Friday, August 3, 2018

Tree of Life Windows Resurrected

The Tree of Life Windows arranged as a banner for the Congregation web page and e-mail newsletter.

Back in 2006 the Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Woodstock, Illinois commissioned its co-Religious Education Director Pam Lopatin to create nine stained glass windows to celebrate the centennial of the church building.  The square windows were installed in high windows making an arc around the social room which was open to the sanctuary with its Art Nouveau style traditional Christian windows.  The lovely old window represented the congregation’s past as a Congregationalist Church.  The Lopatin windows reflected its current Unitarian Universalist identity and the rich variety of traditions which inspired us.

From the beginning the breathtaking windows inspired our congregation and also drew wide-spread admiration from Unitarian Universalists across the country.  We expected that we would occupy the church and enjoy the windows there for decades to come.

But then came the unexpected gift of a new church home in McHenry that could better serve the needs of a modern congregation.  We took the Lopatin windows with us when we moved in 2012, but there was no place they could be displayed without major alterations to the new sanctuary.  The windows were put in storage but not forgotten as the congregation sought ways to display them.

When we adopted the new name Tree of Life Unitarian Universalist Congregation the symbolism of the widows became even more profound. 

It wasn’t until this year that Patrick Kerin designed a gazebo in the social room windows displayed on nine facets around the top.  Generous donors stepped up to fund the project and Kerin ably supervised construction and installation.  Window gazebo is now up in the church building and is being admired by members and visitors.  One last step remains to completion of the project, the installation of new lighting to better illuminate the windows from within.

All of that will be complete on Sunday September 16 when the Congregation celebrates with a gala rededication service.  Designer Pam Lopatin will be on hand, traveling from her current home in Ohio as will Minister Emeritus Dan Larson who presided at the original dedication.  Representatives of all of the traditions depicted in the windows will also be invited.  The choir is planning a special musical program.  And the whole ceremony will be followed by a grand lunch pot-luck under tents erected on the church grounds.  It is going to be a big deal.

I was asked to create some information to be included in invitations being sent to those asked to participate, one for each tradition and windows.  Unfortunately it took me too long and the invitations went out without them, although I believe they will be sent as a follow-up and used in other ways.

I am sharing those today.  And more information on our great event will be forthcoming later.

Tree of Life Christian Window

Our congregation was founded in 1866 as the First Congregational Church of Woodstock.  After becoming dually affiliated with the Universalists in the 1930’s and becoming Unitarian Universalist after the 1960 merger of the two denominations, we retained affiliation with the United Church of Christ.  By 2000, however, the overwhelming majority of our membership identified as UU and voted to amicably end affiliation with the UCC.  But we continue to honor and respect our Christian heritage and the UUA proclaims our Jewish and Christian heritage to be among the sources of our spiritual identity and understanding.

Needless to say, the Christian Window was especially important to us.  Designer Pam Lopatin incorporated the Art Nouveau decorative vines and fleur de lis motifs that decorated the original Christian windows in the old sanctuary—windows that have been restored and preserved by the Blue Lotus Temple.  The distinctive cross with the heavy cross beam reproduced a piece hand made by a member that hung behind the pulpit for decades.

The window was donated by the Penny Mather Memorial Fund.  Generations of the Mather family were steadfast supporters.

Tree of Life Jewish Window

Not only does the Unitarian Universalist Association cite Judaism as one of the essential sources from which we draw wisdom and inspiration, but our congregation has had an intimate relationship with the McHenry County Jewish community going back decades and continuing through various name changes and two church buildings.

Our old home in Woodstock provided a nurturing home the McHenry County Jewish Congregation when it was in its infancy and years later hosted Congregation Tikkun Olam, the Reform Congregation.  With both congregations we shared worship, social, and educational opportunities.  Rabbis have preached and continue to teach from our pulpit and we have often shared communal Seders.  In addition many of our members have Jewish backgrounds and more than a few were members of both religious communities.

Window designer Pam Lopatin created a window Dominated by the Star of David—the Magen David, recognized as the symbol of Judaism and Jewish identity since the Middle Ages. The number seven is significant in Judaism, and the seven parts of the star (six points and a center) represent, among other things, the creation story. In 1948, the newly established modern State of Israel chose the Star of David on a blue and white field as its flag. Accordingly, blue and white glass is used in the window. A mosaic circle represents the mortar and rock of the Second Temple. The bold primary colors and vivid blues were favorites of the artist Marc Chagall.

The window was originally donated by Congregation Tikkun Olam.

Tree of Life Islam Window

Not only does the Unitarian Universalist Association cite Islam as one of the essential sources from which we draw wisdom and inspiration, but our congregation has a long tradition of respect, admiration, and support for the Muslim community, especially when it has come in for unfair and discriminatory attack.  Islamic leaders have been invited to preach from our pulpit and to teach our children in Religious Education classes.  Our students have visited Mosques and community centers.  Through the old Woodstock Diversity Day Festival of which we were primary sponsors, we supported the Islamic community when it was under attack in the Post 9/11 hysteria and through the so-called War on Terror.  Lately we have marched against the Trump Muslim ban, defended refugees, and supported efforts of local Muslims to worship peacefully.

