It is in the nature of Unitarian Universalism to draw on all religions, and on science and literature as well in the perennial human quest for truth and inspiration. This is not to deny or belittle our own tradition in Judaism and Christianity, but to affirm a broader loyalty to that which is expressed in universal terms.
In this particular UU congregation, that universal sympathy is announced and given dramatic expression by a representative array of signs and symbols adorning the walls of the sanctuary. It should be stressed that the array includes both signs, which serve primarily to identify a particular religion or human aspiration, and symbols, which, at a deeper level, serve to convey certain essential truths or meanings inherent in one religion or another. Credits for the design and production of these beautiful quilted wall hangings are given below.
On the North (front) wall of our Sanctuary
|Given special prominence, the FLAMING CHALICE has gained wide acceptance as an appropriate symbol for Unitarian Universalism. Though it has been variously interpreted, the symbol of the flame can be seen as having significance for all religious seekers. Its light assists us in the search for truth. Its warmth draws us together in community. And its lifelike vitality reminds us of the preciousness of the gift of life.The chalice is contained within two overlapping circles, representing the originally separate denominations of Unitarianism and Universalism, which merged in 1961.|
On the West (Left side) Wall
|Along the center section of the wall, from left to right, are signs and symbols for Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, the three major religions of the western world.Since Judaism does not have characteristic a symbol as such, it is represented by the familiar (six pointed) STAR of DAVID, and the latter (below) by the combination of CRESCENT and five pointed STAR.|
|The CROSS, in its varied forms, is widely recognized as the most important symbol of Christianity. It is taken both as a reminder of the suffering of Jesus on the cross, and of the Christian belief that he rose from the dead. The particular form shown here is known as the Celtic or Iona Cross, apparently originated by the Celtic speaking peoples of the British Isles.|
|Nearer the front is displayed the stylized female figure with upraised arms, one of several symbols for the goddess ASTARTE, among the earliest of all deities, widely worshiped in ancient Mediterranean colonies as Queen of Heaven.This symbol may also be seen to represent, in a more general way, the reassertion of the ancient spiritual force of WOMANSPIRIT, which in our day is exerting a profound influence for personal and social transformation.|
|The Crescent and Star of IslamSince Islam does not have characteristic symbols as such, it is represented by the combination of CRESCENT and five pointed STAR.|
Along the East (Right Side) Walls
Four of the five symbols displayed on these two sections of wall represent religions of the eastern world. Over the French door and windows, from right to left, are the YIN and YANG symbol of ancient Chinese religion, the WHEEL of Buddhism, and the TORII GATE of Japanese Shinto.
|The Yin/Yang concept, which predates both Confucianism and Taoism, reflects the view that all of reality is made up of opposites, i.e. hot/cold, light/dark, male/female, etc., which are also necessary to each other and complementary. Thus, they belong together in harmony.|
|The WHEEL has a variety of meanings, common to both Hinduism and, Buddhism, but its most familiar association, given the eight spokes, is with the Buddhist eightfold path. Variously rendered in translation, this is the step-by-step way that each Buddhist must follow in order to reach “Nirvana”, or “Enlightenment”.|
|The TORII GATE, more a sign than symbol, typically stands at the entrance to the area that contains a Shinto shrine. Varying from simple to ornate in style, the Torii Gate lends an air of sacredness to the space being entered.|
|Next, and set into the recessed section of wall, is the symbol for the HINDU concept of “BRAHMAN”, or that which is often intoned in chants as “OM”. Put another way, it is the Hindu symbol for ultimate reality.|
|Last on this side and nearest the front wall, is a representation of the THUNDERBIRD, which for the Navajo people, is a symbol for the precious resource of rain and for happiness. Here, the symbol may be taken as representative, in a more general way, of an inheritance deserving of wider appreciation, or Native American religion.|
Along the South (Rear) Wall
The symbols on this wall have a less distinct association with any particular religion, but have been included in the array because of their spiritual significance.
|At the right is the symbol of the DOVE, seen as BEARER of PEACE. It is a reflection of the universal and persistent longing for peace, both within the human heart and on the larger scene that encompasses the entire world.|
|On the left, and complementing the symbol of the Dove, is that of the UNITED NATIONS. It is there to remind us that, whatever the shortcomings of this multinational organization, the United Nations remains our best hope for establishing a stable and secure world, free of the threat and scourge of war.|
|At the center of the wall is the symbol of the TREE of LIFE. Having long standing significance in Judaic and Christian traditions, it is associated in SHAKER thought with the church, which, like the tree, is alive, ever-changing, ever-growing, and ever-adjusting to new life demands. The Tree of Life shown is a copy of one painted by Sister Hannah Cohoon, a resident of the Shaker “City of Peace” in Hancock, Mass., after she had received a vision of it in 1854.|
How this Project was Begun and Completed
In February 1985, and just as an extensive building renovation was about to begin, the minister, the Rev. Peter Weller, noted in a sermon that a number of UU churches had incorporated symbol displays into their sanctuaries, and asked if there was an interest in doing something similar here. Several persons responded, including member Fern Leslie. When she offered her help as a master quilter, the project and the direction it would take were established. She proceeded to design, piece and applique each quilt. Helped along by a number of quilting apprentices, recruited by the late Joyce Boschen, the Flaming Chalice quilt was completed and mounted by the fall of 1986. The remaining quilts were finished and mounted in September, 1989. If the symbols convey an important message, the completed project also stands as an enduring tribute to the expertise, the artistic sense and the persistence of Fern Leslie.
Those who helped, at various stages, with the quilting, were Robyn Bagley, Carolyn Banfield, Joyce Boschen, Kathy Comber, Helen Dellert, Jean Dillard, Judith Dillon, Wanda Liixi, Anna Pollock, Kathy Samuels, Bonnie Smith and Edith Svenson. Quilts were mounted by David Leslie, John Hewitt and Ron Prentice. Tom Linton drew illustrations for a descriptive brochure and Peter Weller prepared the text which is also seen here.