We have now entered (and rejoiced, and came in) a new phase in this practice – the short songs. The rounds, the doxologies, the introits, the chalice lightings, and the benedictions.
I have no idea how this section will feel. I admit that this morning it feels a little disappointing, as there’s not much to grab on to here. I worry that the spiritual practice will become thin because the songs are, and I wonder how sustaining this very different level of engagement will be. I may very well be falling into the loving, complex arms of Jason Shelton’s Morning Has Come on November 20, heaping loads of praises upon the return to hymn forms and loads of lyrics and page turns, not just the hymn I adore (spoiler alert).
But for now, we enter this time of short songs with this chalice lighting. The words are from an anonymous source, and the melody is by Praetorius.
Rise up, O flame,
by thy light glowing,
show to us beauty,
vision, and joy.
So… I never use words or music for lighting the chalice, because I think it draws attention from the lighting of the chalice. We have really just one symbol, one object, that binds Unitarian Universalists together, and it isn’t because the mothership told us to, but because the image of the chalice and the meaning of the chalice spread from congregation to congregation, from gathering to meeting to assembly, and organically it has become the one ritual object that features in – as far as I know – all UU congregations. The only object. (We can talk about all the other things that feature in our congregations at some point, like coffee, fake fights, and white people – but that’s outside the scope of this particular moment.)
To me, lighting a chalice with a song or spoken words emphasizes that which gets plenty of play throughout the rest of the service – words and music. But lighting the chalice in silence, with our attention on the flame, puts our intention into the flame and sets the space apart. It is a signal that this isn’t business – or busy-ness – as usual, but rather a time out of time. And whether our chalices are big metal masterpieces, like our GA chalice, or a small bowl with a candle, or somewhere in between, it is that moment of lighting our chalice that calls together a group of Unitarian Universalists into worship like no other.
And that deserves all the attention we can give it.
Image by Del Ramey, from First Unitarian – Louisville.