Window designer Pam Lopatin incorporated the crescent moon surrounding the magnificent architecture of Islamic devotion, the mosques and minarets of its cities and towns. While symbols are disallowed in this religion, the crescent moon is the image most clearly identified with Islam. The crescent with a star was adopted by the Ottoman Empire after the conquest of Constantinople and is now incorporated in many national flags, as is the color green.

The window was originally donated by Fusan Atay Borelli, Kerry Julian, and Turkish friends of our congregation.  

Tree of Life Buddhist Window

The Unitarian Universalist Association cites the “wisdom of the world’s great religions which inspires us in our ethical and spiritual life” as part of the sources of our Living Tradition.  This is particularly true of Buddhism which has greatly influenced the development of contemporary Unitarian Universalism through the teachings of such figures as the Dalai Lama, Thich Nhat Hanh, and American teachers including the Rev. James Ford, both a UU minister and Zen teacher.

But our congregation’s relationship has been much more intimate.  We welcomed Bhante Sujatha when he first came to Woodstock in 2003 and he was encouraged to begin teaching meditation at the church which eventually blossomed into the Blue Lotus Temple.  Similarly, we hosted the group that became Ten Direction Zen Center.  Several members of our congregation have sat and meditated with both groups for years.  Bhante Sujatha has often been welcomed to our pulpit.  When our congregation moved to our new building in McHenry we were pleased that Blue Lotus bought our treasured old home.  We are especially grateful that the Temple undertook the enormous expense of restoring and preserving the historic Christian windows in the building.

A depiction of the Buddha, most commonly seated cross-legged in contemplation, is the most recognized symbol of Buddhism, but designer Pam Lopatin was concerned that no other personal images of sages, founders, avatars, or deities were used in any of the other windows.  Instead she chose to feature the lotus in the center circle rising from its roots in the mud, supported by a stem growing up through the water, partially opened, symbolizing the progress of the soul from the primeval mud of materialism through the waters of experience into the bright sunshine of enlightenment.  At the base of the flower, a pearl stands for wisdom. 

The window was donated by the Blue Lotus Temple and the Ten Directions Zen community.

Tree of Life Hindu Window

The Unitarian Universalist Association cites the “wisdom of the world’s great religions which inspires us in our ethical and spiritual life” as part of the sources of our Living Tradition.  Hinduism was the first of the great Eastern religions to make an impact on our tradition.  Ralph Waldo Emerson first introduced Americans to the ideas in the Bhagavad Gita and they infused Transcendentalism which was a major current in Unitarianism through the mid-19th Century.  In the 1890’s the Universalists were prime movers in the Parliament of World Religions which brought the first great Hindu teacher, Swami Vivekananda, to the States and in the 1920’s helped introduce Paramahansa Yogananda to a wide audience and establish yoga meditation here.  Many of our members practice some form of yoga.

Designer Pam Lopatin selected the Omkar symbol (the ‘Om’ calligraph) as the central image. It is not only a written symbol but is the eternal syllable, the primordial sound by which the world was created.  “Om” is said or sung before and after all prayers.  The ‘Om’ calligraph consists of four parts which represent the four states of human awareness: the ordinary (or waking) state, the state of deep sleep, the dream state and absolute consciousness (the awakened state).  The circles of the window represent sound waves emanating from the eternal syllable, and as they move further away from the Omkar, they open up into light.

Window was originally donated by Rob and Sherri Balboa and Diane Martzel.

Tree of Life Pagan Window

Paganism, or Earth Centered Spirituality, has become an enormous influence in modern Unitarian Universalism.  The term Paganism literally means the folk religions of the common people.  It is generally applied to those of Mediterranean or European origins including but not limited to Paleolithic worship, the Egyptians, pre-monotheist Semites, Greeks, Romans, Germanic and Norse, and the Celts who left traces from ancient Turkey to Spain to Western Europe and the British Isles.  It is also closely associated with a contemporary religion, Wicca, and other neo-pagan groups who adopt or interpret ancient traditions.  Although there are wide differences in mythology many of these “old religions” hold special reverence for the Earth and identification with a Mother Goddess.  Stripped of simple idolatry modern Paganism finds the Holy manifest in all nature and the rhythms of the season.  It is particularly friendly to Feminism.  Unitarian Universalist Women, many of them pagan or neo-pagan were the force behind the UUA’s Seventh Principle—“Respect for the Interdependent Web of Existence of which we are all a part.” The Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans (CUUPs) is an important voice in our religious movement.  Our congregation has observed traditional holidays including Yule, Midsummer, Beltane, and Samhain.

