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Altared Perceptions: December 2011- “Engagement”

Published January 8, 2012 by Susan Woodward

The theme for the month of December 2011 was “engagement” and we were asked to think about how we not only engage with others, but how we engage with ourselves and the world at large.  

When I first saw the decorations in the church, I was awestruck.  I have always admired the creativity of those who decorate the sanctuary, but this really did blow me away.

The overall effect was quite dazzling, and this picture does not do it justice.  What I see about how this relates to the theme of “engagement” is how the tree is personifies the act of giving.  It reminds me of an earlier post that I wrote about For Giving, Not For Getting.   Notice that there aren’t any gifts under the tree.

This takes away the notion of “getting” something; however, the tree is shaped like a person, and the gift bow is ON the tree, symbolizing that the gift is the person herself  (I shall say “herself” because the tree is obviously depicted as a female!).

I also like the stance of the “person”: hands on hips as if to say, “Not what you were expecting, huh?”   For some, this might be surprising, like my students whose first question to me after returning to school after the holiday break was, “What did you get for Christmas?”

I loved the idea of engaging in being a gift to others instead of thinking about what one might “get” for the holidays.

The detail of the “head” of the person is a lit star.  For me, this symbolizes how we bring light to others.  No matter what tradition one celebrates at this time of year, light seems to be a central focus.  There is the Star of Bethlehem that the Wise Men followed, the lights of the Menorah to commemorate the continuation of light even after the oil ran low during Hanukkah, and even the return of the Sun God on the Winter Solstice for Earth-based believers.  No matter what one believes about the symbolism of the light, this reminds me that we should always strive to bring light to others, especially to those who live most of their lives in darkness.

The detail of the shoes makes me think about how I might try to “put myself in another’s shoes” more often.   As part of being a gift to others, what better gift could we give but one of empathy?  Not pity, or sympathy… but putting ourselves in their place and try to bring to them the most joy we can.  This applies to all year, not just during the holiday season.

The beauty of Nature was depicted by the snowflakes that descended on either side of the altar.   And true to the spirit of being kind to the Earth, the decorations were made out of scraps of tin foil and white plastic garbage bags.  Things that are normally thrown away in our society were transformed into something lovely.

While I am not entirely sure what the “Altar Society” had in mind when creating this work of art, these are my impressions.  I most certainly welcome any and all engaging comments… I would love to hear your thoughts about what you see!

Altared Perceptions

Published January 8, 2012 by Susan Woodward

Although I am not quite sure if the correct term at a Unitarian Universalist Church is “altar”, I thought the name of this new category I am adding was pretty clever, so I hope that Reverands Scott, Kaaren, and Jen will forgive me!

What has always struck me at our church are the beautifully decorated meditative focal points (ummm… altars?).    Ever since I became a member two years ago, I have admired the creative and thoughtfully poignant decorations in the sanctuary.   Each fits in with our monthly themes at the First Unitarian Church of Rochester, and I have decided to share my thoughts about what these creative people have brought to us.

For the first two, I shall have to apologize for the picture quality as I was using my phone camera.   I took pictures of the December display, but it only occurred to me today to begin writing about them as I snapped a shot of the January altar.  Beginning in February, I will use my “real” camera and hope that the pictures will be of better quality!

This is a bit of background about the decor from Betty Jane Evans:

In case you didn’t already know, I’ll give you a little history. Madlyn Evans created the decor each week by herself from the beginning of our church until she retired several years ago, passing her leadership on to Anita Rosenfeld, who leads the decor team of Karen Evans (Madlyn’s daughter), Elaine Anderson, and me. We each do the decor one week each month except for holidays and/or special occasions (flexibility is essential) such as the decor that was up for nearly a month in December.

Thanks for sharing!

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