Yesterday we hosted “Our Favorite Things” worship service at First Universalist Church of Pittsfield, Maine.
It was wonderful to see those who attended sink into the sensations of singing these songs that many know by heart. To invite them to contemplate some things they know about our favorite things, and some things yet to be discovered.
Below is the sermon, along with the readings and some notes.
As we transition into the sacred, let us recall:
“Your vision will become clear only
when you look into your heart.
Who looks outside, dreams.
Who looks inside, awakens.”
~ Carl Jung
Today’s service with music inspired by the Sound of Music 1959 Rodgers and Hammerstein is all about our favorite things!
What underlining significance does each of our Favorite Things concretely or “coincidentally” hold for us?
Today we will explore in some depth individual and collective meanings of some of our favorite things, and how the knowledge of such can help guide us into actions that are in alignment with our callings.
Great Over-Soul and Inter-Heart
by Mary Safford, Iowa Sisterhood
Great Over-Soul and Inter-Heart,
Of whom we feel ourselves a part,
To whom all souls forever tend,
Our Father, Mother, nearest Friend.
This church with love to thee we bring,
And while our spirits ( inly ) sing,
We pray that it may ever be
A Home for all who seek for thee.
The home of faith in all things true,
A faith that seeks the larger view,
The home of love that yearns to bless.
The home of truth and righteousness.
Long may it stand, the outward sign
Of that indwelling Life divine,
Which makes thy children truly free,
And draws them ever nearer thee.
Approaching Life as an Experiment
by Pema Chödrön
“My teacher Trungpa Rinpoche encouraged us to lead our lives as an experiment, a suggestion that has been very important to me. When we approach life as an experiment we are willing to approach it
and that way
because, either way,
we have nothing to lose.
This immense flexibility is something I learned from watching Rinpoche.
His enthusiasm enabled him to accomplish an amazing amount in his life. When some things didn’t work out, Rinpoche’s attitude was ‘no big deal.’
If it’s time for something to flourish, it will;
if it’s not time, it won’t.
The trick is not getting caught in hope and fear. We can put our whole heart into whatever we do; but if we freeze our attitude
for or against,
we’re setting ourselves up for stress.
Instead, we could just go forward with curiosity, wondering where this experiment will lead.”
Our Favorite Things
A couple of weeks ago in Pittsfield we hosted the film debut of NB13: The Nolan Berthelette Story, a documentary about one of our youth here in town who died at age fourteen as a result of a brain aneurism.
The film’s director, Ashley Robinson, talked about some of the “coincidences” she discovered while doing research for the project.
As everyone living in Pittsfield knows, Nolan’s favorite color was Orange.
His parents talk about how this was so from the time he was very young, even as a toddler they would dress him in it – seemed to suit him, and as an older child and teenager you would see him in orange often, even an orange bow tie and suspenders at school dances.
When he died, the towns folk decorated trees and posts with orange ribbons, orange balloons were released into the heavens at his funeral, and an orange carpet was rolled out at the film debut.
In Pittsfield – When We see orange.
We think of Nolan and his family.
We can’t even help it. Our minds and hearts respond when we see orange. Even for those that the color orange held no prior significance, even for those who did not know him, we are impacted by his legacy
and the connection to orange are part of us now.
For a long time researchers have known the importance of color in marketing and branding, most specifically how color can be used to influence consumers’ emotions and perceptions.
What colors we are drawn to not only influences what we buy, but how we feel about goods and services, in fact it can influence how we feel about being in certain rooms or spaces.
Sixteen years ago (in 2000) the city of Glasgow, Scotland installed blue street lighting in certain neighborhoods and subsequently reported the finding of reduced crime in these areas.
Over the past few decades many hospitals have mindfully been implementing color schemes to promote calm feelings, where as physical therapy centers have selected colors to enhance feelings of vitality and energetic abundance.
Color psychology is the study of hues as a determinant of human behavior.
Color also influences perceptions that are not obvious, such as the taste of food.
Colors are known to enhance the effectiveness of placebos.
For example, red or orange pills are generally used as stimulants.
Sir Isaac Newton discovered how the color spectrum is organized and composed in the late 1600s. But the psychology of color dates back thousands of years, to Egyptians who studied their effect on mood and used them to accomplish holistic benefits.
