by Rev. Duncan Voice
“I never made one of my discoveries through the process of rational thinking” – Albert Einstein
Welcome to our Sunday Service, which should have been our Anniversary Service, before it had to be cancelled sadly. So, no scones and cream, and tea at the village hall this year; but we’ll enjoy it all the more next year. We face adversity in our ability to gather together, but let us gather instead in spirit and draw encouragement and strength from community.
You are invited to light a candle, or chalice, to begin our Service.
We light our chalice as a symbol of our faith
in the enduring good that abides in the world.
May we discover it, and nurture it, in ourselves and others;
and may it give us purpose and meaning.
Come and Experience by Roger Courtney
All of those whose lives feel empty or meaningless
- Come and experience the possibility of meaning and the healing of the spirit.
All of those who have had their heart broken
- Come and experience the possibility of the healing heart.
All of those who feel cynical or pessimistic
- Come and experience the possibility of hope for the future.
All of those whose lives are filled with superficiality
- Come and experience the possibility of stimulation for the mind and the soul.
All of those whose lives are filled with noise
- Come and experience the possibility of silence and tranquillity to reconnect with who we are and the divine ground of all things.
Starfish on the Beach from The Shortest Distance by Bill Darlison
While walking along the beach one day, a young man noticed that thousands of starfish had been washed up by the tide. The tide was going out, and the starfish were stranded. There was no way they could get back to the water, and within an hour or so they would all be dead.
In the distance, he noticed an elderly woman, who was picking up the starfish from the beach and throwing them back into the sea. He approached her and asked, “What are you doing?”
“I’m throwing these starfish back into the sea.”
But why are you bothering? There are thousands of them, what you are doing won’t make any difference,” said the young man.
“It will make a difference to this one” said the woman, as she hurled another starfish into the receding tide.
Hymn: Grant Us God, A Mind to Know You (from Sing Your Faith)
Grant us God, a mind to know you,
let us feel you stir in our heart;
fill our lives with your abundance,
show us how to play our parts.
In this changing world, in which we make our way,
keep us in your love ever true.
Help us to be kind to each other,
value people’s thoughts and needs.
Human hearts can give so much loving,
Human flesh for mercy pleads.
In this warring world in which we would survive,
why should we not give peace a chance?
Keep our spirits young and lively,
teach our children how to flower.
When our limbs begin to weaken,
send your comfort, let us know your power.
In this jostling world in which we strain and strive,
let us hear your still small voice.
God Within by Stephanie Ramage
There is “something” in a man and a woman
Which inspires them to create things of great beauty…
To write poetry which moves the spirit,
To tend a garden full of sweet-smelling flowers,
To create music which can move us to tears of joy,
To design fine buildings,
To use threads of silk and wool and turn them into beautiful fabrics which please the eye.
There is “something” in a man and a woman
Which enables their hearts to be touched by things of great beauty…
The sound of music created by the human voice and musical instrument,
The music of nature – the roar of the sea – the howl of the wind – the sound of gentle rain,
The sight of a perfect seashell or a beautifully turned pot or a vast range of mountains viewed at dawn.
There is “something” in a man or a woman
Which inspires them to behave in a loving way…
To give themselves to the service of others,
To help a friend when help is needed,
To look after and care for their family even when the daily tasks seem too much for them,
To withstand torture and face death for their beliefs.
That “something” which
Is God within.
(From Waiting to be Discovered, Edited by Johanna Boeke and Joy Croft, published by the Unitarian General Assembly Worship Committee)
You may wish to pause for a time of quiet prayer or reflection.
I expect many of us, from time to time, have asked ourselves the question, is what I am doing worthwhile? Or am I doing any good? Or why do I bother? Questions which may lead us into a depression or an apathy, if the answer appears to be negative or if, maybe, we don’t know. Perhaps we feel we have no direction in our life, or meaning. In such circumstances, tasks, even life itself, may appear mundane or pointless. Goals impossible to achieve. We might give up or walk away, and perhaps sometimes that is the right thing to do; but how do we know? It is good to question the meaning or the purpose of our lives, or aspects of our lives, I think, but where do we find some sort of answers?
It may be difficult in the first instance to find the right space and the time we need for reflection on such fundamental questions. Sometimes in meditation we reflect on important questions such as “what do I need to let go of to find peace in my life?” First, we calm ourselves and try to be present through gentle awareness of our breathing, then we place the question on the work bench of our mind, and see if an intuitive response emerges. It may do, or it may not for a while. But we can be patient if we understand the need to be so; and we do need to be so. Chasing an answer gives us no time to listen for that, perhaps, small quiet voice within. Sometimes it may be necessary to remove ourselves from the centre of things. The world really isn’t revolving around us as individuals after all! But we have something important to offer, a gift, or gifts; we all have a contribution to make.
