by Rev. Duncan Voice
“God lifts up those who are bowed down” – Psalm 146.8
Welcome to our Service today. In nature, if Autumn is a time of harvest, Winter a time of stillness, Spring a time of awakening then Summer is a time of flowering. Yesterday we marked the summer Solstice and entered summer, so I hope you have been able to enjoy the warmer weather and the longer days. Connecting in some way with the beauty of the natural world as it reveals itself to us.
Today is also Father’s Day and we celebrate with any Fathers that may be joining us. We celebrate the contribution of Fathers, step-fathers, and those who have acted as a father, to the lives of their children and those they have supported. However, today may also be a reminder of those we have lost; and some may not have had a good relationship with their father for many reasons. So, may this be a time healing too.
We begin with our chalice or candle lighting. Please join in at home if you can.
We light this chalice flame
as a symbol of our faith,
which brings warmth and light
into our lives;
and through us,
in to the lives of others,
who we meet and we welcome
in peace and love.
Prayer and reflection
Spirit of life and love,
We gather together, though we are apart.
Into this gathering we bring our worries and concerns,
our questions and uncertainties,
but also, our gratitude.
Gratitude for this moment, this peace, this sharing.
On this day we think of the joys and sadness’s
connected with fatherhood.
Our own relationships, those that we know.
The wise and the caring, the unwise and the uncaring.
May we celebrate all that is good
and find healing where there is pain and separation.
Help us to understand ourselves
so that we may better understand others.
At this time of summer help us to flourish and grow,
in gentle spirit and in loving community.
As we celebrate, and appreciate more than ever,
those that work as carers, help us to be carers too;
in our relationships with each other, and our world. Amen.
Story – The Song of the Bird by Anthony de Mello
“The disciples were full of questions about God.
Said the master, “God is unknown and unknowable.
Every statement about him, every answer to your questions,
is a distortion of the truth.”
The disciples were bewildered.
“Then why do you speak about him at all?”
“Why does the bird sing?” said the master.
Anthony de Mello comments,
“Not because it has a statement, but because it has a song.
The words of the scholar are to be understood. The words of the master are not to be understood. They are to be listened to as one listens to the wind in the trees, and the sound of a river, and the song of the bird. They will awaken something in the heart that is beyond all knowledge.”
[Pause for a little while to consider how this story speaks to you.]
The Casa del Sol Blessings of Jesus (Based on Matthew 5. 3-9) by John Philip Newell can be found by following this link : https://heartbeatjourney.org/casa-del-sol-blessing-of-jesus/
Please pause for a time of quiet reflection and meditation. You may like to listen to this piece of music called Una Mattina by Ludovico Einaudi.
Walking recently in the countryside, near to where I live, I have been captivated and amazed at how many shades of green there are in the natural world. Different every day, even when viewed from the same perspective. The crops in the fields, grasses and trees create an astonishing green patchwork. I simply don’t have the vocabulary to describe it really. Dark and bright, emerald and olive and lime, so many; and so many beyond naming. All these plants bursting with energy as they soak in the summer sun. Home and food to many creatures, and a delight to a casual wanderer like me.
Yet how casual is my relationship? I feel deeply moved at times when my senses connect with the natural world; on a midsummers day when I hear the birds, smell the scent of flowers and see the different shades of green. I feel the sun on my skin as humans have done for thousands of years and I know that I am alive. I feel thankful and grateful.
I am aware though that some people when they look over fields and trees would see nothing except a landscape devoid of anything that interests them. Some might feel fear of wildlife or discomfort at being out of their urban environment. Some, for one reason or another, will never have the opportunity to look upon shades of green, and decide how it makes them feel. Our lives take different paths, each of us having to find our own way, each with a different point of view. Maybe that is the way of it. I can only speak of what makes my heart sing. The ways and the places that I find connection with. Something simple and yet infinitely complex; a wholeness, greater than myself and yet it is me and I am it. I hope that such places exist for everyone somewhere at some time.
The easing of lockdown in our country has begun and shops are re-opening gradually once again with the appropriate restrictions in place. Good news for those that enjoy a trip to the shops and for the businesses themselves of course. Although the experience will not be quite the same for some time to come. The slogan “shop for Britain” has emanated from somewhere inside our government to encourage us to spend money and support businesses. On one level seemingly a good idea to get the economy going, but a hollow message for the increasing number of people who are struggling financially.
Nevertheless, I notice that some people queued from 3am in Brighton, this week, to get back to their favourite shop. They had clearly missed the experience of shopping greatly, and I don’t criticise or judge them for that, although it does seem alien to me! It is good to support our high streets if we can, especially local traders and those that encourage a more ethical dimension to our shopping habits; selling healthier and more sustainable products. But I don’t think the queues were for these kinds of shops, but more likely connected with clothing and fashion. Clothing is important but fashions are fickle, leading us into to environmentally harmful habits.