In ancient Egypt, “Egyptians designed special healing temples which captured and split the sun’s rays into its component colors creating light-bathing rooms used by Egyptian physicians.”
Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung is most prominently associated with the pioneering stages of color psychology. Jung was most interested in colors’ properties and meanings,
as well as in art’s potential as a tool for psychotherapy.
His studies in
and writings on
cover a broad range of topics, from mandalas, to the works of Picasso,
to the near-universal sovereignty of the color gold,
which is said to be the apex of spirituality, and intuition.
In pursuing his studies of color usage and effects across cultures and time periods, as well as in examining his patients’ self-created mandalas, Jung attempted to unlock and develop a language, or code,
the ciphers of which would be colors.
He looked to alchemy to further his understanding of the secret language of color.
His work has historically informed the modern field of color psychology.
Jung stated: “colors are the mother tongue of the subconscious.”
For instance. Red is the color of strength, health, and vitality, Red is often the color chosen by someone outgoing, assertive, vigorous and impulsive—or someone who would like to be! People who identify red as their favorite color typically have an ambitious nature.
Where as pink embodies gentler qualities. If your favorite color is pink, you may be a little naive, sheltered, and have delicate sensibilities. You appreciate affection, love and security.
If, like Nolan, your favorite color is orange, you are likely friendly to the point of flamboyant, easy going, fearless, tend to find your way towards the center of attention and – probably – a theater major.
So it seems our favorite things can be predictable based on our personalities.
Things we identify with outwardly often reflecting our inward journeys.
For instance, according to Psychology Today, statistics show that dog people were 15% more extroverted than cat people. Since dogs are more social, seeking long periods of interaction with their human companions, and cats less so, this conclusion is no surprise.
But, then, some things……not so easily explainable.
Some call Serendipity;
Those experienced in graphic and web design, and photo, television or film editing, know that each color has a special code.
When Ashley was coding the color for Nolan’s orange for her film, she discovered the code was: F 27 2 00.
This was Nolan’s date of birth.
February 27th, 2000
His favorite color
was his birthday.
Or, it could be that each of our Favorite Things,
the things we are drawn to,
or drawn to us,
have significance beyond what we could even imagine.
Significance that is worth taking note of, and investigating.
What are some of Our favorite things?
Some in our congregation replied to the little survey we sent out with the questions:
What are your favorite things about First Universalist Church of Pittsfield?
What are your favorite things about Unitarian Universalism?
What are your favorite things about Life on Earth?
I also extended the invitation via email to comment to fellow UU friends around the globe, and also in UU Facebook Groups.
Here are some of the responses:
Favorite Things About Life on Earth
The wonder and the mystery of life
My husband and children
My wife and children
The scent of flowers in springtime
Favorite Things About your Unitarian Universalist Faith
Standing on the Side of Love
Advocacy: Social Justice, Earth Justice, Reproductive Justice
The OWL Program – Our Whole Lives
All Are Welcome
Favorite Things About First Universalist Church of Pittsfield
Annual Thanksgiving Supper.
Our Windows, Our History.
……. a place to call our spiritual home.
Kenny Wiley is a UU World Magazine senior editor
and director of faith formation at Prairie Unitarian Universalist Church in Parker, Colorado.
In March he invited us to embark on an adventure,
and I suppose a revelation:
By asking the question for UU World’s March Madness Contest:
What is the Most UU thing of All Time?
Four of the Sixteen strongest contenders were:
- Carolyn McDade’s “Spirit of Life.”
- Women in Ministry
- LGBTQ Advocacy
The First Runner Up was
Carolyn McDade’s “Spirit of Life.”
Many churches sing it or chant it every week.
UU Writer, —Kimberly French, has concluded that:
“No other song, no other prayer, no other piece of liturgy is so well known and loved in Unitarian Universalism as ‘Spirit of Life’.”
In six short lines “Spirit of Life” touches so much that is central to our faith:
reverence for nature,
and the mystery of life.”
And, hopefully, our individual and collective willingness to let go, and be open to the unknown.
“Spirit of Life” finds the common ground held by humanists and theists, pagans and Christians, Buddhists and Jews and others among us.
Spirit of Life, come unto me.
Sing in my heart all the stirrings of compassion.
