Sunday 22nd November 2020

I hope this finds you well. You may like to light your own candle when the chalice is being lit.

Warm wishes and blessings to you all.

Jennifer Sanders – Lay Pastor – Hastings Unitarian Church

Opening words

The Chinese use two brush strokes to write the word ‘crisis.’ One brush stroke stands for danger; the other for opportunity. In a crisis be aware of the danger – but recognise the opportunity. – John F. Kennedy

Chalice Lighting

This is our commitment to the sacred , the God of our own understanding . May this light illuminate our hearts and minds setting aside all that we think we know for a new experience and deeper connection to the divine.
May it offer a beacon of hope to all that seek spiritual wholeness


As we come together in prayer
Divine power, light and love we come together this morning in worship as a community, to remind ourselves of or spiritual bond that is greater and more powerful in this moment than our isolation – Amen

Our opening words are powerful in their meaning and because 57 years ago today JF Kennedy was assassinated by a sniper while riding in a motorcade through downtown Dallas.

Many, who are old enough will remember where they were when this assassination took place . It was perhaps the first time that a significant event, that was to change a nation’s history , had been recorded in real time.
Other significant moments in our lives that changed the course of history were 9/11 and nearer to home 7/7. There was no time to prepare for these and they seemingly came out of nowhere.
A couple of weeks ago we remembered those who faced great danger and gave their lives to defend our freedom. Most recently, all of us will probably remember where we were when our prime minister
informed us that we were about to enter a national lockdown.

These events are imprinted in our memory where perhaps other things dull with time bringing with them fear, danger and uncertainty.

Covid has had such a significant impact on us all. It will be months, maybe even years before the history books can look back on this crisis with some distance and fully evaluate its impact.
For now all of us here are carrying its effects in our personal way .

And what we have all felt at some point is a sense of danger, of fear, confusion about how to protect ourselves, worry about when and if it will ever end.
Just like other events that change the course of history this too will do the same as we are shaped by the experiences we have.
But what does this mean in the context of our spiritual life, the relationship with the God of our understanding, the higher power, the divine spirit and the God in us all ?

Our first reading comes from Lyn Ungar, a UU minister and was written early on in Lockdown and although our restrictions during this period are seemingly not as severe the words ring true just the same

It is entitled Pandemic,

What if you thought of it
as the Jews consider the Sabbath —
the most sacred of times?
Cease from travel.
Cease from buying and selling.
Give up, just for now,
on trying to make the world
different than it is.
Sing. Pray. Touch only those
to whom you commit your life.
Center down.
And when your body has become still,
reach out with your heart.
Know that we are connected
in ways that are terrifying and beautiful.
(You could hardly deny it now.)
Know that our lives
are in one another’s hands.
(Surely, that has come clear.)
Do not reach out your hands.
Reach out your heart.
Reach out your words.
Reach out all the tendrils
of compassion that move, invisibly,
where we cannot touch.
Promise this world your love —
for better or for worse,
in sickness and in health,
so long as we all shall live.

A popular meme circulating on social media quotes that to avoid spreading the coronavirus, you avoid physical contact and don’t go into large crowds. To which the “introvert” replies: “I’ve been training for this moment my whole life.”
As are those who have a regular and extensive practice in meditation who are used to time in solitude
But for many of us the opportunity to do things differently has been a challenge.

We have had to dig deep for that sense of resilience for ways to do things differently
For many we have been given time to reassess, to go slower, to identify and sift through. We have needed to drink from the well of the spirit not just once but multiple times.

Chakell Wardleigh a Christian writer and story teller talks about being an overly anxious person—someone who lies awake at night replaying minor awkward encounters from each day and worrying incessantly about things that “might” happen.
These past few months have left her feeling like a marionette puppet, anxiety and fear controlling her limbs and strings, leaving her crumpled in an exhausted heap by the end of each day.
She asks if we can relate ? I certainly can!

And what she has been certain about is the opportunities that the crisis of the pandemic has brought her – Namely stillness, connection and faith.

