Sunday 16 August 2020

by Stephen Crowther

“If it’s not within your grasp to change a situation that’s causing you pain, you can always choose the attitude with which to face this suffering.”
(Viktor Frankl)

“Whether someone is happy or not depends on how spacious their mind is – not what is happening externally”

(From “The Path of Resilience” by a Tibetan Buddhist monk,
submitted by Shelagh Salmon)

Have a candle ready to light. You may want to play some gentle music for 5 or 10 minutes before we start at 11.00.

Good morning and welcome to our service during this time of continuing uncertainty in the world. May we hold ourselves gently in our uncertainty.

Let us begin, as is our custom, by lighting a chalice.

As we join with others in our community and beyond, some of us are still isolated in our homes, may we be reminded yet again, 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 on this Summer’s day.

(pause)

We are of many different identities, sexualities, diverse beliefs and life experiences. We have chosen to come together in this moment for worship. This makes this a holy moment – a sacred moment. Some of us are here on zoom some of us will be reading a transcript. Some of us will be here with sorrow in our hearts, some with joy. 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 on a Sunday, 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….

(pause)

Some Opening Words:

My hut lies in the middle of a dense forest;
Every year the green ivy grows longer.
No news of the affairs of men,
Only the occasional song of a woodcutter.
The sun shines and I mend my robe;
When the moon comes out I read Buddhist poems.
I have nothing to report, my friends.
If you want to find the meaning,
stop chasing after so many things.
(poem by Ryokan)

My hut lies in the middle of the city but my usual sources of novelty and distraction have gone. My reduced capacity to plan feels like the behaviour of a nihilist and it is easy to become despondent. It is in these times I feel so grateful for those that have taught me ways to source an inner life. Sometimes I crave Ryokan’s dense forest but I know that there is one within. I just need to be quiet enough to remember the path that leads there.
(Reflection by Dharmakara from Brighton Buddhist Centre)
Both submitted by Jen Barton

(pause)

So, how are you doing? How are you managing in this continuing COVID time? For myself, I feel sad that the expansiveness of time I experienced at the start of lockdown has now become constricted in the face of heightened levels of activity. And I feel confused – there’s a lot to try and work out – there’s lockdown in some places and it’s lifted in others. It seems new rules and regulations come in daily. I don’t know about you but I’ve been struggling a bit with it all. And the heat doesn’t help! And through it all, we’re supposed to carry on ‘keeping a distance’ and wearing a mask. And yet, I still feel unsafe when I’m out and about on the street.
This week, I was sent the following face-book post which helped make sense of my experience:

Aspects of our COVID exhaustion are due to the reality that many of us are carrying the weight of other’s irresponsibility.
Many go about their lives, unencumbered with any feeling of social responsibility, then feel justified in their carelessness, at least partially protected by the herculean efforts of others.
Not only are we navigating a context foreign to us, sacrificially bearing a collective burden, we have to watch those efforts devalued by those who then pretend their carelessness is justified.
We’re holding a societal umbrella in a downpour; they’re laughing and pretending it’s not raining because they’re not wet. It’s exhausting.

Whether were aware of it or not, we will be changed by this experience of COVID19. How we are being changed is yet to be revealed but changed we will be. And there will be gifts arising from this common experience some of which we know of already and some have yet to show themselves.

But for now, a story from the Zen tradition:

