Toll for the Old Year, Ring in the New

When Is New Years?

Happy-New-Year-2018-Calendar-Image-10It is an accident of history that we mark the change of the year on January 1 instead of in the Fall as most earth-relating cultures do. I resonated deeply with the many observances that fall in the Halloween season, but it is nice to make something meaningful of the New Year observances going on all around us.

Bells?

For the New Years Eve service at the UU congregation in Amado AZ I was asked to create a bell ceremony. So off Dana Topping & I went, down the rabbit hole of bell meaning and lore. Bells are sounded to signal the beginning or end of class, an emergency, a wake-up call. In medieval days the town crier rang a bell for attention before reciting the news. Most congregations I visit use a bell to signal the beginning of the service and often a bell at the end of the service or after every period of silence. Some congregations use a Tibetan singing bowl. Some use a chime. Some a classic carillon-shaped bell.

bells-three About that classic bell shape: One writer suggests that in Christian tradition (or possibly pre-christian traditions) the empty dome of the bell represents the vault of heaven, its lip represents the horizon of the earth, and the clapper represents the power of word and voice while the emptiness within the dome represents all that is contained between the heaven and the earth. With this respect, the ringing of the bell represents a Divine message being created in the heaven and delivered to the earth in order to eliminate all evils.

Courtesy www.verdin.com
Courtesy www.verdin.com

If you’ve ever lived near a Catholic church you know that the bells are ringing all the time. Every bell has a purpose and meaning. Every bell is ringing out a message about church teachings. The incarnation is celebrated by the Angelus bell which is rung at 6 pm. The bell is rung in a specific pattern. Traditionally a Hail Mary is said with the ringing of the bell. The form of the Angelus prayer was standardized by the 17th century — the triple stroke repeated three times, with a pause between each set of three (a total of nine strokes), sometimes followed by a longer peal.

(I’ve included the script, below, for the “toll out the old, ring in the new” ritual used at the Amado congregation Dec. 31, 2018.)

The Incarnation

divine expressionThe incarnation. The incarnation is the way that the divine manifests on earth. In Catholic tradition the focus is on Jesus the Christ and how God came to earth, in the person of Jesus, through the gift of Mary. Christian doctrine is that the church itself is the body of Christ. If Christ is god on earth, and the church is made up of those who are part of the congregations, then the people are the body of Christ.

Not a big leap to the teaching of Unitarian Universalism – WE are the hands and feet of God. We are the heart and lungs, we are the eyeballs, throat, ears and even the Achilles’ tendon of god, all the parts, even the ones that are often overlooked, are parts of the divine body. The queer, disabled, rich, unhoused, immigrant, elder, type A, messy, imperfect folks are part of this body. We are how God acts on earth. Unitarian Universalism looks for the ways that we are manifesting divine love in our own living.

We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the bells tolling for the past and ringing in the future. We are the result of all that has gone before. Others have been building the body of divine love on earth. Others have been doing the work of justice. Others have been creating beauty and joy. Others have cared for the children cooked the meals and held back the forces of despair and destruction. As they pass out of this life, they pass on a legacy. Sacred compost. The cycle of life that gives nourishment.

Honoring the Ancestors

Miguel and his great grandmother in the Pixar movie “Coco”
Miguel and his great grandmother in the Pixar movie “Coco”

I invite you to meditate on honoring the gifts of your ancestors. I invite you to identify an ancestor of blood, an ancestor of spirit from history, or an ancestor from fiction who you want to claim inspiration from. I struggled with one of my ancestors… Grandmother Warren – hard to love but gave determination.

I have created an ancestor altar at my home on the hearth. It has photos of my mom and grandparents, it has a hawk feather from the location where my ministers chapter usually meets, to remind me of past colleagues. It has a monk/spirit person candle holder to remind me of the Earth-relating, justice-seeking, spiritual torchbearers of the past. It has a small fuzzy cheetah figure in remembrance of my best friend.

What might you do to help you remember the gifts that have been passed down to you. The legacy that you carry on? Some people write a note and keep it in their wallet or hang some photos on their wall, some people play certain pieces of music or enjoy certain foods, some take up a craft, like knitting. What will you do?

Honoring the Future

WE are the hands and feet of God. We are how God acts on earth. Look now for the ways that we are manifesting divine love in our own living.

the-best-thing-to-give-to-our-future-generation-1702228We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the bells tolling for the past and ringing in the future. How have we been building the body of divine love on earth? How do we do the work of justice? How shall we create beauty and joy? How have we cared for the children cooked the meals and held back the forces of despair and destruction? What is your legacy already? Sacred compost.

This is your invitation to imagine what one action you will take – to honor and give gifts to your descendants. How will we use the gifts we have been given? What do you want this year’s enlivening compost to be? What will we offer in thanksgiving, that does honor to our ancestors and commitment to descendants. What action will you take. What is the thing that only you can do to make a difference, no matter how small? Pick one. You need to be able to come back to this one small thing tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow for all of 2018.

Ritual: Tolling out 2017

Women praying in front of the sacred bell. Botatoung Paya. Yangon. Myanmar Contributor: Pep Roig / Alamy Stock Photo
Women praying in front of the sacred bell.
Botatoung Paya. Yangon. Myanmar
Contributor: Pep Roig / Alamy Stock Photo

On this last day of the year 2017 we wish to commemorate those who have passed away, to remember how their lives have touched ours, to feel compassion for how deep, yet how fragile our human bonds. Our ritual this morning will be to name those for remembrance followed by the tolling of a bell to carry our thoughts out to wherever souls congregate.

(1) The first remembrance is for prominent people. There are so many gone this year – I have chosen a few.

(names)

BLESSED BE THESE WE HOLD IN OUR HEART MEMORY. 3 BELLS

(2) Our second remembrance is for those in our congregation who have passed away this year:

(Names)

BLESSED BE THESE WE HOLD IN OUR HEART MEMORY. 3 BELLS

(3) Our third remembrance is for your friends and family and people important to you. Please call out these names that we all might hear and know them.

BLESSED BE THESE WE HOLD IN OUR HEART MEMORY. 3 BELLS

(4) Our fourth remembrance is for the multitude of people unknown by us, but known in their human circumstance of dying in natural disasters, political upheavals, wars, individual acts of violence, and self harm.

BLESSED BE THESE WE HOLD IN OUR HEART MEMORY. SUSTAINED BELL.

Prayer

ereshkigelPlease join me in the spirit of prayer, of heartfelt connection, and reflection. As the ancient sumerian myth goes, the goddess Erishkagel, queen of the underworld cried out in pain because she received all those who passed into the underworld. Oh my insides, she cried, Oh my outsides. Even Goddesses need empathy. Even the queen of the dead needs to know that we care. Our empathy can save the world. The losses are huge, the people and the planet cry out in pain. We can cry with them and our tears help to heal. Showing up to mourn, to remember, is still showing up. Let us show up for our beloved community.

Oh beloved of the world, who comes to us as compassion,
Community,
Hope
We honor you, we honor you, we honor you
We call on your name.
Amen

Blessed be

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