A VIRTUAL SERVICE BROUGHT TO YOU
BY MICHAEL ALLURED, MINISTRY STUDENT
WELCOME DITCHLING UNITARIANS; A TIME TO REFLECT ON THE THINGS THAT MATTER
We invite you to visualise entering the gate and walking up the path; opening the door and through the door into a still quiet space. Imagine you’re the first to arrive to enjoy the stillness.
Choose your favourite seat and prepare to listen to the piano as you settle down.
MUSIC TO SETTLE INTO STILLNESS by Elizabeth Hornby, another Unitarian ministry student and talented musician.
[Some guidelines for listening: You are invited to settle and to be virtually with our community of Ditchling Unitarians. We begin by listening to soothing piano music by Elizabeth Hornby
Please click on the youtube link below.
Welcome to another virtual service sent to you from the community of Ditchling Unitarians.
From wherever you are joining us you are warmly welcome.
In this time of sharing – whether you are reading this service at 11 am or at another time – may we find comfort in the words offered, the music played and the insights shared.
May you be nurtured by courage and a sense of being together, and by kindness and hope: in the virtual spaces, through telephone and newsletter: through the spirit behind our doors that remain open I our hearts.
May our open minds, loving hearts and helping hands keep us on that path of wholeness for which our spirits yearn.
An invocation of welcome: Come, come whoever you are
As is the custom of Unitarians and Universalists worldwide we light our chalice candle.
Let us spend a few moments looking at the picture of the chalice flame. May we be drawn together by its light.
May we be encouraged by its helping us to see a way through.
If you look through the chalice flame may you find a peace, rest, orientation.
Imagine us gathered around linking the hands we cannot link in solidarity with the interdependent web of existence of which we are part.
A PRAYER FOR GATHERING US TOGETHER
As we gather here this morning, or afternoon or evening:
let us pause to remember the faces of those who have helped shape and continue to shape our lives and co-create its meaning.
• The teachers or mentors who gave us unstintingly from their vast store of experience of wisdom.
• The friends and colleagues who allowed us to acknowledge our imperfections by telling us of their own.
• The one whose quiet wisdom and good humour gently showed us a more fulfilling way to be in the world.
• The opponent who fought us fairly and forgave us when we won.
• The beloved other whose touch has made us whole, not once but again and again.
Our lives are made holy by the unearned generosity of the countless fellow travellers who share the road with us.
Let us respond by passing on to others the joy, kindliness and consideration with which they have graced our lives and taught us, through their actions, what love really means.
We ask this in the name of all that we deem holy and sustaining, that great unknowable Power that keeps us together on the pathway of love.
We value times of quietness as we sit in this nurturing space.
We open our hearts and minds to fresh possibilities and seek a calm for our troubled spirits.
We gather in reverence to reflect on the wonder of life, the wonder of this moment.
The wonder of being together, so close yet so apart.
Each listening, each trying to speak, yet none fully understanding, none fully understood.
We gather in reverence before all intangible things, that eyes cannot see and ears detect;
that hands can never touch, that space cannot hold and time cannot measure.
Let us share a few moments of silent reflection and hold in our thoughts all who need our healing prayers.
May we be reminded here of our highest aspirations.
May we be inspired to bring our gifts of love and service to the altar of humanity.
May we know once again that we are not isolated beings but connected, in mystery and miracle, to the whole Universe, to this community and to each other. Amen
Anger in the service of compassion and justice is a prophetic spiritual trait that must be nurtured in our schools and in our homes. From the earliest ages the child’s insight into fairness must be heard, held up and honoured, especially since so many of us have lost the way….Anger depends on the light of possibility. If you take a bone away from a dog, the dog’s temper remains. If you take food away from a child the child’s temper remains. But only, in either case, if the dog or the child has expectations of the bone or food not going away. The child trained to hunger no longer complains. Anger remains only when there is the possibility of something better. The important subtraction is the subtraction of hope…. Many angry people working together are called a movement. With humour, compromise, spiritual centeredness, and hard work, these groups [we] can change the world.
