quite wonderful– there is a gift in the beautiful quiet of a spring morning rain when you aren’t too busy battling sore muscles and water-averse dogs. Once I gave in to what was, rather than focusing on what I would have rather accomplished, I was able to enjoy my journey.

As I stepped in my front door, the rain stopped; and for the first time since I strapped on my running shoes, I felt as if the pain was outweighed by the reward.