By Rev. Duncan Voice
Here is the transcript from some of our Service at Ditchling this morning. Unfortunately we are not able to include all the readings, but have referenced them. We met for the first time in six months which was lovely, but we are aware that not everyone had this opportunity. So here is our humble offering:
We come to this time and this place:
To rediscover the wonderous gift of free religious community;
To renew our faith in the holiness, goodness, and beauty of life;
To reaffirm the way of the open mind and the full heart;
To rekindle the flame of memory and hope; and
To reclaim the vision of an earth made fair, with all her people one.
We light this flame,
this symbol of energy,
of light, of life,
to remind us:
of the energy within us,
of the light of our life,
of the light that is in us,
of the light that is us.
words by Janet Goode
Spirit of life, God of our understanding,
As we gather once again in our beloved meeting house,
in an attitude of prayerfulness,
each in our own way;
we are thankful for this opportunity to be together,
and for the blessing of the present moment.
We pause to remember those who cannot be with us:
those who we care for and who we are concerned for,
those whose passing comes to our mind at this time.
We hold them in our hearts,
during this time of peace.
Some of us bring with us our doubts and questions,
may these help us to grow in spirit.
Some of us bring with us our anxieties and problems,
may these help us to grow in self-awareness and caring.
Some of us bring with us our gifts and our loves,
may these help us to grow in joy and sharing.
May we see the beauty that is in the world around us,
to lift our souls and restore hope to our hearts.
May we walk a path of peace and happiness together,
helping others as we go.
May we act as a balm to heal the wounds of the world.
Story: The Mice Who Taught the Monk to Smile
Our story this morning was taken from the book “Kindness” by Sarah Conover
by Albert Sweitzer (1875 –1965)
Albert Sweitzer was born in Germany, later becoming a French citizen. He was a theologian, organist, writer, humanitarian, philosopher and physician.
“I do not believe that we can put into anyone ideas which are not in them already. As a rule, there are in everyone all sorts of good ideas, ready like tinder. But much of this tinder catches fire, or catches it successfully, only when it meets some flame or spark from outside, i.e., from some other person. Often, too, our own light goes out, and is rekindled by some experience we go through with a fellow-human. Thus, we have each of us, cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted flames within us. If we had before us those who have thus been a blessing to us, and could tell them how it came about, they would be amazed to learn what had passed over from their life into ours.”
Albert Schweitzer, Memoirs of Childhood and Youth
Music: Simple Gifts, Aaron Copeland
Our second reading this morning was taken from Parker J. Palmer’s book “A Hidden Wholeness, and was called the “Blizzard of the World.”
Hymn/music – Finlandia (Live) by Jean Sibelius, Cantus
“You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under a bushel basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all the house. In the same way let your light shine before others…” Matthew 5: 14-16
I have always found those words from the Gospel of Matthew to be uplifting and inspiring. As someone who is inclined to be a little introvert and quiet, it reminds me not to use this as an excuse to hide away like the monk in our earlier story; returning to the cave of myself and becoming gloomy and cynical about the world and all its problems. I am encouraged to let my light, whatever that may be, shine. To have the courage to follow the call within, to try to do some good in the world. How does it speak to you?
I was interested to read an article in the latest edition of The Inquirer magazine by Jenny Miller, an Interfaith Minister and friend of Godalming Unitarians, which was called “Nursing your calling”. It talks about Florence Nightingale’s path into nursing, something that she felt she was called to do. At the age of just 16, she wrote in her diary, “God spoke to me and called me into his service”. However, it would take many more years before she was able to pursue the nursing work that she so yearned to do, as her family did not support it to begin with. Probably not the sort of thing that a well-to-do young lady of the times was supposed to do. But her mind, and her heart, was set on this ambition and she refused two offers of marriage as she waited, with increasing frustration, to do what she felt she was meant to be doing. As we know she did eventually make it; and when she did, she faced many more struggles and challenges.
We would call pursuing such a path a vocation. A word which has its origin in the Latin word vocare, which means to call. How do you feel about the idea of a “calling”? Have you ever experienced such a thing?
I suppose Florence Nightingale’s conviction that God spoke to her would not resonate with everyone these days, but whatever it was that she felt she experienced, it clearly went very deep. The path she chose was unconventional for the times, difficult and potentially dangerous. She could have had a comfortable life, but she felt she had to do it; there was no other life for her. Jenny Miller goes on to say in her article;
“It is said that to “be who you are” is the great secret of spiritual work and so I wonder how many of us have had tender feelings of the soul urging us to go into unconventional directions in life and how difficult it is to discern a sense of calling in our own lives. As Julia Mourant writes, “It is quite possible to be deeply rooted in your faith, be a person of prayer, belong to a worshipping community, faithfully serve and give of yourself and yet, and yet…..still be wondering: “What on earth am I here for?” You may…..feel sure that there is something that you should be doing, if only you could discover what it is.” This reminds me of a saying by Rumi which encourages us all to find the “one thing” which is ours to do.
