Every January Unitarian Universalist congregations across Canada celebrate a fire ceremony. For many, this ritual of burning paper in flame is a New Year’s ceremony, a release of the past. But this has never felt right to me, I see this ceremony as one which honours the power of fire. Our symbol is the flaming chalice, a lively, ever-changing flickering flame of life. It is a symbol of the vital, sacred spark of life that resides in every living being. And like every living being, it has the power to destroy and to create. Yet we so often light a chalice in services and meetings without thinking about that flickering flame. The fire ceremony gives us an opportunity to meet the flame and celebrate it’s power.
The Unitarian Congregation in Mississauga will be celebrating the fire ceremony this coming Sunday, looking at how we can focus our energy in the coming months. Where do our passions lie? What can we do to make our passions “blaze with life”?
To me, fire is one of the most beautiful elements of life on this planet. Scary, energizing, mesmerizing, gorgeous. The fire dancers in these two videos highlight fire’s living beauty.
In the shadowed quiet of winter’s light
earth mourns softly…
Kneel down here
on the frosty grass,
and seek the hope buried in the ground.
Bend your ear to the beating heart of the planet
and listen hard.
A whisper: love this world.
Distill peace from the snow
and water the cities
Weave wonder from the forest
and clothe grief
Rest in the rhythm of the turning year,
trace the golden threads
connecting all beings,
and vow anew to do no harm.
The winter trees stand watch
haloed in the last gleams of the slanting sun.
Make your life an answer:
Live in Awe.
adapted from Rebecca Parker’s A Winter Blessing
Last month I went on a silent retreat at the Five Oaks Retreat Centre near Paris. In exploring the beautiful property and beyond, in peaceful quiet, I was able to slow down, reflect and simply be. It was a good time out to catch my breath and clear my thoughts.
Activities were put out for us to pursue if we wished, colouring mandalas, creating prayer beads, and poems to contemplate. I loved the fairytale images in this poem by the tremendous Canadian poet Lorna Crozier.
Packing for the Future: Instructions
Take the thickest socks.
Wherever you’re going
you’ll have to walk.
There may be water.
There may be stones.
There may be high places
you cannot go without
the hope socks bring you,
the way they hold you
to the earth.
At least one pair must be new,
must be blue as a wish
hand-knit by your mother
in her sleep.
Take a leather satchel,
a velvet bag an old tin box –
a salamander painted on the lid.
That is to carry that small thing
you cannot leave. Perhaps the key
you’ve kept though it doesn’t fit
any lock you know,
the photograph that keeps you sane,
a ball of string to lead you out
though you can’t walk back
into that light.
In your bag leave room for sadness,
leave room for another language.
There may be doors nailed shut.
There may be painted windows.
There may be signs that warn you
to be gone.Take the dream
you’ve been having since
you were a child, the one
with open fields and the wind
Mistrust no one who offers you
water from a well, a songbird’s feather,
something that’s been mended twice.
Always travel lighter
than the heart.
“For life and death are one, even as the river and the sea are one.”
Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet.
I first posted this video in the spring a couple of years ago. I’m posting it again in recognition of the upcoming Honouring Loss service this Sunday at the Unitarian Congregation in Mississauga. A visual poem about the inseparable nature of life and death, it speaks to the Unitarian Universalist sense that death is part of the natural cycle, to be grieved over but not denied. Life crumbles into decay and composts into new life, over and over and over again.
the swirling colours of autumn surround us
glorious gold, yellow, and orange
bronzed brown, deep vibrant red
how can we not feel amazed and grateful?
Rev. Ann Willever
As Unitarian Universalists we acknowledge the interdependence of life on this planet, and seek a healthy, respectful relationship with water. Our ecological sensibility is in harmony with other, ancient traditions, from India to the First Nations on this continent. The links below show us people dedicated to transforming our attitude towards water. We must re-learn that water, so necessary to life, has inherent value and is sacred.
Dr. Vandana Shiva is a renowned scholar and environmental activist, here she speaks about the Hindu relationship to the sacred Ganges river.
In the video at the link below, Cree Elders in Alberta are seeking healthier relationships with water and all peoples.
Water: Sacred Relationship
In Peterborough, Ontario, indigenous and non-indigenous people are working together to care for water.
Sacred Water Circle
With easy access to water through our municipal water systems, tidied away in faucets and pipes, drains and culverts, we take it for granted. Today I invite you to reflect on the restorative powers of water.
At Blackwater Pond
At Blackwater Pond the tossed waters have
after a night of rain.
I dip my cupped hands. I drink
a long time. It tastes
like stone, leaves, fire. It falls cold
into my body, waking the bones. I hear them
deep inside me, whispering
oh what is that beautiful thing
that just happened?
This short video by artist Maik Thomas offers a visual meditation on a quiet pond. Sit down, breathe deeply and take a break beside the water.