WorshipWeb: Braver/Wiser: A Weekly Message of Courage and Compassion

Hard, Brave Choices

By Martha Durkee-Neuman

“Will considered what to do. When you choose one way out of many, all the ways you don't take are snuffed out like candles, as if they'd never existed. At the moment all Will's choices existed at once. But to keep them all in existence meant doing nothing. He had to choose, after all.”
—Philip Pullman, in The Amber Spyglass

When I was a youth, the young adult fantasy series by Philip Pullman, His Dark Materials, was an important source of spiritual guidance for me. Something I love about being a Unitarian Universalist is drawing sacred texts from places such as the shelves of the middle school library. In the final book of the series, one of the young protagonists has a decision to make, upon which possibly the fate of our world and the next world hangs. Before he decides, he evaluates his options as if they are lit candles before him.

In a dark room, several taper candles and smaller candles in red, cut-glass holders are all alit.

This short passage returned to me recently when I was faced with a hard, brave choice. I saw all my options in front of me as lit candles. Waiting there for me, representing different things. Different paths. All looking particularly enticing and bright and shiny and glittery and some maybe a little frightening and all of them on fire.

Before I chose, when all my options were still in existence, I felt attached to all those candles. I didn’t want to choose, and snuff out all my other options. Eventually, I made my choice but I still grieved the candles I had blown out.

This is a year in which hard, brave choices will be required of all of us. Our world is changing, so much is in flux. Increasingly we are faced with questions and decisions about our money, our time, our place in history, how we act, how we don’t act, what matters, what we give our attention to, what kind of world we’re building. We cannot afford to linger in front of all the candles aflame in front of us. Will had to choose, after all.

It takes courage to blow out the candles of the roads we will not travel. But in this moment, our task is to find this courage and lift it up and—lucky for us—we have each other. We do not have to do this alone. And on the other side of that decision, we can travel forward together, with our one remaining candle to light the way.

So come and find me. Travel alongside me. Bring me your courage, because Lord knows I don’t have enough on my own. Together we can blow out the candles of the roads not taken. And then we can go forward side by side.


Spirit of discernment, be with us as we make the hard, brave choices that lie in front of us right now. Help us to know that when we lean on each other, our shared courage infinitely grows, and we can move alongside one another into the world to come.