Throughout August we have explored the theme of Story together. During the two Sundays I was in the pulpit I offered you seven different stories for reflection and also shared this past week that there are just a few more that I consider “foundational” to our Unitarian Universalist faith.
Below is a list of my top ten right now. It is always changing and evolving but it’s true that these ten (or some version of them) I continue to return to again and again; they are not ordered in any particular hierarchy of importance or meaning.
Perhaps you have a story that has helped inform your spiritual practice of living as a Unitarian Universalist. If so, I would love to hear it and add to this growing resource.
And here’s an invitation: choose one of these ten stories to sit with for an entire week. Read it as you wake and maybe once again before the day is done. Consider how it has changed in meaning with each read or as you move throughout your days with it as a companion. Again, I would love to hear from you if you choose such a practice.
- One: Not Everything is Lost by Rev. Ilene Kaur
- Two: Desert Spring By Victoria E Safford
- Three: Weaving Our Path by Martha Dallas
- Four: The Blind Men and the Elephant (as recorded by Branches – Truth by All Souls, Tulsa)
- Five: The Mustard Seed, as told and contextualized by Rev. Nancy McDonald Ladd in After the Good News: Faith Beyond Optimism
- Six: Not Somewhere Else but Here by Rev. Rebecca Parker
- Seven: from the Torah, a “traditional” Jewish story
- Eight: Need Not Think Alike to Love Alike
- Nine: The Winds of Hope – The Story of John Murray, adapted by the Rev. Barbara Palmer
- Ten: A Lamp in Every Corner By Janeen K Grohsmeyer
One: Not Everything is Lost by Rev. Ilene Kaur
When I was growing up, I had a mom and a dad, and my dad stayed at home to take care of me while my mom worked. At that time, I was an only child (since I didn’t get a sibling until my twenties), so since I was the only kid, I spent a lot of time with my dad. We did everything together. We played music together, him on the flute and me on the piano and singing. We went to yard sales together, hoping to find treasures. And one of my favorite things that my dad and I did together was running errands.
Who here runs errands with their parents? What does running errands mean? Well, to most people, running errands means going out to get groceries, drop off dry cleaning, pick up prescriptions at the drugstore, return books to the library—those sorts of things. But, throughout my whole childhood, my dad and I ran a different type of errands. Each Saturday, we’d wake up early. He’d drive us to Krispy Kreme donuts, where the hot light was always on—a neon sign outside signifying that hot and fresh donuts were ready for the choosing.
My dad would buy 4 or 5 dozen donuts, and then we’d go “run errands,” which actually meant driving all around our town and bringing those delicious hot donuts to all our friends who had to work on Saturdays. We’d go to the gas station to see our friends there, the cashier in her 80’s and all 5 of her children working there with her. We’d go to the florist, and then to a restaurant and a bar. Finally, we’d go to Misha’s coffeeshop. Of course, they sold pastries at the coffeeshop, but not fresh hot Krispy Kreme donuts. We’d share our donuts with all of the employees, drink our coffee (dad) and hot chocolate (me). The manager would take me into the roasting room and show me how she roasted the beans for the coffee. My dad would eat donut after donut with the owner. We’d see old friends there and share our donuts with them too. So much of my childhood happened in that coffeeshop.
Misha’s coffeehouse has had a wonderful tradition throughout my entire lifetime. Every year, on Christmas morning, amidst a sea of closed businesses, they open from 8am to noon, and everything in the store is free. The coffee, the hot cocoa, the cookies and bagels and orange juice. Everything is free, and everyone comes in their pajamas. Always a thriving spot, the coffeehouse is stuffed to the brim with revelers, celebrating a day off from work, celebrating the feeling of gathering in community, celebrating the birth of baby Jesus, celebrating how gosh-darn good it feels to share, to receive, and to give love away. The shared world.
