Adorning Your Living Spaces with Symbols of Your Faith Tradition

It’s been said that in order for a joke to be funny, it needs to have a grain of truth in it. And the grain of truth in many jokes about Unitarian Universalists is our tendency toward wordiness. Here’s a classic example:

A Unitarian Universalist dies, and on the way to the afterlife encounters a fork in the road with two options: “to heaven” and “to a discussion of heaven.” Without pausing, the UU heads right to the discussion of heaven.

Of course there are many reasons for this tendency. Perhaps the most obvious is that both the Unitarians and the Universalists grew out of the branch of Protestantism that favored the Word—from the Bible and from the pulpit—as the centerpiece of corporate worship. The result of this is a noticeable lack religious symbolism in our tradition. Yet symbols of faith are undoubtedly an important part of connecting religious families with their religious community. While Unitarian Universalist families will probably never adorn their living spaces with symbols of their faith tradition as completely as families from other more conservative religious traditions, congregations should encourage UU families to have some Unitarian Universalist symbols in their homes.

The Flaming Chalice

The adoption of the Flaming Chalice as the symbol of the Unitarian Universalist faith by most UU congregations has been a welcome correction to the lack of religious imagery in our tradition. And just as the presence of this shared symbol connects Unitarian Universalist congregations across the country and the world, so does its presence in UU households connects individual families with their community of faith. Congregations can help make this happen by offering a variety of ways for families to acquire a chalice. For example, chalices made by local artisans could be available for purchase at a congregation’s bookstall; small, relatively inexpensive chalices can be given to new members (and their families) as part of the ritual welcoming them into the congregation; and congregations can offer annual Make-Your-Own Chalice events for families and individuals. Some congregations even have an annual Chalice Blessing Ceremony; families are invited to bring their family chalices to be blessed as part of a worship service. Of course, in order for a symbol of faith to be truly meaningful, there needs to be plenty of opportunities for families to learn about its history.

Other Symbols

Most Unitarian Universalists probably gravitate to one or two of the Six Sources of Unitarian Universalism more than they are to the others, and each of the Six Sources can be represented in a variety of ways. Therefore, adorning a household with symbols of the Sources is another way a Unitarian Universalist family can strengthen its connection to their faith tradition. Works of art that capture “the sense of wonder we all share,” “the use of reason and the discoveries of science,” and “the harmony of nature and the sacred circle of life,” could all reflect a family’s Unitarian Universalist faith. Congregations can model this by making sure that any artwork, photos, or religious symbols on display in the congregation are clearly connected to one of the Six Sources. Photos of historic figures who inspire us might be labeled “We learn from people who are kind and fair.” Artwork that captures the beauty of nature might be labeled, “We celebrate the sense of wonder we all share.” And, of course, symbols from other traditions can be labeled, “We learn from wisdom of other religions,” or “We honor the Christian and Jewish teachings that ask us to love all others as we love ourselves.”

Resources for Symbols of Faith

Flaming Chalice

The most popular explanation of how the Flaming Chalice became the symbol of Unitarian Universalism can be found in pamphlet “The Flaming Chalice,” by Dan Hotchkiss.

One version of the same story for children is “The Healing Cup: The Story of the Flaming Chalice,” by Noreen Kimball. From the storybook UU & Me: Collected Stories, edited by Betsy Hill Williams.

Sunday and Every Day: My Little Book of Unitarian Universalism has another version for children.

Other Symbols

Sunday and Every Day also has a wonderful section on the Six Sources of Unitarian Universalism, as does Welcome: A Unitarian Universalist Primer, both by Patricia Frevert.