The present as shifting point


“In every age the present is merely the shifting point at which past and future meet, and we can have no quarrel with either.  There can be no world without traditions; neither can there be any life without movement. There is never a moment when the new dawn is not breaking over the earth, and never a moment when the sunset ceases to die… 

In the moral world we are ourselves the light bearers, and the cosmic process is in us made flesh. For a brief space it is granted to us, if we will, to enlighten the darkness that surrounds our path. As in ancient torch-races, which seemed to Lucretius to be the symbol of all life, we press forward torch in hand along the course.  Soon from behind comes the runner who will outpace us. All our skill lies in giving into that hand the living torch, bright and unflickering, as we ourselves disappear in the darkness.” 

Havelock Ellis as quoted in Ronald Knapp’s  reflection at the UUMA Convocation on Ministry 1995.

I came across this quote this evening while preparing for tomorrow’s sermon on the Prophetic Sisterhood.  I found it quite profound in contrast to these amazing women of the late 19th and early 20th century in our Unitarian movement.   There were several torches that they passed on to us.  Some were more directly passed to us from their hands  like the right for women to vote as many if not all of these women were active in the suffragette movement.  A few lived long enough to be able to cast their ballot.

But one torch seemingly skipped a generation or two.  When these women clergy were forced out of their ministries by the Unitarian desire to masculinize the movement [indeed there was a nationwide desire to masculinize all of America during this time], very few women were ordained from the 1920’s until the 1970’s.  It became the rare woman who was able to fill a pulpit during that period, less than 2% of women were clergy in our movement.

It wasn’t until the women’s movement of the mid-60’s and 70’s that women in numbers once again began seeking ordination as ministers.  That 2% ember had once again flared as the beacon torch it once was in the Western Conference of the late 1800’s.  Today Unitarian Universalist women ministers comprise over 50% of our clergy. 

But the present as shifting point is a shaky precipice. It can tip backwards or tip forward into the rising dawn.  It seems to me that it is important for us as the carriers of the flame, that we decide here and now how this flame will burn in the next moments of our lives even as our sunset blazes behind the horizon.   Blessings,


One Comment

  1. Ah, yes! The tipping can go either way. Let’s pray for the forward tipping into the rising dawn.

    I’ve been enjoying your blog tremendously. I attend a small UU fellowship in Abilene, TX. We currently don’t have a blog for our group, but I hope we can get one started soon.

    Keep blogging on!
    And blessings to you, too.

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