Many years after I stopped running errands with my dad, when it was time to plan our wedding, my soon-to-be spouse and I knew where we’d be getting the coffee for our brunch reception—Misha’s. What a beautiful reminder of how important, how sacramental, really, it is, to share with others. And isn’t that what being married is really about.
The Palestinian poet Naomi Shihab Nye wrote a beautiful poem called Gate A-4, about meeting a Palestinian woman in an airport. She speaks no English and is in a state of acute panic, thinking that her flight has been cancelled when really it has only been delayed. Naomi, also from Palestine, the land of Jesus’s birth, calms the woman down and calls her family to let them know about the flight delay. Naomi’s new friend, the older Palestinian lady, begins to warm up, telling jokes and sharing memories with Naomi. And then she takes out some delicious homemade cookies from her bag, and goes all around the airport gate sharing them with everyone.
Everyone, Naomi recalls, was covered in the same powdered sugar, laughing the same laughs, smiling the same smiles. Naomi wrote: “And I looked around that gate of late and weary ones and thought, this is the world I want to live in. The shared world. Not a single person in this gate – once the crying of confusion stopped – seemed apprehensive about any other person. Everyone took the cookies. I wanted to hug them all. This can still happen anywhere. Not everything is lost.”Top of page
Two: Desert Spring By Victoria E Safford
They had no idea where they were going, when they left that night, in the dark, without lights, without shoes, without bread, their children smothered against them so they would make no noise.
They had no idea what they were getting into, following this Moses, this wild-eyed one who claimed visions and made promises but who after all could guarantee them nothing, except death if they were caught.
They had no idea, these slaves, what it could mean, this promise of land (their own country) and life abundant. Of freedom they knew nothing, except what they could taste by living in its opposite, slavery, and that taste became a hunger, and that hunger became insatiable till they were ravenous for freedom, and they went out then—but no one knows to this day whether they were led by Moses or by the outstretched arm and mighty hand of something else, of something eternal (as they would afterwards and always claim), or whether their own human, hungry will made them flee that night from Pharaoh.
They went into the wilderness. There they wandered forty years, which in those days was a lifetime. Forty was a good, old age, so many of them died before getting anywhere, and many were born in the desert and grew to adulthood knowing nothing but the journey—not slavery, not freedom, just the going. They whined and complained and muttered, and some mutinied, for they were a stiff-necked and rebellious people (you can read it for yourself); ungrateful people, even when manna rained down from heaven and quails were sent to feed them; unhappy people, longing, out loud even, for the familiar security of Egypt, of all places, where at least they knew what to expect, as awful as it was; impatient people, making cheap little idols and gods of metal to bargain with in secret when the traveling got hard or merely dull, and the days and years became monotonous.
The promised land is not a destination—it is a way of going. The land beyond the Jordan, that country of freedom and dignity and laughter—you carry it inside you all the while. It is planted in your mind and heart already, before you ever start out, before it even occurs to you that in order to leave that life in Egypt, the intolerable bondage of that life, what you need to do is stand up and walk forward.Top of page
Three: Weaving Our Path by Martha Dallas
Imagine with me that you’re going along a trail in the woods in Vermont and you come across a steep gorge with a river rushing at the bottom. There is only one way to get across. You see a bridge and it’s made of… grass!
What I want to know is what questions would be running through your mind before you set foot on that grass bridge? What I would want to know, more than anything else, is if the people who made the bridge also walked across it, and whether they still use it.
Of course, we don’t have bridges made of grass in New Jersey or Pennsylvania, but many were built for hundreds of years in South America by the Inca people, and I think a few still exist. Here’s how they did it.
First, they made fresh bridges once a year. On the appointed day, everyone in the village would gather to begin work. Each person had a special role to play in building the bridge. First, there were people who gathered the grass. Then, other people took that grass and twisted it into long ropes. Then people took those ropes and wove them into thick braids. And those braids were twisted by other people into long cables, as thick as my arm. Certain people strung the cables across the gorge and pulled them nice and tight, and finally there were riggers who would lash the cables together in such a way as to create a footbed to walk on and rails on each side to hold.