I read an article recently, in the latest edition of “Faith and Freedom” magazine, an article called “The Sovereignty of Good and the Kingdom of God – a view from the hospital waiting room , written by retired minister Frank Walker .” He describes sitting in a hospital waiting room as his wife emerged from a consultation. He said,
“Something was obviously wrong. Her face was distorted; her walk agitated. The scan had revealed growths on her bladder, a serious case of cancer. I held her as she sobbed the news. I was shocked, stunned. The accustomed world dissolved. A new world appeared. It was a heavy burden to take up, and of course I shrank from it. It was the last thing I ever wanted.
Yet I realised immediately what I must do. I must do whatever I could to help and support her. I didn’t make a decision. I didn’t weigh up the pros and cons, and then decide. It was as though a light was switched on and immediately, I saw, I recognised, and I accepted. This light shone with authority. What else could I do? I knew at once I was necessary, absolutely necessary to my wife. A great work was entrusted to me, a more important work than anything I had ever done. It was most needful, and in the most special and intimate way possible it was mine. I knew all this at once without having to put it into words.”
The title of this piece is taken from a book by Iris Murdoch and Frank references this to examine the good that is within us, that in traditional religious language might be called a Divine spark. He discusses our use of more naturalistic language today, so someone might be inspired by nature rather that the glory of God, or have a love of life, rather than a love of God. But he suggests that in essence these are perhaps the same thing. He points out too our unique ability, in the animal kingdom, to care for the vulnerable and the sick, when this Divine spark might glow. He says,
“There emerges within people very powerfully and unmistakably the will, the determination to help. They could not do otherwise, or so many feel. It is so strong and universal, it has such depth of feeling, it is so unmistakable and assured, it is so supreme a value that in its service is perfect freedom. It is the love of the Good, the promise of the Kingdom of God. Normally we do not express it in such words. It seems all the same to be a universal experience, not captured in any one theological language. The impulse is so powerful it asserts itself without language…..the sovereignty of Good mysteriously lures us on, inviting, persuading us to attempt the impossible.” (Faith and Freedom, vol.73, part 1, published at Harris Manchester College, Oxford)
So adverse circumstance can make what is important clear to us, and we may feel this very deeply, giving us the courage to do what must be done, to love and to care. Perhaps this kind of revelation has helped some of our carers who have had to deal with the difficulties and dangers of coronavirus?
Revelation, in a traditional religious sense means disclosure of knowledge to humans by divine or supernatural agency. God partially revealed, a glimpse of ultimate truth. Perhaps not part of most peoples everyday thinking these days in our increasingly secular country? For some religious groups the source of this Truth can also be a narrow and exclusive one too, a historical figure, a scripture or maybe a church teaching. Not something that might evolve or change. As one inquisition Bishop put it “you can always tell a heresy, it is something new!”
This is not so for Unitarians however. When describing a classical Unitarian approach minister Stephen Lingwood says,
“Revelation for the Unitarian is not a once delivered truth that must now be preached and practiced, and defended, but a process of gradually imperfectly discovering a mysterious truth.”
So, while there might be dramatic moments of revelation in our lives during extraordinary times, it is more usually a process of discovery throughout our lives. Imperfect because we are, and maybe uncertain, but honest and open when followed truly. Stephen continues,
“All that we know is provisional (true for now, but might need to change in the future) and perspectival (not a “bird’s eye view of the world, but shaped by the particular place we are coming from). This means, as noted by American Unitarian theologian James Luther Adams. “Nothing is complete, and thus nothing is exempt from criticism.”” (Seeking Paradise: A Unitarian Mission for Our Times by Stephen Lingwood published by The Lindsey Press)
Stephen points out later in his book that we should avoid the mistake of trying to discern revelation in a “primarily individualistic way.” We are a part of the world, and the world is part of us; we live in communities and societies that shape our views; we are interconnected; “we are part of a social and historical conversation.” We are discerning truth in community; a truth we intuit, that feels right at this time and place.
In our reading Stephanie Ramage speaks of how beauty in its many forms can stir that “something” within us. Another kind of revelation. Something special, something sacred, something inspirational. We can find different words, but there always seems to be that “something”. So, revelation may come to us in many ways. Through nature, literature, poetry, but also the pain and suffering we may encounter on our journey through life; and of course, the inspiration of others – their wisdom, courage and compassion. All these and more can change the direction of our lives or the view we have of life.
Sometimes all the problems in the world, in our lives, can seem overwhelming, hopeless maybe. Their scale and magnitude, and our limitations; but there is always something we can do for the good. It may be seem a small thing, like the old lady in our story throwing starfish back in to the sea; but it may be the most important thing we do in our lives. And perhaps someone will see us on that beach, going about our hopeless task, and perhaps they will join us and we’ll form a community whose task is hopeless, but who manage to do some good. Wouldn’t that would be a beautiful “something” indeed.
May it be so.
– by Rainer Maria Rilke
Have patience with everything
unresolved in your heart,
and try to love the questions
themselves, as if they were locked rooms
or books written in a foreign
Don’t search for the answers,
which could not be given to you now,
because you would not be able
to live them.
And the point is, to live everything.
Live the questions now.
Perhaps then, someday far in the future,
you will gradually, without even noticing it,
live your way to the answer.
May we go on the ways of lives in love and peace, and may the God of our understanding be with us now and always. Amen.