In small groups of 10-12 people, including two trained facilitators, Chalice Circles offer a safe setting in which to speak from our lives and experiences with the expectation that our words will be heard and respected.
Through the spiritual practices of deep listening, authentic sharing and respectful silence, Chalice Circles affirm and promote our third UU principle – acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth.
The purpose of the Chalice Circles is to strengthen and expand the life of the congregation. In Unitarian Universalism we recognize that each person has learned some share of truth and each has gained some hard-won wisdom. These small groups provide an opportunity for individuals to make deep and meaningful connections by sharing their own stories and deeply listening to the stories of others.
A Chalice Circle is:
- A way to deepen our spirituality through shared practice.
- A way to share our thoughts on life’s big questions.
- A way to connect across age, gender, ethnic, economic and other differences.
- A way to bring together the newer and the long time members in our community.
- A way to deepen our practice of shared UU principles.
- A way to practice fellowship as each circle performs a service project for the congregation or larger community.
What happens at a Chalice Circle?
Group meetings are guided by session plans developed within our congregation in collaboration with Rev. Nica, Each group reflects upon the same monthly topic and covenants how participants will relate to each other. The session plans are simple:
Opening words/Chalice lighting
Reflection and Sharing
The Chalice Circles are open to any member or friend of the Fellowship, age 18 or older. The Chalice Circles meet at the Fellowship and form anew each church year to help develop wider connections over time.
Carol Flanagan, member of the Conejo Valley Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, is the current Chalice Circle Coordinator. Contact Carol at ChaliceCircles@cvuuf.org.
…The road to having a grateful heart has to travel a more difficult terrain. As Elie Wiesel, a survivor of the Holocaust, eloquently expressed it: “gratitude emerges from the kingdom of night.” Gratitude is not, in this model, the result of good fortune, happiness or great success. Instead gratitude is a response to life itself. It emerges precisely at the moment when we settle at the farthest limits of the sea—in places and circumstances where we believe that we are unreachable, unsaveable and irredeemable.
…Gratitude is not about the things you do or do not receive. It is about a relationship. We are here on earth, at least partially, to practice empathy, to honor honest work and to ceaselessly embody that central Universalist principle, the dignity and worth of all human beings. This practice of radical equality is measured by the respect with which you treat others, and by the kindness in your heart. And then comes the leap. When you become the giver of kindness you are more likely to become aware of the kindness flowing towards you. You learn gratitude not only for the kindness of those around you, but also for the source of kindness described by the psalmist. Some of us call this source of all life and goodness and love by the name of God. Some of us call the sense of the whole of life a mysterious reality that cannot be named. But there ought not to be disagreement about the response to our current imperfect circumstances.
In the words of lyricist Oscar Hammerstein:
“I don’t believe any of us can enjoy living in this world unless we can accept its imperfection. We must know and admit that we are imperfect, that all other mortals are imperfect, and go on in our own imperfect way, making mistakes and riding out the rough and bewildering, exciting and beautiful storm of life until the day we die.”
In the midst of imperfection we can pray to be given a grateful heart. Grateful for the gift of life. Grateful for the opportunities of this day to come closer to what is real and sustaining.
Reflect upon how you are sharing and experiencing gratitude and kindness in your life.
An excerpt from “The Faith of a Trapeze Artist” by Rev. Neal Jones in Quest: A Monthly for Religious Liberals, June 2014
The word “faith” doesn’t occupy the same place of prominence in Unitarian Universalism that it does in some religious traditions. For many of us, faith has become synonymous with blind acceptance of particular religious beliefs, as in: Jesus died for my sins; God created the world in six days; Noah survived a flood in an ark; a talking snake hoodwinked Adam and Eve.
For most Unitarian Universalists, indeed for most people who live in the modern world and think with modern understandings, such beliefs are neither intellectually tenable nor morally acceptable. Faith defined as religious belief is what Mark Twain was getting at when he said, “Faith is believing what you know ain’t so.”
We UUs feel more comfortable talking about reason and experience than faith, but I want to point out that faith doesn’t have to be contrary to reason and experience. It can be an extension of what we know is so. I think of reason and experience as shining a light on our path. We walk as far as our logic, common sense and past lessons take us, and then we take a step of faith into the darkness.
