Wednesday, November 25, 2015         


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Isle Unitarians celebrate the light

A winter Solstice Service helps mark a turning point in nature and spirituality

By Pat Gee


Long before Dec. 25 became the date for the celebration of Christmas, the darkest days of winter frightened ancient people into performing rituals that evolved into religious celebrations of light.

"Pagans used to light fires and bang drums to chase away the darkness because they were afraid the light wouldn't come back," said Joan Schumacher, a lay minister at The First Unitarian Church of Honolulu. "They needed it for crops. Otherwise they were going to starve."

A Solstice Service to celebrate the return of light and spiritual renewal will be held at 7 p.m. tomorrow at the church, featuring the Celtic group Dharma. The winter solstice this year falls on Dec. 21 in the Northern Hemisphere. It's the longest night of the year, and the turning point at which days become longer.


First Unitarian Church will present a holiday pageant, "Spirit of the Christmas Tree," at 6 p.m. on Christmas Eve.

The church will also hold a Boxing Day Service on Dec. 26 at 10:15 a.m. to collect cash, food, and gently used toys, clothes and other items. Proceeds will go to the Fisher House, which provides a place for military families to stay while a relative is receiving medical treatment.

Call 595-4047 for information. The church is at 2500 Pali Highway.

Unitarian beliefs are drawn from all different paths of faith, including an "earth-based spirituality," said Schumacher, one of the service's organizers. Recognizing the winter solstice pays respect to the "cycles of the earth and the universe. ... It brings our lives into harmony with the earth," she said.

"Personally and psychologically, we (may be) in darkness, in deep winter. It challenges us, and confronts us with what you have to change in your life," Schumacher said. "It's a holy and precious season. ... It illuminates the potential for your life. Yes, tragedy is with us, but out of it comes wonderful things. Take life's ills and make something good."

Lay minister Mickey Selwyn said, "Every civilization had some kind of ritual because they knew they couldn't survive without sunlight."

Some of the ancient rituals were incorporated into Christianity to make it more appealing to the masses, and evolved into current Christmas traditions, Selwyn said.

Schumacher said that in Germanic countries, people burned logs to symbolize the return of light, and decorated evergreens with red or golden balls to represent the sun, the basis of modern customs of yule logs and Christmas trees.

The Rev. Leland Bond-Upson of First Unitarian Church said biblical scholars can't say with any certainty why "Christian churches appropriated the winter solstice, the return of light, as a convenient time" for Jesus' birth, or why they settled on Dec. 25.

"I think it's more important that he was born than when he was born," he said, adding that the church is celebrating Christmas, too.

Fewer and fewer people are satisfied with mainline religions or dogmatic interpretations of God, and have increasingly turned to earth-based spiritual practices in recent years, he said.

"What you would call paganism is just an appreciation of nature. It's concrete, not abstract. ... It's (nature) what sustains us," Bond-Upson said. "We're looking for religious truth wherever we can find it and we're increasingly drawing on other wisdom.

"Unitarianism is a form of liberal religion -- deism," he said. "Our church has never been one to tell people what to believe. We believe in helping people find their own spiritual path."

Some of the congregation have strong Jewish, Christian and Buddhist roots and retain their core beliefs, "but they're seekers, free thinkers," Bond-Upson said.

"Most people want an answer -- certainty. Our religion is difficult because we're open to new information and we have to reconcile it with what we thought we believed. We've never said we have the absolute truth about anything. This is the best we have at the moment," Bond-Upson said.

As First Unitarian is a member of the Unitarian-Universalist Association of Congregations, "Unitarians believe God is One, not divided into a trinity (Father, Son and Holy Ghost). This universe is all united; all is one thing because God was one, rather than three. ... We Unitarians embrace it all, unless it is hateful, exclusive or contrary to reason."

He added: "In the end, nobody goes to hell. God is too good. God is not a sadist. We focus on the unity and goodness of God."

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