Each person did their part as best they could, and they relied on everyone else to do their part well, because every one of them needed that bridge to safely carry them across the river whenever they needed to go that way.
I tell you about grass bridges this morning for two reasons: First, it reminds us of how important our small part is, when it’s part of something big and strong and even miraculous as a bridge made of grass. I have to say, I think it’s miraculous that a bridge can be made of grass. And these bridges could span 60 feet! That’s longer than the length of our sanctuary! And they could hold five people at a time, and llamas too!
Second, we in this congregation may not be building a bridge across a raging river, but we are building a way toward our future, our shared vision. I want to walk that way! I hope many of you will walk that way too. And if I’m going to walk that way, I want to walk a way that feels sure and strong and safe—a way that I know has been built well with everyone doing their part as best they can. So may we all build that way together, like the Inca grass bridge builders!Top of page
Four: The Blind Men and the Elephant (as recorded by Branches – Truth by All Souls, Tulsa)
A long time ago in the valley of the Brahmaputra River in India there lived six men who were much inclined to boast of their wit and lore. Though they were no longer young and had all been blind since birth, they would compete with each other to see who could tell the tallest story.
One day, however, they fell to arguing. The object of their dispute was the elephant. Now, since each was blind, none had ever seen that mighty beast of whom so many tales are told. So, to satisfy their minds and settle the dispute, they decided to go and seek out an elephant.
Having hired a young guide, Dookiram by name, they set out early one morning in single file along the forest track, each placing his hands on the back of the man in front. It was not long before they came to a forest clearing where a huge bull elephant, quite tame, was standing contemplating his menu for the day.
The six blind men became quite excited; at last they would satisfy their minds. Thus it was that the men took turns to investigate the elephant’s shape and form. As all six men were blind, neither of them could see the whole elephant and approached the elephant from different directions. After encountering the elephant, each man proclaimed in turn:
‘O my brothers,’ the first man at once cried out, ‘it is as sure as I am wise that this elephant is like a great mud wall baked hard in the sun.’
‘Now, my brothers,’ the second man exclaimed with a cry of dawning recognition, ‘I can tell you what shape this elephant is – he is exactly like a spear.’ The others smiled in disbelief.
‘Why, dear brothers, do you not see,’ said the third man — ‘this elephant is very much like a rope,’ he shouted. ‘Ha, I thought as much,’ the fourth man declared excitedly, ‘This elephant much resembles a serpent.’ The others snorted their contempt.
‘Good gracious, brothers,’ the fifth man called out, ‘even a blind man can see what shape the elephant resembles most. Why he’s mightily like a fan.’
At last, it was the turn of the sixth old fellow and he proclaimed, ‘This sturdy pillar, brothers’ mine, feels exactly like the trunk of a great areca palm tree.’ Of course, no one believed him.
Their curiosity satisfied, they all linked hands and followed the guide, Dookiram, back to the village. Once there, seated beneath a waving palm, the six blind men began disputing loud and long. Each now had his own opinion, firmly based on his own experience, of what an elephant is really like. For after all, each had felt the elephant for himself and knew that he was right!
And so indeed he was. For depending on how the elephant is seen, each blind man was partly right, though all were in the wrong.
Five: The Mustard Seed, as told and contextualized by Rev. Nancy McDonald Ladd in After the Good News: Faith Beyond Optimism
“Like many rabbis before and after him, Jesus was a man who taught in parables. Everything was a story with him, and most of his parables eventually come around, by hook or by crook, to a description of what is variously transcribed in the Gospel traditions as the kingdom of heaven or the kingdom of God. Within the context of first-century politics, the kingdom of heaven wasn’t merely an otherworldly paradise, but a countercultural vision of what life might be like if the Jewish people could live out from under the oppressive thumb of the Roman Empire. The kingdom of heaven was the world as it could be, connected to and informed by the world as it really was.