Window designer Pam Lopatin chose a depiction of the Mother Goddess as her central image representing fertility and creation standing in front of the Earth which floats in a star studded black universe.  She holds a globe of unakite, a stone of friendship which carries Goddess energy, balancing the physical and emotional bodies above her head. Over her reproductive parts is a spiral, said to be the most ancient of all religious symbols representing the womb, fertility, and the Goddess nature.

The window was originally donated by Tom and Joan Skiba.

Tree of Life Native American Spirituality Window

Like European Paganism, the varied religious traditions of Native Americans and their Paleolithic ancestors tended to embrace a reverence for the earth, nature, the rhythms of the seasons, and awesome objects in the sky.  It is embraced by Unitarian Universalism’s 7th Principle “Respect for the Interdependent Web of Existence of which we are all a part.”  We recognize that these traditions represent a wide variety of mythologies, practices, beliefs, and cultural nuances.  We resist the temptations of certain pop New Age practitioners to create a one-size-fits-all ersatz “Native American religion” and try to be sensitive to heedless cultural appropriation. We have been particularly inspired by and supportive of the spiritually based movements of resistance like the Grandmothers of Canada’s First Nations and the Water Protectors in South Dakota.  We strive to learn what we can from the vast trove of Native wisdom and lore.

Window designer Pam Lopatin chose the Great Turtle of the Earth, central to the creation myths of many Native American tribes.  On her back she carries 13 moons depicting the months (cycles) of the year.  She is surrounded by a ring—a hoop—sacred to many peoples.  As a Medicine Wheel it marks the four directions or winds depicted by four crystals, shows the many different ways in which all things are interconnected. North is white/fire, symbolizing wisdom and fulfillment. East is yellow/earth and symbolizes spirit and devotion to service. South is red/air, symbolizing emotion, kindness, love and the senses. West is black/water and symbolizes the physical in power and protection.

The Window was originally donated by the Green Sanctuary Committee, Steven and Stacy Hall, Alan and Andy Myers and Caron and Steve Wenzel.

Tree of Life Humanism and Science Window

The Unitarian Universalist Association cites “Humanist teachings which counsel us to heed the guidance of reason and the results of science, and warn us against idolatries of the Mind and spirit” as one the sources of our Living Tradition.  The roots of modern Humanism stretch back to the philosophers who first expressed skepticism to elements of religious orthodoxy in the late Middle Ages through the Age Of Reason and Deism down to 19th Century Free Thought movements, including the dissenting Unitarians of the Free Religious Association, to the development of Ethical Humanism by Felix Adler in the late decades of that century and it embrace by the Chicago based Western Conference of Unitarians and the Unity Movement.  Encouraged by the developments of science—particularly Darwinism—which challenged cherished mythologies and by the bloody consequences of the First World War which led many to question a God who would allow such things, Humanism gained influence.  In 1933 15 of the 34 signers of the influential Humanist Manifesto were Unitarian ministers or laymen and two were Universalists.  Modern Humanism maintains that whether or not there is a God in terms of a prime or original mover, there is no paranormal activity or interference in Human affairs and that the welfare of our world and species lies in our own hands.  It demands high ethical standards and respects the evidence of our senses and of science.  Humanists may be atheist, agnostic, or even theist.  The Atom bomb and climate change have led to skepticism over “scientific progress” as an un-alloyed good. Humanism became the dominant strain of Unitarian Universalism in the second half of the 20th Century and despite a recent surge in greater spirituality in UU worship continues to be the basic philosophy of many UUs.

Designer Pam Lopatin featured two symbols in the circle of this window.  An atom with its orbiting electron represents science.  Sections of the orbits are filled by the colors of the visible light spectrum.  Below it is an open cupped hand with its fingers, thumb, and palm representing the races of humanity.  Together they symbolize the responsibility of humanity to wisely use the discoveries of science.  Unlike the art glass used in the other windows, the glass in this window is all drawn from industrial catalogues symbolizing the technology which is how humans apply science in the world.

The Humanist/Science window was originally donated by Jill Hartman.

The Tree of Life Window

The Tree of Life was first adopted as a symbol by the Congregation in the early 1980’s when it was still known as the Congregational Unitarian Church.  For decades we used a Pennsylvania Dutch design as our logo, but we recognized that the Tree of Life is an important symbol in many traditions including Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, and some Native American traditions.  As such it perfectly symbolizes our embrace of the wisdom of the world’s great religions.

The Flaming Chalice was first introduced as a symbol for the Unitarian Service Committee during World War II when it was doing heroic work trying to save victims of Nazism and serve refugees across Europe.  But the single flame also represents shining hope and an indefatigable spirit. 

Pam Lopatin combined the symbols by nestling a Chalice in the branches of the Tree of Life.  The leaves of many colors incorporate the glass used in all of the other windows symbolizing that they are a part of who we are.

The Window was donated by Pat and Dan Larsen.

No comments:

Post a Comment