Practising Awareness – Sunday 26th April 2020

by Rev Duncan Voice

Purple Orchid, photographed near Partridge Green, West Sussex

Welcome to our Sunday Service. While we are observing social distancing restrictions I have been thinking about some things that we might do to develop, or deepen, our personal spiritual practise. This is my first offering.

As usual you are invited to light a candle as part of this service. Thank you for joining us.

Opening Words by Gretchen Haley

Give up the fight
For some other moment
Some other life
Than here, and now
Give up the longing
for some other world
The wishing
for other choices to make
other songs to sing
other bodies, other ages,
other countries, other stakes
Purge the past; forgive the future—
for each come too soon.
Surrender only to this life,
this day, this hour,
not because it does not
constantly break your heart
but because it also beckons
with beauty
startles with delight
if only we keep
waking up
This is the gift
we have been given:
these “body-clothes,”
this heart-break, this pulse
this breath,
this light,
these friends,
this hope.
Here we re-member ourselves
All a part of it all—
Giving thanks, Together.
Come, let us worship

Chalice Lighting by Joy Croft

As is our custom, we light our chalice – and see!
The flame of truth burns bright,
fed by the vision of each of us,
rising from the hearts of us all.
Let its light shine out as our lives shine out,
brightening the dark places of the world,
bringing wholeness and peace.

[You may like to pause for a moment or two before reading the prayer]

Prayer

Spirit of love and life,
Help us to be fully present at this time.
Aware of ourselves and our environment;
Aware of others sitting quietly in their homes;
Aware of your spirit that connects us
and brings us into community.

We take time to think of those who suffer.
Those struggling with loneliness in isolation;
Those who are unwell;
Those who mourn the loss of a loved one in difficult circumstances.
Help us to reach out to them in compassion.

Each of us has our own strengths and vulnerabilities;
May we remember to extend compassion to ourselves.
If we feel down;
If we feel inadequate;
If we feel scared.
Help us to avoid judgement, to talk, to share.

May all our senses be open to the beauty that is in the world.
The small flower in the spring sunshine;
One neighbour helping another;
A simple meal.
Help us to live with open-hearted wonder and love,
from moment to moment.

Amen

Please sing a long with, or listen to, our hymn.

Words by Richard Boeke, music arranged by David Dawson, published in Sing Your Faith by The Lindsey Press, used by permission

To Seek and Find Our Natural Mind

To seek and find our natural mind,
and suffering let go,
awake from night, behold the light,
find every life aglow;
awake from night, behold the light,
find every life aglow.

To seek and find compassion’s law
and share the holy quest,
awaken to the cosmic awe,
find peace and be at rest;
awaken to the cosmic awe,
find peace and be at rest.

To seek and find community,
the love that will not cease,
begin today the joyful way,
walking the path of peace;
begin today the joyful way,
walking the path of peace

Reading: Matthew 26: 40-45

Then he came to the disciples and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, “So, could you not stay awake with me one hour? Stay awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Again, he went away for the second time and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” Again, he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. So, leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words. Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? See, the hour is at hand….”

Reading: Today by D. Elwyn Davies

Today
Of course, when tomorrow comes
Will be yesterday.
And when it was yesterday, Today
Was tomorrow yet to come, but
Today is Now, alive,
The end of your life so far,
A milestone reached.
Today is the beginning
Of all your tomorrows left,
The first day of your future life.
Tread through it carefully
For it has never been before
And will not come again.
It is a gift to hallow and to hold,
A precious link
That grips the golden chain of time.
Let us celebrate this day with but
The best we have,
For it will give us not
Another chance. It is
Today.

It was Earth Day last Wednesday and so I thought it would be nice to remind ourselves of the beauty of our planet, by taking this aerial trip during our musical interlude, courtesy of Greenpeace. Enjoy!

Address

Here we are, several weeks in to our pandemic lockdown. As this human tragedy plays out, we have had to innovate, adapt and change in order to stay in touch as well as to remain a Unitarian community. We have had to accept new rules for how we live our lives and change our routines and many of our long-term habits. No face-to-face chats with friends, or coffee and cake. No going out for a meal or a day trip. No meeting up with family or friends, or visits to the shops. The list goes on. We grieve the loss of some of these things, the human contact perhaps the most, but also we might question how necessary some things were in our pre-pandemic “normal” lives. All the chasing about, the busyness, traffic jams, crowded trains, consuming and polluting. Was all that we did before necessary or helpful or wholesome; or were we doing some of it because we thought we should, or believed we needed to for our happiness, or because that’s what we always did? Has this lockdown become a wake-up call in some ways?


In his book “Awareness” Anthony de Mello says that, “Spirituality means waking up.” He goes on to say, “Most people, even though they don’t know it, are asleep. They are born asleep, they live asleep, they marry in their sleep, they have children in their sleep, they die in their sleep without ever waking up. They never understand the loveliness and the beauty of this thing that we call human existence.” Anthony de Mello had a bit of an eccentric style and you might question his use of “most people” or feel affronted by his assertion that we are asleep most of the time! But recent events have shattered many of our assumptions and illusions; we have been stripped of some of our comforting routines and distractions. He goes on to say that, “waking up is unpleasant”, and he may be right. We may have to face some harsh realities, some difficult questions.