“In one of the very best parables in his playbook, Jesus evokes the kingdom of heaven”
by way of a mustard seed. This is how the Gospel of Luke tells it: The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that a man took and tossed in his garden. It grew and became a tree and the birds of the sky roosted in its branches.
“This seems innocuous enough. The parables often do at first glance. A mustard seed is usually understood in popular biblical interpretation to mean something infinitesimally small. Under that simple meaning it would hold that a tiny thing became something huge, and the message of this parable would be so simple as to be a cliché – from humble beginnings grand things might arise.
“But anybody who has ever spent a good deal of time in the Near East knows that the mustard plant in Galilee is generally associated with something quite different from mere smallness. The mustard plant, in the context in which this story was first told, would have been thought of as a useful but tenacious weed that, once planted, spreads out and takes over all available space.
“As Pliny the Elder wrote around 77 CE, “Mustard grows entirely wild, though it is improved by being transplanted; but on the other hand, when it has once been sown it is scarcely possible to get the place free of it, as the seed when it falls germinates at once.”
“Jesus says that the kingdom of heaven is like a humble shrubbery that a man took and tossed into his garden on purpose, a low-lying plant that somehow grows up into a mighty tree that brushes the sky. It is a dandelion that grows higher than the redwoods.
“That image is absurd enough in and of itself, but that’s not all – not only is the kingdom of heaven like this massive skyscraper of a shrubbery, but all the birds of the sky in that holy kingdom, all those weird birds who have no place else to go, come to make their home there.
“In Jesus’ image, the kingdom of heaven is tenacious, ever unfolding, and more than a little bit strange. Those who make a home within it are odd ducks and outliers.
“A tenacious weed shall outgrow them all. And the strange birds will roost there. And everything you thought was sacred will be upended by the odd, imperfect things you have always overlooked.”Top of page
Six: Not Somewhere Else but Here by Rev. Rebecca Parker
“In 1976 I began a cross-country road trip, on my way to seminary. I traveled with a friend. We had time, so we decided to take back roads. One afternoon the road passed through rural western Pennsylvania. Late in the day, we came down through hill country into a valley. It had been raining hard, and as we neared a small town, we noticed blinking yellow lights warning of danger. We saw fields covered in standing water and passed several side roads blocked off with signs saying: Road Closed.
“Looks like they’ve had a flood here,” we said.
Coming into town, we crossed a bridge over a wide river. The water was high, muddy, flowing fast. Sandbags lined the roadway. “Gosh,” we said, “They must have had quite a bit of high water to contend with here. Looks like it was a major flood!”
“We headed out of town, following a winding country road, captivated by the evidence all around us that there had been a dramatic flood. Then we rounded a bend, and in front of us, a sheet of water covered the roadway. The water was rising fast, like a huge silver balloon being inflated before our eyes.
“We stopped and started to turn the car around. The water was rising behind us as well. Suddenly we realized the flood hadn’t happened yesterday or last week. It was happening here and now. Dry ground was disappearing fast. We hurriedly clambered out of the car and scrambled to higher ground. Soaked to the bone, we huddled under a fir tree. No longer were we lodged in our familiar vehicle; the cold water of the storm poured down on us, baptizing us into the present—a present from which we had been insulated by both our car and our misjudgments about the country we were traveling through.”Top of page
Seven: from the Torah, a “traditional” Jewish story
There is this man who loves to read the Sunday newspaper, cover-to-cover. There is just one problem. This man has a five-year-old daughter who for as much as her dad loves to read the paper, loves to interrupt him while he tries to do so. The man tries everything to keep her occupied, but to no avail.
Finally, one day, as he’s trying to read, he comes across the travel section, and has an idea. There, across the whole front page, there’s a map of the world. He rips the page off, and then tears it into little pieces. He calls his daughter over to him, and shows her all the little pieces. He says, honey, here’s a game for you. It’s a puzzle. Go grab some tape, and then see what you can do to put these pieces back together the way they are supposed to go. She cheerfully agreed, and ran off.
