ISSUES OF FAITH: Candles of the heart

THE CHRISTMAS AND holiday season is now upon us in earnest.

Will this season of celebration only add to the busyness and swirl of your life, or will it also provide a time for you to stop and attend to the qualities of your heart?

Attending to the qualities of the human heart is what Christmas and this holiday season is about for me — or at least it’s what I want it to be about.

Long ago, I got past fretting about the literalness of both Santa Claus and the Child of Bethlehem.

To me, they are equally mythological in content: the Child of Bethlehem is as little related to the historical reality of Rabbi Yeshua bar-Yusef (Jesus, son of Joseph) as Santa Claus is to St. Nicholas.

Rather, these figures are symbols of the human heart, images filled with the deepest and most tender longings, dreams and hopes for human life.

Santa Claus embodies for children the qualities of warmth, goodness and generosity, and the Child of Bethlehem embodies for adults the freshness, potentiality and divinity of newborn life.

Whether or not these symbols are still valued by you or important for you, they may set a tone for the season.

They call to us, saying, “Take a little time now for your interior side, your imaginative side, your tender side; take some time with your very human heart.”

In the religious fellowship of which I’m a minister, we attend to this season of celebration by lighting candles that both anticipate the coming of Christmas and announce its arrival.

On each of the four Sundays preceding Christmas, we light candles representing bedrock qualities of our humanity — faith, hope, love and joy — and then on Christmas Eve, we each light our own candle, symbol of all that is holy in our hearts and lives.

The lighting of these candles in our services is also a reminder and an invitation to us to take the time to light candles in our homes.

These candles we light in our homes are for Christmases past, touching memories of joy and sorrow.

And, for Christmases future, speaking of possibility.

But most of all, these candles are for Christmas present, to slow us down so the sound of our own beating human hearts can be heard and honored.


Issues of Faith is a rotating column by five religious leaders on the North Olympic Peninsula. The Rev. Bruce Bode is minister of the Quimper Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Port Townsend. His email is

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