Is the Candle Still Burning?

Is the Candle Still Burning? July 20, 2016

Nostalgic Grace. photo by John Britt (cc) 2014.
Nostalgic Grace. photo by John Britt (cc) 2014.

Last time we met, I urged you to light a candle. I reminded you (and myself) that sometimes that’s the only thing we can do in the face of what the world is bringing forth. I wonder, is that candle still burning? In your heart? In your tears? In the streets of Baton Rouge, Minneapolis, and Dallas? Is it still bringing a soft and simple comfort from within and beyond? I am asking these things for myself as much as for the rest of you, dear readers. All I know is that flame of hope in my heart is a wisp of smoke – fading with a single ember holding on for dear life. How about you?

I do not quite know where we are supposed to find ourselves in the larger picture of this good earth with the weeks and months behind us and the days yet to come – perhaps it is in salvaging our hopes and gathering them up to remind us of human decency and goodness. But that would be far too easy. That is a stock response and it is one I’ve delivered from the pulpit more often than I care to admit. Don’t get me wrong, there is merit to such a broad spiritual task. However, the time for salvaging and the time for reminding have long past.

As someone serving as a Unitarian Universalist minister, but influenced by the broad spectrum of Paganism, I am hopeful that all the stories of gods and goddesses, all the rituals of illumination, all the circles and spells and sacrifices– all these things and more – can empower us to be allies, be siblings to the oppressed, and be committed to the long haul ahead. It would be foolish of us to think that our rituals, however elaborate or simple, are enough. Are the continued prayers of politicians and pundits enough? Most certainly not. However, let them open the way to concrete action and awareness. Do not let your own prayers (or rituals) be the end.

I’m reminded of one of the central symbols of Unitarian Universalism and many Pagan traditions: the circle. Our flaming chalice is often ensconced in circles, the youth practice “circle worship,” and when we draw from the wisdom of earth-centered traditions, we find ourselves entering deeper into this sacred symbol. You’ve no doubt chanted or heard:

We are a circle moving,
one with another, we are
moving together, we are one
I am spirit and I flow in you
You are spirit and you flow in me.

If ever there was a time when our world needed such words of interconnectedness and siblinghood that convey our working as one people, it is now.

We are a circle moving one with another…white and black Americans, gay and straight, Democrat and Republican, Pagan and Christian, entering in and joining hands. The path ahead is not an easy one but we need to take those first few steps, shuffles, and scoots – as painful as they may be.

We are moving together, we are one…because we know we cannot do this work alone. We know our siblings who are oppressed need allies, we know that we cannot be complacent, we know that we need to go forward and not just be idle in our hopes. My faith(s) teach me that you are my neighbor and I am yours. You are my kindred, Alton Sterling. You are my beloved, Philando Castile. We must keep moving.

I am spirit and I flow in you…accept me as imperfect as I am in this work. For I am not enlightened. I do not have my privilege fully worked out. I am no prophet or sage or seer. But I am here. I will do what it takes.

You are spirit and you flow in me…and I will accept you – neighbor, stranger, friend, beloved, outcast, oppressed, and dear sibling of this good earth.

Burning Embers. photo by William A. Clark (cc) 2006.
Burning Embers. photo by William A. Clark (cc) 2006.

The days ahead will not be kind or easy, but the work of justice never is. Keep lighting those candles if you can. Or perhaps just hold on to those fragile embers in your heart. Hold them and lean back, take a deep breath, and know that there are those who will join with you in the important work of saying, “Yes, all lives matter – which is why right now, Black Lives Matter.” And if that comes as a surprise, I ask you, I truly do – not in a patronizing way, I hope – but I invite you into this conversation: What is the role of Paganism in racial justice? Where can you do to keep the circle together and, more importantly, keep it moving? Pray on these questions with a good fire, even if it is just an ember. Together may our embers glow brightly, dear friends.

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