Blow in the wind, rise in the sea;
Move in the hand, giving life the shape of justice.
Roots hold me close; wings set me free;
Spirit of Life, come to me, come to me.
Another of the top contenders for the Most UU Thing of All Time was
Women in Ministry
One observer reflected:
“There’s a second grader in my church who didn’t know “boys were allowed” to be UU ministers. Women in ministry is almost a norm for UUs—the majority of UU ministers today identify as women—although that certainly doesn’t mean Unitarian Universalists have “solved” sexism in our faith communities.
From the Iowa Sisterhood (of which eloquent UU Author Polly Peterson has expounded upon)
to the Women and Religion Resolution (which led to our gender-inclusive Seven Principles)
to leadership in UU communities around the globe,
women in ministry make Unitarian Universalism come alive.”
Indeed UUs have been among the forerunners of liberal religions embracing Female Clergy.
Another Favorite Thing:
The Massachusetts lawsuit that brought marriage equality to the first state, for example, is named for its UU plaintiffs.
Today UUs are reminding us that the work for justice for LGBTQ folks did not, and will not, end with same-sex marriage.
All who attended last year’s General Assembly in Portland Oregon participated in and experienced the tremendous joyful celebration of the Supreme Court’s decision on Marriage Equality. Knowing our faith played a tremendous role.
The fourth of our top five Favorite UU Things, according to the UU World survey is the
The annual water service, often called a “water communion” or “Waters of the World,” is beloved by Unitarian Universalists (UUs).
While we are a year round church here in Pittsfield, many UU congregations have altered or hiatus summertime schedules and return to church in September. At that time upon the commencement of Autumn, most of our congregations host an ingathering water ritual where members attend with small containers of water from our summer sojourns.
Over the years there has been some controversy about this community ritual. Some feeling it is a way of segregating congregants who cannot afford to travel. Others wishing to bring light to water shortages feel it flaunts the luxury of those with access to abundant water supplies.
However, for most, it is a symbol of community. Each bringing a small amount of water that is significant to them, from a vacation, a nearby river, lake or ocean, and even their well water and pouring into a common bowl or vase
to signify coming together again.
It’s a way of symbolizing that many are one, and a way of getting reacquainted.
Some congregations take the water collected, boil it, then freeze it into ice cube trays and use it for rituals throughout the year such as Child Dedications.
This holy ceremony ranked high on UU favorite things.
The Winner of The Most UU Thing of All Time?:
((Lighting the Chalice))
Most, if not all, UU churches, congregations, covenant groups, ministries, and retreat centers have one. Many church councils and committees begin and conclude their meetings by lighting and extinguishing the chalice, as a symbol of the sacred space they create while together. Similar to what we do each Sunday here.
UUs know the story as to why a flaming chalice, but many newcomers do not.
The flaming chalice symbol was first used by the Unitarian Service Committee while rescuing refugees in World War II. It evolved into the ritual it is today.
A flame within a chalice – has become a primary symbol of the Unitarian Universalist faith tradition.
The flaming chalice was designed by Hans Deutsch, an Austrian artist who when Hitler invaded Paris, Hans fled to the South of France, then to Spain, and finally, into Portugal where he met the Reverend Charles Joy, the executive director of the Unitarian Service Committee (USC).
The Service Committee was new then, founded in Boston to assist
Eastern Europeans, among them Unitarians as well as Jews, who needed to escape Nazi persecution.
From his Lisbon headquarters, Rev. Joy oversaw a secret network of couriers and agents.
The USC was an unknown organization in 1941. This was a special handicap in the cloak-and-dagger world, where establishing trust quickly across barriers of language, nationality, and faith could mean life instead of death.
Disguises, signs and countersigns, and midnight runs across guarded borders were the means of freedom in those days.
Rev.Joy asked Hans to create a symbol for their papers.
In the Reverends words, the symbol or logo was: “to make them look official, to give dignity and importance to them, and at the same time to symbolize the spirit of our work…. When a document may keep a man out of jail, give him standing with governments and police,
it is important
that it look important.”
Thus, Hans made his lasting contribution to the USC and, as it turned out, to Unitarian Universalism. With pencil and ink he drew a chalice with a flame.
Rev. Joy described it to his board in Boston as,
“the kind of chalice which the Greeks and Romans put on their altars.
