We UUs don't have many rituals in our worship. That's because of our history: we are descendents of those Plain-Jane Puritans, who wanted to purify their Anglican religion by stripping it of all nonessentials, including nonessential rituals. For instance, they replaced their stained glass with clear glass, removed all icons from the meeting hall, save the cross, threw out the prayer book so as to have a more spontaneous worship, and relegated the altar below the pulpit so as to de-emphasize the celebration of the Eucharist and to elevate the preaching of the Word. As a result of our Puritan heritage, we UUs don't have many rituals which are leftovers from the past, but the ones we do have have been created to address a present need or aspiration.
One is our lighting Candles of Community, in which we invite members to come forward, share a significant happening in their lives, and light a candle in a community chalice. The sharing of the poignant moments of your life, whether excruciating or uplifting, is a holy offering of a life transformed, sometimes by choice, sometimes by events beyond your choice. Because such sharing makes us vulnerable, such sharing also brings us closer together, and the feeling of community is sometimes palpable. By the way, I am sure that few of you are aware that we place our candles of community in cat litter. This is a perfect example of the meaning of a sacrament, for a sacrament allows us to see through the mundane to the holy. It doesn’t get much more mundane than cat litter, and it doesn't get much more holy than a community of shared vulnerability.
Any ritual can be misused, as when people use it other than it's intended purpose. The purpose of lighting Candles of Community is to share significant personal moments so that we may get to know each other more intimately, celebrate with each other life's joys, and support each other in life's hurts, sorrows, and disappointments. I've seen and experienced this kind of sharing promoting healing and relationships. This is not a time for political rants, standup comedy, or meandering travelogues.
Everyone participates in Candles of Community, whether you are lighting a candle or listening to a person's sharing, and everyone can lend support and show respect during this ritual in the following ways:
1. Be brief. Organize your thoughts ahead of time so that you can be succinct, stay on point, and omit repetition and extraneous details. This respects our limited time together.
2. Be selfless. If you have spoken often, give others a turn. Graciously limit the frequency and length of sharings to give space for others who are more reticent than you.
3. Be observant. If there is a long line, consider if what you have to say could just as well be said another day.
4. Be attentive. Practice deep listening during this part of the service. Support the person speaking with your silence, and dare to support him or her with your words after the service.When we use the ritual of Candles of Community properly, it typically lives up to its name -- it lights a path to greater community.