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Four Elements


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Chinese calligraphy is, perhaps, more than 6000 years old. In Chinese tradition, five elements: water, fire, wood, metal and earth are the origins of all things. However, the Greeks, from a different, more recent tradition, selected only four elemental properties. These are represented by four ideograms above, counterclockwise from 6 o'clock: T? (earth), Hu´ (fire), Feng (wind), and Shu" (water). In content and form, these combine in a cycle to convey the central organizing ideas of the four programs transcribed in this section.

My thanks to Lowell McMullin for her gift of these four ideograms.

For more than 2000 years, since proposed by Empedocles and popularized by Aristotle, four principles or elements (earth, fire, wind and water) were deemed sufficient to constitute the physical world and all the swimming, walking and flying creatures in it. It was only in the 17th century, as ancient alchemy and magic slowly began to give way to modern chemistry and physics, that our ideas of elemental issues became more sophisticated and these principles were abandoned. However, together, they continue to be an illuminating metaphor.


Beginning in 1997 and continuing in 1998, I led a series of Sunday morning services at TPUUF exploring the phases of our lives and our covenantal relationships in the context of these four principles. This was also a time of change for the fellowship, as relations between members and friends and our then minister were strained, leading to his decision in early 1998 to take early retirement. Thus, the series of services were also a reflection of those events. Finally, on rereading them during editing, I find that they constitute a personal credo (but not a ksero, which see).


While each part of the quartet is intended to stand alone, each can be better understood if all four are read together, in the order given. In each case, I have included the order of service used that day but, unless I wrote or significantly edited them, readings and other service elements are not included. After each service, members of the congregation were invited to join me in a brief, interactive discussion circle, instead of the more usual "talk back." These were deep and fruitful discussions; however, beyond the effect that each had on succeeding services in the series, their substance is also not included here.


Despite my earlier plans, no texts have been previously available. However, audio recordings were made and were available for loan. After the series was complete, Joanne Valerio undertook to transcribe the recordings (for which she has my warmest thanks) and the texts which appear here are edited from my original notes and her transcriptions. My thanks also to Lowell McMullin who painted the front piece.


This "table" was included as an insert in the first two orders of service.

The Four Elements - The Metaphor

The Elements


Space Shuttle



Earth Germination / Emergence Preflight / Launch Youth / Adolescence Reflection / Reconciliation
Fire Growth Ascent Young Adulthood Re-engagement
Air Fruiting Orbit Maturity Re-affirmation
Water Harvest Re-entry Old Age Reflection