Five minutes later, however, his daughter came back, with the page all taped together. The man shook his head, amazed. Though he wondered if she had just put the pieces back haphazardly, a careful inspection revealed the map was perfectly reconstructed. He looked at his daughter in disbelief – she must surely be a genius. How did you figure it out so quickly?! She shrugged, and said, It was easy Daddy, on the other side of the paper, there was a picture of a person. I know what a person looks like. I just put the person together, and the whole world fell into place.Top of page
Eight: Need Not Think Alike to Love Alike
Throughout the history of Christianity there have been big fights over changes in religious belief and practice, with different people saying their version is the real version. But King John Sigismund, the one and only Unitarian king in history, had a different point of view. In 1561, John Sigismund was very interested in religion. Transylvania was a new country and his neighboring governments wanted to know by what religion Transylvania would be ruled. The Roman Catholics, Lutherans, Calvinists, and Unitarians all argued about whose views about God and Jesus and how church services should be conducted were right. They all argued about whose religion should be The Religion of their new country.
Finally, King John called the best speaker from each church to come to a place called Torda for a debate to decide who was right. The speaker from the Unitarian church was a man named Francis David. He argued that no one has the right to force people to believe anything about God, and that it’s OK if our understanding of religion changes. “We need not think alike to love alike,” David said.
After 10 days, King John ordered the debate to end. But he did not announce a winner; he did not say that any of the four churches was the best. Instead, King John agreed with Francis David, and he created what was called the Edict of Torda, which declared that every church and every person would be free to follow their own beliefs, even if those beliefs changed over time. There are still Unitarians in Transylvania today who share that commitment to freedom of belief.Top of page
Nine: The Winds of Hope – The Story of John Murray, adapted by the Rev. Barbara Palmer
A person never knows for sure about the wind: where it comes from, what it blows in, what it takes away, how, suddenly it changes directions, and how it can turn a life up-side-down. It happened that way to one special man – unpredictable winds kept buffeting and reshaping his life.
For John Murray, an ambitious, young Englishman, excellent fortune had blown his way. He had a fine education, a steady job, a loving wife, and a beautiful young son. Life was so sweet. Then, without warning, an ill-wind blew, and everything changed. John’s wife and son grew gravely ill. They soon died. John lost his job, his possessions, and, finally, he found himself in jail because he was unable to pay his bills. Until this tragic time, John had been a very religious man, a Universalist in fact, who had preached the good news of a loving God.
After losing everything that mattered to him, he fell into a deep depression, and he was no longer certain what he believed. He felt as if all meaning and purpose had gone out of his life. However, caring friends continue to love him and finally convinced him to leave England for a new home where he could begin his life over again.
And so, on July 21, 1770, John Murray set sail for America on a ship named the “Hand In Hand.” A wholesome wind blew the “Hand in Hand,” its passengers and crew toward its final destination – New York City. As the ship neared the coastline, and everything seemed to be going well, suddenly a heavy, dense fog rolled in and enveloped the “Hand in Hand.” With visibility at zero, the ship was forced to slow down, for everyone aboard feared a shipwreck. In the confusion, rather than landing in New York Harbor, the ship drifted southward and finally ran aground in New Jersey – at a place known as Good Luck Point, to be exact.
Trying to figure out what to do next, John and a few other passengers volunteered to disembark, in order to go ashore for directions and to gather supplies. As he made his way on land, John encountered a farmhouse with a small chapel adjacent to it. The farm belonged to a man named, Thomas Potter. Spotting John and his companions on his land, Thomas Potter ran out to greet them, offering food for everyone onboard ship, and, curiously, inviting John to return later and join him for dinner.
What John did not know at the time, was that this humble farmer had taken very seriously a vision he’d experienced several years earlier. The vision was that one-day, a minister would come to his chapel to preach the good news of an astounding kind of love – the kind of love that would nourish every person and triumph over every circumstance.
