by Stephen Crowther
God is a river, not just a stone.
God is a wild, raging rapids and a slow, meandering flow.
God is a deep and narrow passage and a peaceful, sandy shoal.
God is the river, swimmer, so let go.
So I’m going with the flow now, these relentless twists and bends;
adjusting to the motion and a sense of being led.
This river is like my body, carrying me along past ever-changing scenes
and the rocks that sing the song –
God is the river, swimmer, so let go.
(from God is a River by Peter Mayer)
Have a candle ready to light. You may want to play some gentle music for 5 or 10 minutes before we light the candle at 11.00.
11.00am light a candle.
As we gather ourselves in and join with others in our community isolated in our homes, separated by the pandemic, may we be reminded that we are never alone, that we are always connected with each other and with the wider world.
May the flame of this candle connect with the light in all our hearts bringing trust and hope to each of us at this unprecedented time in our lives.
Good morning and welcome once more to our weekly communal service on this Sunday morning during a continuing time of upheaval and uncertainty in our world. May we hold ourselves gently in the uncertainty and fear.
Whatever the state of your heart or frame of mind you find yourself in this morning, may you find solace and connection here in this beloved community.
In case there is anyone joining us, who doesn’t normally worship with us, I would like to extend a special welcome. Unitarians have no fixed statement of beliefs or creed to which you have to agree in order to be accepted. Our attitude is that religion is wider than any church or faith-group, and deeper than any set of beliefs. Here we practice a free faith unfettered by dogma.
As such, when I speak of God, I invite you to bring your own unfolding, personal and intimate understanding to the name – for it is yours and yours alone and may just be your most intimate relationship of all….
There is a Buddhist story that tells of an ancient spiritual teacher who meditated each day by the side of a river. He was approached one day by a student who asked him how meditating on the bank of a river could lead to enlightenment. The master smiled and told the student that sitting on the bank of a river is the same as paying attention to one’s life. Like a river, life simply flows. It can bring us pleasure but if we try to grasp or hang on to the pleasure too hard we will cause ourselves suffering, because, like the river, life will eventually take the pleasure away.
The teacher explained how in entering the River of Life we enter into opportunity and risk. There are times when that river will cause us suffering and pain. Holding on, we travel further, but in letting go we enter a new hope and, in time, the scenery changes, all we can do, said the teacher, is sit with what the River of Life brings us, and learn the lessons that we are meant to learn.
After a while, the student bowed to the teacher and continued on his journey.
Reading: Don’t Push the River by Richard Rohr
All of us are much larger than the good or bad stories we tell about ourselves. Don’t get caught in “my” story, my hurts, my agenda. It’s too small. It’s not the whole you, not the Great You. It’s not the great river. It’s not where life is really going to happen. No wonder the Spirit is described as ‘flowing water’ and as ‘a spring inside you’ or, as it states at the end of the Bible, as a ‘river of life’. Your life is not really about “you.” It is part of a much larger stream called God. The separate self is finally an illusion for those who stay on the journey of prayer.
I believe that faith might be precisely that ability to trust the river, to trust the flow and the Lover. It is a process that we don’t have to create, coerce, or improve. We simply need to allow it to flow. That takes immense confidence in God, especially when we’re hurting. Usually, I can feel myself get panicky. I want to make things right, and right now! I lose my ability to be present, and I go up into my head and start obsessing. I try to push or even create the river—the river that is already flowing through me.
The river is God’s providential love—so do not be afraid. We have been given the Spirit. Without this awareness of the always flowing river, without a sense that we are supported, we will all succumb to fear and control mechanisms. Why wouldn’t we? To stay in God’s holding means that I have to stop taking full hold of myself. I have to be able to hold a certain degree of uncertainty, ambiguity, and tension. Faith does not need to push the river precisely because it is able to trust that there is a river. The river is flowing; we are in it.
As we begin to emerge from lockdown I’m wondering how we might hold on to any resolutions we may have made to live our lives differently in the future.
Do you remember feeling grateful at hearing birdsong in the absence of traffic noise? Do you still remember the excitement when news spread of the lockdown’s effects on the environment? Fish could be seen in the canals of Venice. Skies were blue over parts of China for the first time in decades. People in Northern India could see the Himalayas for the first time in their lives and New Yorkers could see the Catskills. Goats took over Llandudno. Deer roamed a Japanese city. The post office tower in London reported measuring a 52% drop in air pollution. No wonder the virus became known as Gaia’s Revenge! For in the Great Pausing, we were being shown the truth of the environmentalists calls for change and the immediacy of its effect. Surveys reported that as many as 91% of people in this country didn’t want things to return to how they were before Coronavirus (BC). We heard repeatedly of an approaching ‘new normal’.
And so it was for a little while.
Then a partial lifting of restrictions was announced, and, like others, I found myself going ‘No. Not yet – it’s too soon!’. Much like the last night of a great summer holiday when it’s time to go home the next day – ‘No. Not yet – it’s too soon. I’m not ready!’. And, of course, within a few days of getting home, we feel like the holiday never happened – the relaxation and any intention to live life differently, get forgotten in the return to busyness.
So now, it seems we inhabit an in-between place of not knowing. If you like, we have begun the journey home from the great holiday. How do we hold to our determination to do things differently? In the face of economic pressures and powerful market forces, how do we create a ‘new normal’ and not return to how things were? How do I reconcile the sadness of rising noise and traffic levels with the understanding that people need to return to work?
And then, into this place of wondering how, crashed a different image of the world – George Floyd’s unlawful killing. And I found myself responding with the familiar – it’s happening over there – it’s not my problem. But God burst my heart open one day, by way of a photograph taken by a friend of a peaceful protest in New York. It shows a young woman holding a placard that simply says –
KNEEL WITH ME
And just as the effects of the lockdown affirm the damage we’ve been causing the earth, so George Floyd’s death is affirming the damage that racism and white privilege cause in the world.