According to James Dyke, senior lecturer in global systems at Exeter University, writing in the I newspaper,
“It can take 2,700 litres of water to make a single T-shirt. That begins to explain how the textile industry has become the second largest polluter of freshwater in the world. The industrial scale of cotton production accounts for 16 percent of the world’s pesticide use. Every time you wash synthetic fabrics, thousands of fibres are released which pollute the air, water and ecosystems…. Perhaps most important of all, clothes change the climate. As an industry, fashion produces 10 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions. That’s five times more than aviation.” His article was called “Throwaway fashion is literally costing us the Earth.” (I newspaper, 18th June 2020)
So advertisers will soon be after us again, if they are not already. Telling us how unsatisfactory our lives are, that we need a new look, a new car, a holiday, an indispensable new something or other; leading us to a place of anxiety because we think we need to have these things to be happy, to keep up, to look the part. This kind is kind of social pressure, which I have discovered has a name, it is referred to by some as “affluenza.”
In their book “Active Hope” Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone explain,
“Affluenza is a term used to describe the emotional distress that arises from a preoccupation with possessions and appearance. Psychologist Oliver James views it as a form of psychological virus that affects our thinking and is transmitted by television, glossy magazines and advertisements. The toxic belief at the core of this condition is that happiness is based on how we look and what we have. If we compare our appearance or wealth to that of models and millionaires on prime-time television, it is easy to feel we don’t measure up so well. James comments, “Since programmes are saturated with exceptionally attractive people living abnormally opulent lives, expectations of what is “normal” are raised.” (from Active Hope by Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone)
Of course, during lockdown some of these images have been reduced or removed from our lives. Even celebrities haven’t been able to get a haircut! So, what will happen as lockdown restrictions lift? Will we go back to the old normal, or will there be an even more manic, anxiety inducing, new normal? Or will we use any spending power we may have for less frivolous reasons; for something healthier and more wholesome for ourselves, others and our planet. There is a chance for new beginning, I think. Less consuming and more gratitude for what we already have, less polluting and more caring for the earth, less selfishness and more generosity, less materialism and a more spiritual way of being.
We can learn much from those whose culture has traditionally had a more respectful attitude towards the natural world; such as Native American people like the Haudenoshaunee.
“[They]…see humans as interconnected parts of a larger web of life, where each being is uniquely valuable. Crops, trees, rivers and the sun are respected and thanked as fellow beings in a community of mutual aid. If you have this view you don’t tear down forests and pollute rivers. Instead…you accept other life forms as part of your extended family. [They say] “We are shown that our life exists within the tree of life, that our well-being depends on the well-being of vegetable life, that we are close relatives of the four-legged beings.” (from Active Hope by Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone)
To begin their meetings and gatherings they use words like these:
“Today we have gathered and we see the cycles of life continue. We have been given the duty to live in balance and harmony with each other and all living things. So now we bring our minds together as one and we give greetings and thanks to each other as People. Now our minds are one.”(from Active Hope by Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone)
A gentle but strong reminder of what is important. Not making as much money as possible, not exploiting others or the earth, not living as anxiety driven individuals thinking only of ourselves, but living in “balance and harmony”. And seeing this as a sacred duty, rather than some sort of optional extra. Something for all us to think about as the human world begins to re-open.
Unless you are restricted in the activities you can currently do for health reasons, there has never been a better opportunity than this summer to re-connect with the natural world. The hills, the rivers, the sea wherever your spirit takes you. The skies are clearer, the air is cleaner, saviour it and connect if you can. Walk among the many shades of green.
Prayer – Earth Teach Me – A prayer from the Ute people of North America
Earth teach me stillness
As the grasses are stilled with light.
Earth teach me suffering
As old stones suffer with memory.
Earth teach me humility
As blossoms are humble with beginning.
Earth teach me caring
As the mother who succours her young.
Earth teach me courage
As the tree which stands alone.
Earth teach me limitation
As the ant which crawls upon the ground.
Earth teach me freedom
as the eagle soars in the sky.
Earth teach me regeneration
As the seed which rises in the spring.
Earth teach me to forget myself
As melted snow forgets its life.
Earth teach me to remember kindness
As dry fields weep in the rain.
I can do no other than be reverent before everything that is called life.
I can do no other than to have compassion for all that is called life.
That is the beginning and foundation of all ethics.
Albert Sweitzer (1875-1965)
May we grow in reverence for our Earth;
May we grow in respect for all life;
May we grow in loving;
May we grow in wisdom;
May we grow in gentle spirit;
May we grow in gratitude;
May we grow, together.
As we go on the ways of our lives may the God of our understanding be with us. Amen.
This week we lost Ditchling resident and national treasure Dame Vera Lynne so it seems appropriate to finish with one of her songs. She is remembered for the iconic “White Cliffs of Dover” and “We’ll Meet Again”, but I’m rather fond of this one, released in 1940, “A Nightingale Sings in Berkeley Square.”