Thomas Potter had built the chapel, this small meeting-house next to his home, for that expected preacher. When Thomas saw the “Hand-in-Hand” run aground, he had the overwhelming conviction that his preacher was on that ship.
That evening, as John returned to Thomas’ home for dinner, Thomas greeted him with these words: “Come … my friend, I’m glad you have returned. I have longed to see you, and I have been expecting you for a long time.” (The Life of John Murray, p. 125)
Before dinner, Thomas showed John the chapel and explained his dream of how his chapel would be the place where a truthful, loving, inclusive religion would be preached – a religion without the popular themes of the day: judgment and damnation. John confessed that he had once held the same beliefs.
Thomas Potter told John that he had built the chapel and had been waiting for that particular minister to arrive. “You, John, are that minister.” John did not want to hear this. He wasn’t a preacher anymore and he’d promised himself never, ever to preach again. After all the pain he’d endured, and his deep suspicion of the divine, John wanted nothing more than to flee from all religion entirely. Yet, Thomas knew in his heart that John Murray was, indeed, the preacher he’d been waiting for, and he begged John to preach that coming Sunday.
“I can’t preach on Sunday, because as soon as the wind changes, my boat will sail, and I will be on it.”
“If the boat doesn’t set sail by Sunday, then will you preach?”
John relented, “If I am still here on Sunday, then I will preach.”
The wind did not blow. The “Hand In Hand” did not sail away.
Thomas, realizing his dream-nearly-come-true, quickly sent out word to his friends and neighbors that there would finally be a service in the meeting-house on Sunday morning, and that the man envisioned in his dream, so many years earlier, had finally arrived and would be preaching.
On Sunday, September 30, 1770, John Murray preached from that chapel the message of universal love, a love wholly and ultimately available to all people everywhere. The Universalist message of love was good news to all who heard it, and it was especially good news to John. His experience that Sunday morning, and the winds of change and hope that had brought him to this place, finally overpowered him. Rather than fleeing from religion and the pulpit, he realized he wanted to preach more than anything else in the world, and he did so, for many, many years. John Murray, today, is considered the founder of Universalism in America.
And so, today, we offer gratitude to the wind – the wind that blew the Hand in Hand onto Good Luck Point, and would not blow out John Murray before changing his life – and all of our lives with the power of hope, and the message of the transformative power of love.Top of page
Ten: A Lamp in Every Corner By Janeen K Grohsmeyer
Many years ago in the land of Transylvania, in a mountain valley watered by quick rushing streams and shadowed by great forests of beech trees, there was a village of small wooden houses with dark-shingled roofs. The people in the village were of the Unitarian religion, and they wanted a church of their own. A church set on the hillside, they decided, looking down upon the village as a mother looks down upon her sleeping child.
So all the people of the village labored long and hard to build themselves a church. The stonemasons hammered sharp chisels to cut great blocks of gray stone, then set the stones into stout and sturdy walls. The glaziers made tiny glass panes and fitted them neatly into the windows with leaded lines. The foresters sawed tall beech trees into enormous beams and laid the trusses for the ceiling, then covered the roof with close-fitting wooden shingles that wouldn’t leak a drop of rain. The carpenters carved wood for the pair of wide-¬opening doors, setting them on strong pegs so that the doors hung straight and square. A bell was brought from a faraway city, then hoisted by ropes with a heave and a ho to the top of the tower. The weavers wove fine cloths for the altar table, cloths embroidered with flowers and edged with lace. The smiths hammered black iron into tall lamp stands and hammered thin bronze into shining oil lamps.
Finally, when the building of the church was done, the painting of the church could begin. The painters mixed bright colors: royal red and shimmering gold and brilliant blue, and everyone in the village—old and young, women and men, boys and girls—came to decorate their church. They painted flowers. They painted trees. They painted designs around the windows and different designs around the doors.