Anthony de Mello was a Jesuit priest and spiritual author who came from India. He was considered something of a maverick for a time, but was well placed to understand the mysticism of Christianity and Eastern religions. Please follow this link to the De Mello Spirituality Centre and watch the first video which starts with him saying, “Life, what’s this thing we call life.”(What You Need to Know 1)

https://www.demellospirituality.com/tonys-essential-message/

Apologies if you found the sound quality a little poor. The video is quite old, but I think the points he talks about are still relevant to our times. I like the phrase he used, that in the presence of the rickshaw puller he was, “in the presence of a mystic, in the presence of life.” Although we might feel sad for the rickshaw puller, his poverty, health issues, and limited life, he was very aware of life and accepting of the difficulties he faced. The patient dying of Aids too, said his last 6 months of life were when he felt most alive. Facing his own mortality heightened his senses somehow, living every moment more fully albeit in a, perhaps, more limited way.

I was fortunate enough to visit India when I was in my twenties, travelling around some parts for about three months. It was a wonderful experience although I was brought close to the poverty that millions of people lived in. I think about those people who have very little now. How are they coping in this pandemic crisis? Many of them probably in the same way as Anthony de Mello’s rickshaw puller. I certainly found most people to be welcoming and generous when I was there, despite their lack of material wealth. Does having very little mean, that by default, you are confronted by the realities of life on a day-to-day basis and therefore more aware? No time to be “asleep”, do you have a more spiritual approach to life?

Certainly, in the past many holy men and women took vows of poverty and chastity, to presumably avoid the distractions of the material world. Not too many would opt for that way of life now in our society! Do we need to? Can we awaken spiritually without enduring deprivations? I hope so. But I think we need to make a conscious decision, an effort. It is much easier not to be engaged with life, and indulge ourselves.

Being spiritually aware, or waking up, has been a major theme for many faiths. Jesus, as we read earlier, said to his disciples, “could you not stay awake with me one hour?” And used other phrases such as, “Let anyone with ears listen!” (Matt 11:15) to stress the importance of engagement with life rather than apathy. In Buddhism the title, Buddha, literally means “one who has awoken”, and his teaching, The Dharma, is in essence about knowing and seeing the nature of reality, or ultimate truth.

Yet somehow, and sometimes, these important messages get lost in various religious rules and doctrines. Obedience to rules, and observances, become more important than “waking up” or staying awake; being aware. Both Jesus and the Buddha respected many teachings of those that had gone before them, but neither was bound by them. Their messages of salvation and enlightenment were inexorably bound up in the context of their own lives; which I think is the only way, we too, can discover meaning in ours.

That is not to say that spirituality is all about us as individuals; community and serving others is important. But we must awaken to our authentic selves in order to offer our gifts to the world, such as they might be. Remove the disguise and the pretence, and step out into the world as if for the first time. With what the Buddhist’s call a beginners mind, experiencing the world with curiosity and wonder and with love.

To do so we must break the bonds of habit. As Buddhist teacher Christina Feldman says,
“An awakened life is one in which the confines of habit are challenged through interest and attention. Habit and wakefulness are rarely compatible.
Habit leads us to see life through the eyes of images and assumptions; awareness teaches us to see each moment, event, person, ourselves anew.
Habit binds us to the past; awareness awakens us to the present.
Habit distances us from the moment-to-moment realities of our life; awareness is the cultivation of intimacy with each moment.
Habit inclines us to dismiss many of the simple activities and events of our day as being insignificant or unworthy; awareness is free of hierarchies of value, deeming every single moment and activity of our day as being worthy of our attention.” (Heart of Wisdom, Mind of Calm by Christina Feldman)

We may not, therefore have to necessarily change all the things we do, but we can try to view those “simple activities and events” with a new awareness and intimacy. Many of our old habits have already been broken, will we just go back to them as soon as we can? If the spiritual alarm clock is ringing, will we wake up or hit snooze button and go back to sleep for a bit longer?

For us in our isolation we have a unique opportunity, to deepen this relationship with ourselves, our everyday tasks and eventually with others. Through gentle questioning, through attentive listening, through caring, in many ways. Patiently we can explore new relationships and in doing so we may discover a new joy or peace; and then in time, perhaps, awareness may become our practise.

May it be so.

Closing words by Thich Nhat Hanh

Waking up this morning, I smile.
Twenty-four brand new hours are before me.
I vow to live fully in each moment
and look at all beings with eyes of compassion.

Benediction

As we come to the end of this service,
our time together in spirit,
may the ears of our ears be awake
and may the eyes of our eyes be open ⃰
as we go on the ways of our lives.
Amen

⃰paraphrasing of words by e.e. cummings, from his poem “I thank You God for this most amazing day.”

2 thoughts on “Practising Awareness – Sunday 26th April 2020

  1. Thank you Duncan, I really enjoyed today’s service. It touched me in many ways, from one of my favourite hymns, the writing of Rev. Elwyn Davies, your Address that reminded me to read Anthony de Mello’s teachings a bit more.
    And of course closing words by Thich Nat Hanh reminding me how my daughter taught me many years ago.
    Keep safe, stay well.
    Gareth

    Like

  2. Thank you Duncan. I couldn’t access the deMello piece (think you have to get an app), but such an appropriate sermon, with wonderful music and videos. I love the image of the spiritual alarm clock ringing, and ending with my all time forever favourite song, especially sung by and for the NHS, was just perfect to me.

    Like

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