David Spangler, spiritual writer and teacher says, “A true spiritual calling is not task-oriented (though there may be many tasks involved); it is being oriented. It is something we must do because if we don’t, we won’t be ourselves. We won’t find wholeness and fulfilment ….We all have a spiritual call”, he says.”
Florence Nightingale’s spiritual calling, to nurse the sick, seems to have been clear to her from an early age and although she had to fight to pursue it, she had a fairly clear outlet for her desire to help others. For many of us it may not be so clear or indeed we may not be sure that such a thing exists or could happen for us. However, David Spangler suggests it is not so much about the tasks that need to be done, but about how about we chose to be. In other words, perhaps, if we can be a certain way, this will guide us. Giving us the love, the insight, the courage or whatever it is we need, to do that which ours to do.
One of the most remarkable examples of this that I know is that of Etty Hillesum. Etty was a Dutch Jewish student living in Amsterdam during the second world war. She kept diaries and wrote letters which revealed her spiritual journey during the time of Nazi occupation and how she came to terms with the suffering she encountered. During this terrible period of time, she underwent a transformation, a spiritual awakening, although up until then she had not been involved in organised religion. She helped and inspired those with whom she suffered, and later generations too, when her diaries were published and her story started to become known.
Here is an excerpt from her diaries where, as the situation worsens in occupied Holland, and Jewish people are being transported to the East and never heard from again, she reflects on being urged by others to go into hiding. However, her growing understanding of herself and her spirituality is guiding her on a different path:
“People often get worked up when I say it doesn’t matter whether I go or someone else does, the main thing is that so many thousand have to go. It is not as if I want to fall into the arms of destruction with a resigned smile – far from it. I am only bowing to the inevitable, and even as I do so I am sustained by the certain knowledge that ultimately, they cannot rob us of anything that matters. I certainly do not want to go out of some kind of masochism, to be torn away from what has been the basis of my existence these last few years. But I don’t think I would feel happy if I were exempted from what so many others have to suffer. They keep telling me that someone like me has a duty to go into hiding because I have so to do in life, so much to give. But I know that whatever I may have to give to others, I can give it no matter where I am, here in the circle of my friends or over there in the concentration camp. And it is sheer arrogance to think oneself too good to share the fate of the masses. And if God himself should feel that I still have a great deal to do, well then, I shall do it after I have suffered what all the others have to suffer. And whether or not I am a valuable human being will become clear only from my behaviour in more arduous circumstances. And if I should not survive, how I die will show me who I really am.”
Extract from “Etty Hillesum: A Life Transformed” by Patrick Woodhouse.
I find her words to be very moving and powerful. Her understanding of her “being” has moved beyond self-preservation, to one of true concern for others, to be one with others. Her great achievement was to maintain her humanity, and compassion, in the worst of circumstances. A terrifying calling to us the reader, or listener, even separated as we are by time. Some people might question her choices, and I guess that’s understandable; how many of us feel we could show such courage and faith? However, I personally find her awareness of herself, the depths of her being, and what we might call the “bigger picture”, and her compassion for all, inspiring. She could have hidden away and lived in fear, but she decided to follow her calling to care for others and accept their fate as her own. In doing so felt she was being true to herself and being truly alive. Eye witnesses who survived and knew Etty in those times, said she was a luminous presence amid the horror and the suffering.
There is an expression used in psalm 42, “Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me” (Psalm 42:7). It’s probably about the Psalmist lamenting not being able to return to Jerusalem, but somehow the poetry of this expression “Deep calls to deep” describes what is going on here when the spiritual awareness, the aliveness and the courage of someone speaks to us. Going beyond our analysing and calculating minds, beyond our more superficial cares to somewhere beyond knowing and words.
The final words in Etty Hillesum’s diaries, written on 13th October 1942, were “We should be willing to act as a balm for all wounds.” She arrived in Auschwitz on 10th September 1943, and died there on 30th November that same year. In a time of pandemic, we may feel that we are living in difficult times, and there are many other problems too in the world such as poverty, war and the climate emergency. We may feel there is little that we can do which can give us a sense of hopelessness or anxiety; but our potential for healing and helping is always there if we can discover it through our inner listening and our being. We don’t need to compare ourselves to others, but discover our own way through growing awareness of our own selves.
We can reflect on what this might mean to us as individuals, but also perhaps as a community. We can see our present circumstances not as limping along, trying to get by, but as an opportunity to discover our purpose. Not to dwell on self-preservation and keeping going, but to consider how we might be a blessing to the world. Even if it is not to our personal advantage. This may be a time to keep our physical distance from one another, but it may also be a time for us to spiritually unite for the benefit of all? Times of difficulty and suffering present us with an opportunity to share the love we have, and give hope. May we do it gladly, and let our light shine. Amen.
Music: 219 You are the song of my heart
Which contains the words:
“You are the deep to the deep in me calling,
you are the lamp where my feet shall tread;
your way is steep, past the peril of falling,
you are my daily bread.
by Kendyl Gibbons
Let us go forth into the world
through a door of hope for the future,
remembering these words by Martin Luther:
Even if I knew that tomorrow
the world would go to pieces,
I would still plant my apple tree.
May we go now in peace.