There was once a stone cutter who was dissatisfied with himself and with his position in life.
One day he passed a wealthy merchant’s house. Through the open gateway, he saw many fine possessions and important visitors. “How powerful that merchant must be!” thought the stone cutter. He became very envious and wished that he could be like the merchant.
To his great surprise, he suddenly became the merchant, enjoying more luxuries and power than he had ever imagined, but envied and detested by those less wealthy than himself. Soon a high official passed by, carried in a sedan chair, accompanied by attendants and escorted by soldiers beating gongs. Everyone, no matter how wealthy, had to bow low before the procession. “How powerful that official is!” he thought. “I wish that I could be a high official!”
Then he became the high official, carried everywhere in his embroidered sedan chair, feared and hated by the people all around. It was a hot summer day, so the official felt very uncomfortable in the sticky sedan chair. He looked up at the sun. It shone proudly in the sky, unaffected by his presence. “How powerful the sun is!” he thought. “I wish that I could be the sun!”
Then he became the sun, shining fiercely down on everyone, scorching the fields, cursed by the farmers and laborers. But a huge black cloud moved between him and the earth, so that his light could no longer shine on everything below. “How powerful that storm cloud is!” he thought. “I wish that I could be a cloud!”
Then he became the cloud, flooding the fields and villages, shouted at by everyone. But soon he found that he was being pushed away by some great force and realized that it was the wind. “How powerful it is!” he thought. “I wish that I could be the wind!”
Then he became the wind, blowing tiles off the roofs of houses, uprooting trees, feared and hated by all below him. But after a while, he ran up against something that would not move, no matter how forcefully he blew against it – a huge, towering rock. “How powerful that rock is!” he thought. “I wish that I could be a rock!”
Then he became the rock, more powerful than anything else on earth. But as he stood there, he heard the sound of a hammer pounding a chisel into the hard surface and felt himself being changed. “What could be more powerful than I, the rock?” he thought.
He looked down and saw far below him the figure of a stone cutter.

(The Stone Cutter, unconfirmed origins)

(pause)

Reading: The Invitation by Oriah Mountain Dreamer

http://www.oriahmountaindreamer.com/

(pause)

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.

(pause)

When we are overwhelmed with the world
And cannot see our way clear,
When life seems a struggle between tedium and apathy
Or frenzy and exhaustion;
When today seems a punishment and tomorrow a torment,
May we find the courage of patience.

May we recognize courage in ourselves and our companions;
That is not dramatic, that elicits no fanfare;
That commands little notice by the world,
That is forgotten and taken for granted.

May we learn how to cope
Like those who live one day of pain at a time,
Who see the long path of suffering and do not despair,
Who inspire us by their patient courage,
When we are impatient and afraid.

May we know such courage
And quietly celebrate its presence among us.

(The Courage of Patience by Richard S. Gilbert)

(pause)

In this continuing time of separation and uncertainty, we give thanks for the 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. We have learned how much we value human connection and physical closeness; may we not lose sight of the resolve we have held to prioritise those connections in the future.

(pause)

Let us hold in our minds and hearts the people of Lebanon.

We lift up all those who have lost loved ones; those who have lost their homes – may they be comforted in their grief.

We lift up the emergency workers and rescuers – may they be aided in their work and know they are in our thoughts and hearts.

(pause)

May those who are infected with Covid19, and those suffering with fear and anxiety, be released from their pain.

May we all be released from our pain.

(pause)

God, heart of the world: revealed through every aspect of creation: understood through our awareness. May we honour the holiness of creation and act accordingly so that your love is reflected in the way we live. May we always be thankful for the food we eat and the friends we have. May we forgive those who transgress against us and be forgiven for our own. In the freedom of love may we live as your heartbeat and not be compromised by hesitation. Through our freedom, may your justice be seen and heard and experienced forever and ever.

Amen
(Sherri J. Weinberg)

(pause)

We will now enter a period of silence. You may wish to use this time to offer up what is on your heart in this moment – whatever or whoever is in need of prayer right now.

Reflection:
If you are like me, then two of the spiritual disciplines you’ve probably found yourself practicing most frequently, over the last 4 months, have been Acceptance and Patience.
These two qualities have been the key to unlock the mystery of ‘how do I do lockdown?’, ‘how do I survive a pandemic?’.

I have a friend who says that for him, it’s not just about accepting what is, but also of accepting what isn’t. And quite often, that becomes my prayer – ‘God, help me accept what isn’t….’

Consistently practicing acceptance and patience have enabled many of us to discover that we are resilient; perhaps more resilient than we thought we were – had we ever stopped to consider how we might fare in a pandemic…
Being resilient means that despite pain and adverse circumstances, we are able to go on with our lives without losing control or feeling overwhelmed. We can even start over again when everything goes wrong.
It is said that resilience can be learned; that it’s not a personality trait that is present in some people and not in others.