The holy oil burning in it is a symbol of helpfulness and sacrifice….
This was in the mind of the artist.
The fact, however, that it remotely suggests a cross was not in his mind, but to me ((continued Rev. Joy)) this also has its merit.
We do not limit our work to Christians. Indeed, at the present moment, our work is nine-tenths for the Jews, yet we do stem from the Christian tradition, and the cross does symbolize Christianity and its central theme of sacrificial love.”
The flaming chalice design was made into a seal for papers and a badge for agents moving refugees to freedom.
In time it became a symbol of Unitarian Universalism all around the world.
To Hans, the image had connotations of sacrifice and love.
Unitarian Universalists today have many different interpretations of the flaming chalice, including
the fire of commitment,
the light of reason,
the warmth of community,
and the flame of hope.
Our current official UUA logo debuted in 2014, offering a visual representation of a modern and dynamic faith.
UU congregations and groups are free to use the UUA’s logo in their work, but they are not required to do so, so we see a variety of chalice logos.
THE FLAMING CHALICE:
The Most Favorite UU Thing of All Time (so far)
As a symbol of our denomination, it unites our members in worship and symbolizes the spirit of our work.
The flaming chalice combines two archetypes
—a drinking vessel and a flame
—and as a religious symbol has different meanings to different beholders.
But when we see it on a bumper sticker, a t-shirt, a pin, or a Facebook posting, we know we have just crossed paths with one of our own.
An undeniable and welcome connection.
And thinking about connections, known and yet to be discovered, such as Nolan’s favorite color orange actually being his birthdate. A glance back into history reveals insights about chalices and flames.
Chalices and cups can be found on ancient manuscripts and altars around the world. The chalice used by Jesus at his last Passover seder became the Holy Grail sought by the knights of Wales and England.
The grail emblematic of Union with God, the most Holy,
knowledge and spiritual reality.
Always associated with a quest.
As a sacrificial fire, flame has been a central symbol for the world’s oldest
scriptures, the Vedic hymns of India.
The Veda hymns and texts, written in Sanskrit, through metaphors and allusions pointing to the Key of Knowledge.
Knowledge of structures
of chants and praise,
of formulas for liturgy and societal function,
and sacrifice or service.
More recently, feminist writer and cultural historian Riane Eisler has used the chalice as a symbol of the “partnership way” of being in right relationship of shared leadership and community.
Sharing, generosity, sustenance, and love are some of the meanings symbolized by a chalice.
Also in our present day,
lights shine on Christmas and Hanukkah,
eternal flames stand watch at monuments and tombs,
and candles flicker in cathedrals, temples, mosques, and meeting houses.
We light a candle when we want to send love to someone.
A flame can symbolize:
witness, sacrifice, testing, courage,
We pass the torch from one runner to the next;
from one generation to the next.
The Flaming Chalice
The story of Hans reminds us that the symbol of a flaming chalice stood in the beginning for a life of service.
When he designed the flaming chalice, he had never seen a Unitarian or Universalist church nor heard a sermon.
What he had seen was faith in action—people who were willing to risk all for others in a time of urgent need.
You see, the Favorite Thing as voted by UUs who participated in the question Kenny Wiley initiated was not merely the chalice itself,
but the lighting of it.
The action of it.
Like Nolan’s Fearless Orange;
May our favorite things always guide us to actions of love, compassion and service.
Let us rise, as we are able, and sing together:
“Climb Every Mountain”
May we honor the flaming chalice,
along with all of our other most favorite things,
as we live our lives in our congregations,
in our homes,
and out in the world.
May we consider the significance of each.
Go in Peace.
Note: I’ve credited via links many of the sources researched for this talk. Thank you to those authors. And, as with most ministers, the above sermon is the outline, while followed fairly closely, was modified as I spoke 🙂
A very special Thank You as always to Jason Curran for his beautiful music.
NOTE: Variations of this sermon may appear for other denominations. This one was curated for a UU Church. Twinkle is an ordained Interfaith Minister. She often is called upon to speak at UU and other churches when the congregation is in need of a spiritually uplifting sermon, as Unitarian Universalist ministers tend to preach solely from the narrow lens social justice platforms....which can, and does, leave their congregations wanting regarding spirituality.