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Simply listening

I hated candles of joy and concern, until I started listening.
By Lynne Jacoby
Fall 2013 8.15.13

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Listening to spoken candles of joys and concerns is the one practice I absolutely can point to in the UU church that has made me a better person in the world. At first, I hated them. I’d squirm, embarrassed for people’s inappropriateness, or worry about what I was “supposed to do” for those in pain, and sometimes I’d roll my eyes at those I judged as there to brag. My own emotions were rioting all over the place in that exposure.

But sitting still and breathing through my responses has made me a better listener. It has been a gift to me, this practice. Now when a friend comes to me troubled I am better at staying present and not racing off in my mind for the right words to “fix it.” If my brother calls, jabbing away at my buttons, because that is what family sometimes does, I can (occasionally!) not react and instead listen for what has really upset him. If someone tears up in front of me, I do not automatically make some goofy remark to “lighten the mood” but rather invite them to talk.

Believe me, I continue to roll my eyes sometimes! And in fifteen years, I still haven’t figured out why anyone would want to share personal things with a congregation larger than they could know. But I am glad they do and have decided it may be just another thing I have yet to learn. In the meantime, I am grateful for the practice spoken candles has given me holding difficult emotions—my own and others.


This article appeared in the Fall 2013 issue of UU World (page 16). Adapted from a comment left in response to Meg Barnhouse’s essay, “The Honey Springs worship committee ponders Joys and Sorrows” (7.8.13). See sidebar for links to related resources.

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