(From ‘In Which Anger Is’ in Humility, Anger and Grace by Nancy Jay Crumbine.)
Our second reading for today is by retired Unitarian minister, Cliff Reed.
Colours of the Rainbow by Cliff Reed
“My bow I set in the clouds to be a sign of the
covenant between myself and the earth.”
Genesis 9: 13
Rainbows have become symbols of hope,
our defiance of a pestilence that spreads fear,
ruin and death around our reeling world.
What can be the meanings of those seven colours?
The meanings we could give them as a prayer,
as an affirmation of the life we cherish?
Let red be for the courage and devotion of those
who risk their lives to protect and heal us.
Let orange be for the warmth of their compassion,
for the inner flame that fires their resolution.
Let yellow be for the exultant spirit in all loving hearts,
shining undefeated like the golden sun.
Let green be for the earth, for resurgent nature,
for the springtime beauty that refreshes our weariness.
Let blue be for transcendence, for the over-arching
sky that lifts us up when we are weighed down.
Let indigo be for quietness and reflection,
for the soul’s rest and restoration.
Let violet be for our mourning and our grief,
the beauty that is loving sorrow.
The rainbow can encompass all our moods,
all our colours, all shades of our glorious diversity.
And may it stand for the assurance that all will be well.
LET’S SING (or listen to): Spirit of Life by Carolyn McDade
This has been called by Sarah Tinker, the minister at Kensington Unitarians ‘a bit of a Unitarian anthem’. Here it is sung by All Souls Choir Langham Place.
A TIME FOR MEDITATION, REFLECTION, PRAYER
• Let us be still and with each other through the warmth of spirit. In that way, we draw near to that which we recognise as the ultimate source of being, a God of many names, Spirit of Life and of Love.
• We make our prayers to the source of Life and Love for those whose lives we have met and not met and who have died.
• We make our prayers for those known and unknown to us who made our lives richer with joy and beauty, kindness and laughter, thoughtfulness and understanding.
• We make our prayers for ourselves and trust that we shall find comfort through those who travel with us. Amen.
CANDLES OF CONCERNS, JOYS AND HOPES
Some Unitarian communities light candles. I invite you now to light your candles. They can be real or virtual candles. It matters not.
They are candles of and from the heart. They are expressions of our fears, our hopes, our sorrows and our joys. In the dark hour there will somewhere and in the most unexpected places remain small parcels of joy. Let us light our candles. Let us embrace the light in these times of life’s darkness. Amen.
We light this candle for each other: ourselves, members, friends and all those connected to the community of Ditchling Unitarians and your families and friends.
We light this candle to honour all those who have died of the coronavirus across the world.
We light this candle in solidarity with all in physical and emotional pain, who suddenly have had their usual lifelines and sources of connection ripped away
We light a candle for the medical services and all those who are working, particularly on the front line, wherever they are in the world, to support the struggle to combat the coronavirus.
We light a candle for our London District, Minister, Rev. Martin Whitell, in gratitude for all he is doing for Unitarian congregations throughout the district.
We light this candle in gratitude for large and small joys: all significant for what they are: for good, loving, generous people the world over who help to lessen the darkness.
I light this candle for all our unspoken sorrows, fears, hopes and joys. May we be blessed this day, this hour, this moment.
Let us take a few moments to pause. Let’s imagine that we are gathered in our usual space where we have gathered over the generations.
Our candles are lit. They are our collective hopes: for ourselves, for each other and for the world.
Let us gaze into the candles for a few moments
in quiet stillness with our hearts and our thoughts
of appreciation and goodwill for the world.
May our candles burn brightly. May their light sustain us through the darkness, giving each one of us the courage to endure.
REFLECTIONS: Reflections on Humility, Anger and Grace
I’ve been reading a lot of theology over the last six weeks in lockdown as I write my dissertation. Some of this theology is incomprehensible. For some light relief I’ve revisited Nancy Crumbine’s wonderful little treasure house: Humility, Anger and Grace: Meditations Towards a Life that Matters.