I am suggesting that faith involves our will and imagination more than our minds. It’s imagining a future that’s different from the past and then living as if that future is possible. By living in the possibilities, faith enables that future to come true. Faith is not believing the unbelievable; it’s trying the untried. I think this understanding of faith accords with the Biblical definition of faith as “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
…Life is continually challenging us to let go—let go of childhood naiveté, let go of your parents’ way of thinking or your own way of thinking, let go of single life or married life, let go of a job or a vocation, of outdated dreams or outgrown frustrations, of special possessions or special people, and, eventually, to let go of life itself. Sometimes we freely and deliberately let go; sometimes life forces us against our will to let go. But let go we must in order to grab hold of greater life.
The scary part, of course, is when you let go of the old and are in the process of grabbing the new—that in-between state of suspension, that “up-in-the-air” feeling of not having anything secure to hold onto. This is the test of faith—not believing something you know ain’t so, but being willing to live with uncertainty and insecurity until you get to where you’re going…
There are ways to make those times in the air feel less treacherous, but no way to avoid the swing. Security and risk—the firm grip on the trapeze and the terror and exhilaration of letting go—are formed by memory telling us that life will hold us, mingled with imagination assuring us that something new is possible. It is faith that allows us to enjoy the ride.
Reflect upon a choice you made or are considering that involved or will involve having faith in the possibilities while experiencing uncertainty about the outcome.
I believe that Kierkegaard’s observation that “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards” is a gift. It frees us to live, to determine our own paths, to take risks and to trust the future…Only I can know which is my way forward. Only you can know which is your way forward. But we can support one another in our choices. We can tell the stories and speculate about the meanings. And we can offer thanks that in the mystery of life’s never-ending unfolding, possibility abounds for redemption, for surprise, for joy, for love’s irresistible embrace. – Rev. Lisa Doege
Reading for Reflection
An excerpt from her column “From Your Minister” by Rev. Meg Riley, in Quest: A Monthly for Religious Liberals, July/August 2013
In the dream, I am alone in a round stone tower. I do not want to be there, but I am trapped in its dark, damp, cold, airless space. And then, almost in a whisper, comes a soft voice, “Keep looking…there is a door….” And suddenly the door is there. I can see light, I can walk out. I am not trapped anymore.
Vision is what gets me out of the trap. The one with the voice knows that in what looks like a solid stone wall, there is actually a doorway. This is a dream fragment, but I have experienced the relief of finding my way out of many airless, closed rooms in waking life as well, because someone else could see a door I could not.
These are the people with vision: the ones who see doors where others see only walls. The people with the boldest vision are the ones who actually walk through those doors that they see, beckoning to the rest of us who are back in the tower to see that we, too, could choose to walk out into the day.
I remember the first time I experienced this kind of leadership. I was in a justice-centered group which was sadly off-track, mired deeply into a fight—a fight complete with sides and self- protective armor rapped around most folks to protect them from judgments as sharp as swords. And then, as we suffered in that cramped airless tower, one bold woman threw open a door that none of us had known was there. The key for opening it was to clearly state her grief at what was going on, and to state how sincerely she wished it were different. Where we saw sides, she saw a roomful of people she loved, all of whom were suffering.
Was it her sheer bold loving, or our respect for her as an elder in the organization, or were we all just weary of fighting and looking for a door? I’ve revisited that moment many times and I still don’t know why her words changed everything. I only know that suddenly the solid stone wall had a door in it, and the whole lot of us tumbled through it—everyone’ s anger turning to tears, longing, remorse. Once that door was open it was clear to us all that the anger was longing in disguise, a longing for connection and acceptance and to be respected. A longing shared by all, because suddenly we saw ourselves as she saw us—a roomful of beloved people, suffering…
What does it take to be similarly bold, to trust and name what we see, whether others see it or not?
“There are those who look at things the way they are and ask why…. I dream of things that never were, and ask, why not?” This quote from Robert Kennedy, Jr. was on my bulletin board when I was in Junior High, and to some extent it still exemplifies my greatest hope for my own life. What about you? What do you see that others don’t? What do you dream of? What is your vision? What door do you see that others have missed, and how will you help them to walk through?”
Let us go forth into the world through a door of hope for the future, remembering these words by Martin Luther: “Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.” So may it be with us. – Marjorie Newlin Leaming
An excerpt from Theology Ablaze by Tom Owen-Towle:
“Our Unitarian Universalist version of religion is ultimately not about beliefs but about behaviors, not about creeds but about vows – in short, keeping life’s central vow: loving and being loved. What might this mean?