And so, while reflecting on my experience and on the nature of resilience, I’ve discovered a series of attitudes and practices that I believe can help us in developing our resilience:

• Staying connected with others. Keeping in touch with loved ones and members of our communities.
• Practicing acceptance of what is (and isn’t!). Learning to carefully accept what can’t be changed about a situation and then asking what can actually be changed. The serenity prayer is a great tool for this –
God, grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change,
courage to change the things I can,
and wisdom to know the difference.
(Reinhold Niebuhr)

• ‘This too shall pass’. Reminding ourselves of past crisis we’ve survived and that all things are in a constant state of flux.
• Doing the next right thing – taking small steps, keeping it simple.
• Practicing gratitude. You may want to start writing a gratitude list at the end of each day. ‘Gratitude can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. It makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.’
(Melody Beattie)

• Doing estimable things helps build self-esteem.
• ‘Me too’. Getting vulnerable – sharing our hopes and fears with others whatever is going on for us. Vent!
• Living one day at a time.
• Asking for help.
• Being of service to others.
• Having a faith that ‘all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well’.
• And praying – maintaining an intimate relationship with the God of our understanding.
• Always prayer…..

“O Beloved, how numerous are my fears!
They rise up within me whispering
there is no help for you.

Yet, You, O my Beloved, radiate Love
around me, my glory;
gratitude becomes my song,
When I cry out to You,
You answer within my heart.

I lie down and sleep; if I should
Awaken, my Beloved is there
holding me with strength
and tenderness.
I feel secure.

Now, I shall forgive all illusions
that my ego tries to build.
For my courage is in You, O Love,
You who are the Lover hidden
in every heart.

rise up, Love! Set me free!
For through your guidance,
my fears will fade into love.
Free from fear, I will know
the Oneness of Being that
encompasses Everything!
I shall be free to serve Love
with a glad and open heart.”

(Psalm 3 from Psalms for Praying by Nan C. Merrill)

(pause)

Some closing words by Elizabeth Tarbox:

“When the day is too bright or the night too dark, and your feelings are like an avalanche barrelling down the mountain of events outside your control, when you look down and you are falling and you cannot see the bottom, or when your pain has eaten you and you are nothing but an empty hungry hole, then there is an opportunity for giving.

Don’t stay home and cover your head with a pillow. Go outside and plant a tulip bulb in the ground; that is an act of rebirth. Sprinkle breadcrumbs for the squirrels or sunflower seeds for the birds; that is a claiming of life. And when you have done that, or if you cannot do that, go stare at a tree whose leaves are letting go for its very survival. Pick up a leaf, stare at it; it is life; it has something to teach you.

You are as precious as the birds or the tulips or the tree whose crenelated bark protects the insects who seek its shelter. You are an amazing, complex being with poetry in your arteries and charity layered beneath your skin. You have before you a day full of opportunities for living and giving. Do not think you know all there is to know about yourself, for you have not given enough away yet to be able to claim self-knowledge. Do you have work to do today? Then do it as if your life were hanging in the balance, do it as fiercely as if it mattered, for it does. Do you think the world doesn’t need you? Think again! You cleanse the world with your breathing, you beautify the world with your thinking and acting and caring.

Don’t stay home and suffocate on your sorrow; go outside and give yourself to the world’s asking.”

(Rebirth by Elizabeth Tarbox)

(pause)

Blessing:
May your challenges in life help to build your strength.
May you be forever steadfast in your commitments.
May you always be reminded of your own resourcefulness.
May you be blessed with people who confound, frustrate and annoy you, teaching you patience and the art of forgiveness.
May you be blessed with miracles from unexpected sources when you most need them.
May you come to know your purpose in life.
May you be granted courage to live a life of meaning, not comfort.
May you be granted a strong heart for the times when pain would otherwise break your spirit.
May you not forget that even in the darkest of nights, dawn’s light is always coming.

May you come to know your own resilience.

And so, until such a time that we can be together in person – may the wind of the Spirit blow through our world, giving the answer of God’s everlasting love. That as you re-enter your day, you do so with peace and joy in your heart.

Amen

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