Broken, we carry each other home
Can be used as an ultra-long chalice lighting, or as a reading.
Each Sunday, we light a chalice.
We light a chalice to symbolize our faith and the light we aspire to bring to a hurting world
To bring comfort to those who are hurting
To bring understanding to those who are in darkness
To bring hope to…
Who are we kidding.
This chalice is not a beacon. We do not bring a torch of light to a hurting world. We are… not that special. We are, in my experience, about the same amount of good as the average flawed human being, and about 60% as much good as the average canine.
This is the fire we gather around to do our best.
Last week, I travelled to Boston. I stood on the banks of Walden pond, and I wandered the halls of Harvard where Emerson and Channing would have walked. I stood at the writing desk where Louisa May Alcott wrote Little Women.
Of all the famous Unitarians and Universalists, it’s Alcott that impresses me most. Louisa’s writings contain just as much wisdom as the other guys’ stuff, but she did it in plain language, telling stories from family life.
Oh--and, she did it while doing her own laundry.
I learned that Louisa’s father encouraged his four daughters in ways that were unheard of for women at the time. He also ran a station for the underground railroad, he taught a child of colour in his school... Amos Alcott, and his wife, and his daughters, were indisputably some of the best of the Good Guys.
I also learned that Louisa was very literally the dark sheep in the family during her childhood. Her father, despite being a strong abolitionist, had a conviction that light complexion was correlated with good moral character. Louisa was loud, boyish, and dark. She loved her dad, of course—you can see her deep regard for him in her writings. And he loved her deeply, too... caring for her and provided her with untold opportunities and respect.
I bet that made it even harder for her. Being not-quite-enough. All the time.
The tour guide tells me that all their relationship changed after Louisa went off to act as a nurse in the war. In Little Women, it’s the father who is fighting and gets sick, but in real life, it was Louisa. Her father was the one who went to get her and bring her home to heal. I imagine him guarding and protecting her, that long journey home. I imagine him coming face to face with that he might lose his daughter. His daughter who had left everything she loved to try to save the lives of others.
In the twilight that night, waiting for the train to take me back to Boston, I realized that they probably passed right through the very spot where I was standing. It was right here, on that platform, that Amos would have stood on the steps of the train.
His arms around his daughter’s thinning waist, shouldering her weight and guiding her carefully down to the platform. I can see her, in the twilight, leaning on his flawed and life saving strength, in all the complicatedness of love.
We do not light our chalice in the spirit of a beacon to save the world. We do not light it because we are special.
We light it in the spirit of the simple hearthfire that Amos carried his daughter home to. Complicated places we share, where we do our best.
We are not saved by heroes. We are saved by broken people.
Broken, we carry each other home.
Words written by Liz James. Feel free to use for all commercial and non-commercial purposes, although if you figure out a commercial use, I’d sure like to hear about it….
This is written to work as a chalice lighting, but it’s very long (so warn whoever is holding the candle not to light it and stand there while you’re talking, or they won’t have a hand by the time you’re done). It also works as a reading. If you need to modify it (eg change the lighting-the-chalice wording) to make it useful, please go ahead.