First, love is primarily a verb rather than a noun. Our purpose is not to define love, once and for all. It can’t be done, plus the exercise doesn’t prove all that useful. Our mission on earth is to love – to share, create, give love, to bear love – to be lovers of nature, ideas, humans, projects, animals, plants and the deities…
It’s relatively easy to love when we’re feeling grand or to disappear when the going gets rough or stifling. What’s strenuous is “holding to the difficult” (Rilke), acknowledging one’s thorny past or dreary present. “Holding to the difficult” mandates facing another human being rather than fighting or fleeing. It entails staying awake while staying put. It requires diving into the depths, when we’d prefer to wade in shallow waters…
Just when we think our task is done, love insists on yet one more appropriate demand. Just when we’d rather stay on the periphery of our congregation’s life, love calls us to renew our membership vows, to mount the stage of responsible action. Just when we’re lured to coast in a friendship, love reminds us that truthful, trusting communication is required…
Which will it be for you, right now in your theological evolution: fear or love? If you choose love, then you’ll have no choice but to sit down and ponder: what and whom have I been put on this region of earth to love? As love cracks open our shell, it’ll tell us exactly what this beautiful and broken world requests from us right now.”
Within the circles of our lives
we dance the circles of the years,
the circles of the seasons
within the circles of the years,
the cycles of the moon
within the circles of the seasons,
the circles of our reasons
within the cycles of the moon.
Again, again we come and go,
changed, changing. Hands
join, unjoin in love and fear,
grief and joy. The circles turn,
each giving into each, into all.
Only music keeps us here,
each by all the others held.
In the hold of hands and eyes
we turn in pairs, that joining
joining each to all again.
And then we turn aside, alone,
out of the sunlight gone
into the darker circles of return.
– Wendell Berry
When the light around you lessens
And your thoughts darken until
Your body feels fear turn
Cold as a stone inside
When you find yourself bereft
Of any belief in yourself
And all you unknowingly
Leaned on has fallen
When one voice commands
Your whole heart,
And it is raven dark,
Steady yourself and see
That it is your own thinking
That darkens your world
Search and you will find
A diamond-thought of light,
Know that you are not alone
And that this darkness has purpose
Gradually it will school your eyes
To find the one gift your life requires
Hidden within this night-corner.
Invoke the learning
Of every suffering
You have suffered.
Close your eyes
Gather all the kindling
About your heart
To create one spark.
That is all you need
To nourish the flame
That will cleanse the dark
Of its weight of festered fear.
A new confidence will come alive
To urge you towards higher ground
Where your imagination
Will learn to engage difficulty
As its most rewarding threshold!
John O’ Donohue
Reading for Reflection
An excerpt from “Prophetic Congregations in the Twenty-First Century” by Meg Riley, in A People So Bold: Theology and Ministry for Unitarian Universalists, edited by John Gibb Millspaugh
“Our congregations must be places where hope is understood as an existential choice, cultivated as a spiritual discipline, and offered through concrete forms of action. Prophetic congregations put forward multiple opportunities for existential hope to emerge from joint action—people bearing together what we cannot bear alone. Often, this begins with simply witnessing what seems awful—witnessing it with others instead of alone at the computer. It begins with watching what gives life and what drains life, and naming it in community. Then, as the Hebrew scripture tell us in Deuteronomy 30: 19, it requires choosing: “I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life.” The third element of prophetic church is choosing to act, in service of a better future.
Prophetic UU congregations are grounded in centuries-old theologies, which teach that we have the power and responsibility to cocreate what is holy. They are communities where we and others are deeply valued and mutually known. Prophetic congregations refuse to accept brokenness as a final answer, but work from realistic hope, choosing life, choosing to be a blessing.
The work that is necessary to create a prophetic congregation is never easy. We continually fall short, failing our purpose and one another multiple times. Yet unless we try to live up to our ideals, complete failure is guaranteed. At the end of my life, I want to look back and know that I gave all that I had, that my actions—my only true possessions—have been gladly given and gladly received. I want to be part of a faith that dares to dream big and to put those dreams, however incompletely realized, into action. So in case you haven’t noticed, I’m holding a sign: “The beginning is near!” As much as it ever has been or ever will be for any person of any epoch, now is the time for us to build the prophetic church.”
What is beginning for you in this new year? What support do you need to help nurture this beginning into action?
Cherish your doubts, for doubt is the servant of truth.
Question your convictions, for beliefs too tightly held strangle the mind and its natural wisdom.
Suspect all certitudes, for the world whirls on—nothing abides.
Yet in our inner rooms full of doubt, inquiry and suspicion, let a corner be reserved for trust.
For without trust there is no space for communities to gather or for friendships to be forged.
Indeed, this is the small corner where we connect—and reconnect—with each other.
Rev. Michael A. Schuler