The theology sparked all those feelings in me. And the film I’ve re-watched during lockdown, the true story of Philomena Lee’s search for her lost child did the same. I’ve wept over both. The tears over Philomena, played in the film by Judy Dench, whose mother, like mine, was a Dubliner, were more ones of anger: though they were for her humility and grace too.
Let’s remind ourselves of her story. Philomena Lee a teenage girl in Ireland and innocent of the facts of life, gets pregnant in the 1950s and is disowned by her family.
She is sent to work in a convent alongside other unmarried mothers where she gives birth to her son. She is denied pain relief by the nuns because she must suffer, and then her son, Anthony, is sold by the convent at the age of three and a half because she could not pay the £100 to get out. They never had a chance to say goodbye.
She saw him looking out of the window of the car taking him to America with his new parents who were told he was an orphan.
In the film 50 years on, Philomena tells her daughter about Anthony and the former BBC journalist Martin Sixsmith becomes her ally in searching for the son she has asked the nuns to help her find over all those years.
Anthony – now Michael Hess and a top lawyer working for the Republican National Committee – goes in search of his mother too and is told by the nuns she abandoned him.
He never knew Philomena had returned to the convent over the years and left them her latest address. Mother and son never meet because Hess has died of AIDS in 1995. His ashes had been buried at the convent at his own request—he hoped that his mother would return and find him.
I shed tears for their longing and pain, for Philomena’s humility and grace: and tears of anger too.
There’s a scene in the film where Martin visits one of the now old nuns, who refused to help a dying man find his mum and she is castigating Philomena for her sin and proud of how she herself was free from sin and had kept her vow of chastity. We feel and understand Martin’s anger when echoing the story in Matthew’s Gospel (chapter 21, verse 12) he confronts the Rev. Mother:
If Jesus were here he would tip you out of that …chair.
The convent said this scene of high drama in the film is made up. It may have been and maybe it doesn’t matter. It made its point. Biblical stories suggest that Jesus would not have approved of the church selling babies for money, denying pain relief and inflicting self-righteous punishments.
Philomena is a film made to make us feel anger at the Church, and at orthodox organised religion. We see that anger in the writings of the so-called New Atheists I’ve been reading for my dissertation. They spend pages telling us that religion is not only a delusion but positively dangerous. Philomena’s story of what happens when religion goes wrong – her guilt and fear and loss and pain – is testament to that.
That’s why I reject creeds and revealed religion for its rigidity, outward conformity and self-righteous punishments inflicted on so-called ‘sinners’.
Now we come to Nancy’s book that shows us a technicolour way of walking alongside our God. She too is a mother and sometimes when she writes it feels like she’s seeing through the eyes of her children, especially because of her fondness for quoting from Alice Through the Looking Glass.
Nancy’s book opens with the words: I told my children I was going to the ocean…for a couple of days [to have a talk with God] and, she writes, a few days later her four-year-old asked her if she’d had the talk yet. The rest of the book is about how the talk went.
We’ve heard in our reading earlier what Nancy has to say about anger: that it’s about the lost possibilities and what might have been. Here, in these times we are living through, families and friends who have been robbed needlessly of life, feel anger.
We’re left with what we do with such a destructive but understandable and sometimes necessary emotion.
Nancy I think is suggesting that by channelling the anger with others we can help change the world: a world with
• more humility and compassion,
• more grace,
• more LOVE.
On humility and grace Nancy offers us these reflections:
We do all die in the end. With or without a hierarchy of angels, many of us will have tubes…and pumps prolonging and postponing what we fear and too often forgot to anticipate. We realise too late that we did not pay attention. Some life plan swept us up…before we had a chance to wake up.
Thankfully, Nancy says, we have moments, moments in which we stand in some light, catch a slant of it for ourselves or burn with it to light another’s way. Thankfully, most of us come to know, come to remember, somewhere along the way, part of the whole and ourselves in relationship with it. We intermittently kick and drift, letting that little flotsam of comprehension buoy us up.