And so, I offer the following words for gentle self-reflection. They come from an essay by Peggy McIntosh titled White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.
I decided to try to work on myself at least by identifying some of the daily effects of white privilege in my life. I have chosen those conditions that I think in my case attach somewhat more to skin-color privilege than to class, religion, ethnic status, or geographic location, though of course all these other factors are intricately intertwined. As far as I can tell, my African American co-workers, friends, and acquaintances with whom I come into daily or frequent contact in this particular time, place and time of work cannot count on most of these conditions.
- I can go shopping alone most of the time, pretty well assured that I will not be followed or harassed.
- I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely represented.
- When I am told about our national heritage or about “civilization,” I am shown that people of my colour made it what it is.
- I can be sure that my children will be given curricular materials that testify to the existence of their race.
- Whether I use checks, credit cards or cash, I can count on my skin colour not to work against the appearance of financial reliability.
- I do not have to educate my children to be aware of systemic racism for their own daily physical protection.
- I can do well in a challenging situation without being called a credit to my race.
- I am never asked to speak for all the people of my racial group.
- I can be pretty sure that if I ask to talk to the “person in charge”, I will be facing a person of my race.
- If a traffic cop pulls me over or if the IRS audits my tax return, I can be sure I haven’t been singled out because of my race.
- I can easily buy posters, post-cards, picture books, greeting cards, dolls, toys and children’s magazines featuring people of my race.
- If I declare there is a racial issue at hand, or there isn’t a racial issue at hand, my race will lend me more credibility for either position than a person of colour will have.
- I am not made acutely aware that my shape, bearing or body odour will be taken as a reflection on my race.
- I can take a job with an affirmative action employer without having my co-workers on the job suspect that I got it because of my race.
- I can think over many options, social, political, imaginative or professional, without asking whether a person of my race would be accepted or allowed to do what I want to do.
- I can be late to a meeting without having the lateness reflect on my race.
- I can be sure that if I need legal or medical help, my race will not work against me.
- If I have low credibility as a leader, I can be sure that my race is not the problem.
- I can choose blemish cover or bandages in “flesh” colour and have them more or less match my skin.
- I will feel welcomed and “normal” in the usual walks of public life, institutional and social.
There are no easy answers to how we might bring about change. But I believe it is our individual responsibility to hold firm to our convictions, honour our intentions and do what we can within our own limited capacity. We can begin by extending empathic understanding to the other. We can kneel with them, not on them. For we are all children of God, made of the same stardust……
As we enter a time of Prayer and Quiet Reflection, let us come together in prayerful stillness.
You may want to close your eyes and direct the focus of your attention inwards, bringing it to your heart – penetrating its walls and spending a few moments breathing into it deeply.
In a moment of pausing, let us hold in our hearts, the family and friends of George Floyd. May they and all of us affected by his murder, feel the touch of God’s Love and that by its Light be shown ways in which we can play our part in bringing about change to the world.
Let my life give witness to You, God,
to those filled with fear.
Create in me a clean heart,
that Your light might be seen!
My soul sighs awaiting your
living Presence; for
I sense your Love and Light.
My heart wells up with gratitude
and praise, as
I recall the innumerable blessings
You continually bestow.
When I ponder the plight of the world,
my heart weeps for all the
How long, O Merciful One, must we
endure the greed,
the arrogance of those who are
in power –
Those whose hearts have turned
who follow not the way
Who have become blind to the Truth,
and deaf to your Voice
whispering in their hearts?
Awaken the people of earth, O You,
who are the Great Awakener!
(from Psalm 119 by Nan C Merrill)
In this time of lockdown, we give thanks for the new and creative ways we have found to stay connected with each other and with You, God of our hearts.
May we not take our lives for granted. May we take our learning from this experience of Covid19 forward in our lives.
We have learned how much we value human connection and physical closeness; may we not lose sight of the resolve we hold in this moment to prioritise those connections.
Let us bring to our minds and hearts all those who are infected with coronavirus. May they be restored to good health.
Let us bring to our hearts and minds, those living alone, still feeling the pain of isolation, starved of human contact. May they know they are not alone. May they be comforted by God’s presence.
While some have begun the limited return to work, we bring to our hearts and minds the NHS front-line workers and key staff who never stopped working to bring healing and an end to this pandemic. Let us silently offer them our continued respect and gratitude.
May we hold those who we brought to mind in the loving and healing light of our hearts.
May those who are suffering be released from their pain.
May we all be released from our pain.
Silence for aprox 5 minutes
Poem: At the River Clarion, by Mary Oliver, please click on the link below:
Some closing words from Tielhard de Chardin which I find myself returning to again and again:
Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything
to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way to something
unknown, something new.
And yet it is the law of all progress
that it is made by passing through
some stages of instability –
and that it may take a very long time.
And so I think it is with you;
your ideas mature gradually – let them grow,
let them shape themselves, without undue haste.
Don’t try to force them on,
as though you could be today what time
(that is to say, grace and circumstances
acting on your own good will)
will make of you tomorrow.
Only God could say what this new spirit
gradually forming within you will be.
Give Our Lord the benefit of believing
that his hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
in suspense and incomplete.
Until such a time that we can be together again in person –
May the Lord bless you and keep you.
May the Lord make his face to shine upon you,
and be gracious to you.
May the Lord lift up his countenance upon you,
and give you peace.
May the Lord bless us and keep us.
May the Lord make his face to shine upon us,
and be gracious to us.
May the Lord lift up his countenance upon us,
and give us peace.