The mellow flicker in the graveyards is not spooky …

One celebrates their ancestors in Sweden on All Soul’s Day by putting votive candles on their graves. Halloween in Sweden is seen as a crass and commercial import from the states, but the ancient custom of honoring those you loved with light bonds with quiet power. The mellow flicker in the graveyards is not spooky. It connects one to the mystery of life cycles and the living memory of those who are dead, who continue to have a say in our lives.


In family therapy it’s helpful to trace dysfunction by looking at the family tree to locate the origin of a dysfunction. The focus of the search can shift by looking for positive traits that run through a family’s history. Studying my family tree helps to expand and focus my imagination. This summer in Sweden, I located a church gate Anders Esping, one of my forefathers, forged and shaped in the 1600’s. In the 1500’s, this branch of my family was summoned from Finland to Sweden by Gustav the First, Monarch of the House of Vasa, to help the king build better machines of war. They were master ironworkers. When you visit Lindsborg, you will find Malcolm Esping’s metal work gracing all parts of the town with fantastic arms to hang signs, magical finials, golden wedding crowns, and andirons in the Red Bar Studio. The need to shape rough ore into useful and beautiful objects has been in my family for at least 600 years.

Connecting to one’s heritage brings one into a more profound sense of who they are by telling them how they became who they are. We are here because of all those before us. This is true for anyone who participates in the life of Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Manhattan. Those who started the Fellowship in the 1950’s created a safe haven for people who question the status quo, and seek answers for life’s big questions that they have burnt through the fire of their own experience. A culture which promotes free inquiry while providing support for a wide spectrum of beliefs is rare in this country. We have much to be thankful for.

We often don’t pay attention to our roots because they are not visible, but if you love big oaks, you know that if their roots get damaged by earth moving equipment, or disturbed in any fundamental way, the tree suffers. Parts of the crown stop leafing out. The dead branches stick out reminding us of its suffering. As with trees, we should honor the roots of our progressive heritage so there can be healthy and vibrant growth. In the last decade, we have lost many of the Fellowship’s founding members. These people dedicated themselves to nurturing this liberal faith with ingenuity and passion. Their sustained efforts make it possible for us to gather today. They inspire us to keep our minds and hearts open to an evolving truth that encourages us to live an authentic life. As we inherit the living tradition of free thinkers who worked to make the world better for all, we are called to learn more about our roots and to nourish them with love.

Let us honor all those who have given of themselves to help the Fellowship develop healthy roots and the resources to thrive. Do this by being bold models of love and building bridges of trust across cultural barriers so that we may more fully appreciate this magnificent life we are given to live.



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