We bear witness, we share what we see, we are grateful, until, when it is time to let go….We need to be forever present to the grace available to us when we slow down and turn to what matters most.
For the last six weeks WE have borne witness and there are those who belong to us who have been in the thick of the action: living MINUTE BY MINUTE with life and death.
If all we can do is reach out in thought with humility and grace, and even a little anger at what they are going through, that is the start of creating a better world.
As Nancy writes:
Humility, anger and grace help us in this dance…. Humility, anger, and grace are states of being by which a life can be structured and lived, by which a life can help the world be a slightly better place.
… we [should] try to help each other appreciate inherent contradictions, help us hold dear the paradoxes of every situation, of every living being. They are our faith. Although we fail as often as all humans fail in the stumbling towards humility, we believe in the redemption in a certain openness.
In questions, beginnings happen, paradoxes are revealed. After inevitable failure, in forgiving ourselves we regain our hope….Rather than eliminating life’s paradoxes, Nancy continues, it is possible to embrace them for what they are: something beyond us.
Embracing complexity, holding the paradox, is like living with a child. Living with a lively creative growing child gives us a continuum of choices.
What, then, do we ultimately know?
We know that the institutionalized version of religion can, as the New Atheists tell us, cause unspeakable harm and suffering. We also know from experience that what really matters is our capacity for human warmth, for caring and love and our connection to each other. The impulse to nurture and not punish, to heal and not harm: that is what religion is to me.
Nancy puts it this way:
Love particularlised into action constitutes the moments when the holy is present, when the eternal is held in time, when the spirit becomes matter and matter becomes spirit. Every living being knows part of the whole. You can call the whole God, Goddess, Universe, Energy, Substance, Chaos, Cosmos, it is still “the whole”.
We do all die in the end, she tells us. This much we know. Between our birth and death we live a life alongside the lives of millions of other souls whom we shall never meet.
We may appear to have no common meeting ground but we do: we are all more human than otherwise. We just don’t always choose to acknowledge it.
As individuals living our own lives we know so little of the rest of the world. We often don’t even fully know ourselves. Maybe this time of lockdown is that time: for finding time to remember what really matters.
Ultimately, we have only our experience of life and the events and the known and unknown people that have shaped it and us.
We have holy books and creeds. But we know so much more about what is really true from the living of our own lives and from Philomena’s story. It’s her story that teaches humility, righteous anger and grace.
Nancy’s book and the film of Philomena, who is not bitter towards the nuns who mentally tortured her, help us to understand more and know more.
They teach us, like today’s reading from Cliff Reed that life, like the rainbow, can encompass all moods, all colours, all shades. To humility, anger and grace let us say, Amen.
LET’S SING (OR LISTEN) to Jerusalem
210 (from the green book, Hymns for Living)
And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England’s mountains green?
And was the holy Lamb of God
On England’s pleasant pastures seen?
And did the countenance divine
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here
Among these dark satanic mills?
Bring me my bow of burning gold!
Bring me my arrows of desire!
Bring me my spear! O clouds, unfold!
Bring me my chariot of fire!
I will not cease from mental fight,
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand,
Till we have built Jerusalem
In England’s green and pleasant land.
Our virtual service is drawing to a close. In my home congregation of Golders Green Unitarians we gather in a circle and hold hands. And we say these words together. We say them to and for each other and to and for the world.
They were written by Keith Gilley and have been said at the close of every service at Golders Green Unitarians since the 1970s.
We reach out to the world and each other as we link hands in our hearts and heads in a virtual circle of love for ourselves and for the world of which we are part.
I invite you to speak the words aloud:
In the name of us all, let there be peace and love among us.
May the skies be clear and may the streets be safe.
In the name of us all, let there be peace and love.
May these candles bring you light and hope in the coming week.
More gentle piano music by Elizabeth Hornby. This piece is called ‘Roots and Wings’.
Thank you for coming to our virtual service.
Go well into the day and the coming week
with the blessing of your God and of each other.
Here is a picture of me with your minister Duncan on my first day of ministry training at Harris Manchester College, Oxford.