And at the end of the day, when it was finished—when their church was finally done—all the people of the village stood back to admire it . . . and then to sing, a song of happiness and praise. Their village had a church now, a church set on the hillside, looking down upon the village as a mother looks down upon her sleeping child.
“We will eat now!” announced an elder of the village, because everyone was hungry after their long day’s work. “And later tonight, we will come back to pray.”
So the people of the village went down the hillside to their homes and their suppers, all except one little girl named Zora and her father, who stayed behind. They had brought their own bread and cheese. They ate their food slowly, sitting on the grass on the hillside and admiring their new church with its strong stone walls, its tall tower, and its magnificent bell.
After they had eaten, they went back inside, opening those carved wooden doors to go into the gloriously painted sanctuary inside. “Oh, look, Father!” Zora cried, running from picture to picture, with her footsteps echoing off the stone walls. “See how pretty the church is!” She stopped in the center of church and twirled slowly around. “See how grand!”
“Yes, it is,” said her father, looking around and nodding with pride. “Yes, it is.”
“But, Father,” she said suddenly, “we have not finished!”
“What do you mean?”
“There are tall iron lamp stands all along the walls, but there are no lamps! The church will be dark when the people come back.”
“Ah no, little one,” said her father. “The light of the church comes from its people. You shall see!” He rang the bell to call the people to worship, then took his daughter by the hand and led her back outside. They waited on the grassy hillside, next to their beautiful church of strong gray stone.
The sun had set behind the mountains, and night was coming soon. Yet in the growing darkness, tiny points of light came from many directions and moved steadily up the hill.
“Each family is entrusted with a lamp, little one,” her father explained.
“Each family lights its own way here.”
“Where is our family’s lamp?”
“Your mother is carrying it. She will be here soon.”
The many lights moved closer together, gathering into one moving stream, all headed the same way, growing larger and brighter all the time. Zora’s mother arrived, bearing a burning oil lamp in her hands. The father lifted Zora so she could set their family’s lamp high in its tall iron stand. All around the church, other families were doing the same. Soon the church was ablaze with light in every corner, for all the people of the village had gathered to pray and to sing.
All through the worship service, Zora watched the lights flicker and glow. She watched her family’s lamp most of all. When the service was over, her father lifted her high. She took the shining bronze lamp from the lamp stand. Its curved sides were warm and smooth in her hands. Her mother carried the lamp home, with the flame lighting the way.
The lamp flame lit their house when they returned home. Zora washed her face and got ready for bed by the light of that flame. “Mother,” Zora began, as she climbed into bed and lay down.
“Yes, little one?” her mother asked, tucking the red wool blanket around Zora’s shoulders.
“Father said the light of the church comes from its people.”
“But also, the people take their light from the church!” Over on the table by the fireplace, the shiny bronze lamp was still burning. “And we have that light every day.”
“Yes, indeed,” said her mother. “And even when we are not in church, even when the lamp is not lit, we carry the light of truth in our minds and the flame of love in our hearts to show us the right way to be. That light—the light from truth and love—will never go out.”
“Never?” asked Zora.
“Never,” said her mother. “And this bronze lamp will last for many, many years. When you are grown, we will give the bronze lamp to you, and when your children are grown, you will give the lamp to them, and all of you will carry it back and forth to church every time.”
“But there is only one lamp,” Zora said.
“So make another, and let the light grow. And someday, tell your children to make more lamps, too. And now goodnight,” her mother said and kissed Zora once on this cheek and once on that cheek and once on the forehead. Zora closed her eyes and drifted into dreams, while her mother looked down upon her sleeping child.
The years passed; Zora grew. The bronze lamp came into her care. She kept it polished and clean, and when the bell rang out across the valley to call the people to worship, she carried the lamp back and forth to the church on the hillside, the flame always lighting her way. When the time came, she made more lamps and gave them to her children, who made more lamps and gave them to their children, and so it went, on through the years, even until today.
And always, the light of truth and the flame of love from that Unitarian church on the hillside continued to grow and show them—and us—the way.Top of page