All posts tagged Yule

Altared Perceptions: Solstice 2013

Published December 23, 2013 by Susan Woodward


Solstice 2013: Saturday, December 21.  What a gorgeous and uplifting experience!  In the past five years since I began attending First Unitarian Church of Rochester, I have felt that this has been a wonderful place to call my spiritual home; however, I have never felt more at home until our Solstice Celebration.  Stars

The lights draped along the main wall amid shining stars was complimented with the laser show of stars on the ceiling.

We entered the sanctuary in darkness except for these twinkling lights and the center brazier.  The chairs were placed in a circle, sectioned to represent the four directions.  As one with strong ties to earth-based spirituality, the calling of the quarters and casting of the circle brought me an incredible feeling of belonging and peace.

singing bowl1After calling the quarters, the musical director led the opening meditation with a singing bowl.  The tone rang out through the church and drummers beat a pulsating rhythm that mirrored our beating hearts.

When Rev. Kaaren began telling the tale of Jonah in the Belly of the Whale, we all contemplated on those times in our lives when we, too, feel like we have been in the dark.  She asked us to think of those things that hold us back and prevent us from moving forward to the light, and then write those things down on a piece of flash paper (the flash paper was a stroke of genius for this exercise!)

spiralKarren then called to the congregation to come, by quarters, forward to place those things we wished to move toward the light into a waiting urn.  As each quarter finished, she lit a match and dropped it into the urn, and in a flash of light, those things that had once been in darkness were transformed into light itself…and a bright light it was!

Kaaren  flash

The flash was brilliant, and made me feel as if something was rekindled inside me.  For the past couple of months, I have to admit that I have allowed the darkness of depression to creep back into my heart.  Going thorough “the change” into my Crone years has wreaked havoc with my hormones and emotions.  The Solstice Service did much for re-igniting my heart in time for truly enjoying the blessings of the Holiday Season.

Three more times this was repeated until all members from the four sections of the church had an opportunity to let go of something that has been holding them in the dark.  The beating of the drums was accompanied by clapping and snapping from the congregation and built to a frenzy each time just before Kaaren dropped the flame into the urn.  Four brilliant flashes really energized the whole place.


We all also had candles, which were lit from the central fire.  The flame was passed from person to person until the whole church was lit.

lightsEveryone, young and old, held a lit candle…

lights 2The overall effect was not only gorgeous, but it left me with this strong feeling of energy within.

In the five years since I began attending First UU, I have not experienced anything quite like it.  This Solstice Service was the culmination of a tranformative year in my life.    I have loved this church ever since I started coming here, but for the first time, I truly feel at home.   I love the fact that UU’s welcome those from all spiritual paths, including those whose heart follows the Pagan path.  I began coming to First UU because I was seeking a community where I would feel accepted, and with this celebration, I not only felt accepted, but included.

What a blessing!


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!

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