The Opportunity to Be Still
I am a busybody. I don’t like to sit still. I feel uncomfortable in silence. I often catch myself listening to audiobooks or scrolling through social media to fill my free time. But I’m trying to be more mindful in my life, and I’ve realised that I use distractions to protect myself from anxiety and from acknowledging uncomfortable feelings. As much as I dislike acknowledging them at the time, when I don’t allow myself to feel my feelings and be still, everything builds up inside to the point where I can hardly feel anything, including the Spirit.
While there are definitely times when I need to get up and respond to what’s happening around me, occasionally being still is essential to my emotional and, more importantly, my spiritual health.
Perhaps this time is a rare opportunity to practice stillness—to invite the Spirit and learn how it communicates with me.

The Opportunity to Reconnect
The distractions of the world can often disconnect me from what is most precious and important. The 4 key four key relationships: with our God, with our families, with our fellowman, and with ourselves.”
I know I could be doing better at connecting with these vital relationships in my life. And even as we are asked to become more isolated physically, we are being blessed with time to check in with ourselves, to converse with God, to spend time with the people we love, and to serve and minister to others—especially through the blessing of technology.

The Opportunity to Refine Your Faith
A few months ago I was driving up a mountain on a very foggy night. The fog was so thick that at one point I saw nothing but a wall of white in front of me. My knuckles were clenched around my steering wheel, and my stomach churned with nerves. But I trusted I would reach the top of the mountain if I just kept going. Suddenly the fog cleared, like it had never even existed.
As I looked down from the top of the mountain, I could see everything clearly below. I started thinking about those “foggy” moments life can throw at us. I feel like this pandemic is one of those foggy moments. Although I can’t see what’s coming, and the uncertainty of what lies ahead and contagious panic might feel suffocating.
I believe that faith is choosing to move forward every day, trusting in the greater good even when I am afraid.
When it feels that there is nothing more I can do, I can choose to trust God. I take comfort.

As the days and months go on, the unknown qualities of the pandemic may be alleviated. But in the meantime, we need spiritual practices to lessen the impact of fear and uncertainty. These practices are not intended to sugarcoat or lessen the very real dangers of this global health emergency.
Like the words of JF Kennedy we remain aware of the dangers but seek out the opportunities to be with the sacred, commit to our spiritual growth and keep our connections with ourselves and others

So we take the essence of Chakell Wardleigh opportunities within a crisis of stillness reconnection and faith into an extended period of reflection.

Take some time to be still in your space being reminded of the connection that you have with what is sacred to you and the larger sacred connection we share this morning . You may wish to close your eyes.

Ever loving God, the source of all, we bring our broken selves to you to set aside all that we think we know for a new experience and deeper understating of your love .

Focusing on my breathing
In and out
I can hear the air flow
I can see the sky so high
Like a very accommodating blanket
Dark yet not scary. Without stars.
Hand on my heart
I am reconnecting with myself
When was the last time
I visit myself? Asking ‘how are you?’
For so long I have taken myself for granted
To live for their acceptance
Siblings, colleagues, friends and bosses
When was the last time I treated myself kindly?
Just like a best friend, telling her ‘You are doing fine’
When suppressed tears drop
It’s a caring comfort!
Me with myself.
Seize the moment.

We take some minutes to be with ourselves, ask ourselves how we are and hold ourselves in kindness and compassion . I will ring the bell when it is time to move on

Pause for a few minutes

In the stillness
I feel
I listen
I face my truth
In the stillness
I see
I acknowledge my needs
I let go
In the stillness
I receive
I rejuvenate
I heal
In the stillness
I reconnect
I am one with everything

We take these words of the poem Stillness by Karen Lang into an extended period of stillness

Pause for a few minutes

My lord god I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I eventually know myself and the fact that I think that I am doing your will does not mean that I’m actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you does, in fact please you .
And I hope that I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire .
And I know that if I do that you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it .
Therefore I will trust you always though I appear to be lost in the shadow of death. I
will not fear , for you are ever with me and will never leave me to face my perils alone.

by Thomas Merton

We sit together in silent prayer for that connection to be strengthened, to be reminded of its ever present love of nourishment and sustenance

Pause for a few minutes

As our time for silent reflection draws to a close we bring ourselves back to our online community and those that are reading the service from home and we pray together using the words of the Rev Diane Berke

As we feel ourselves enveloped and embraced and surrounded by that limitless, boundless love, we begin to bring to mind those in our lives that we love, whose well-being and health and safety is so very precious to us. In consciousness,

We bring to mind all of those who are ill, not only with coronavirus but with any of the illnesses that plague humanity.

We lift up all of those, all over the world, who are living in such fear right now,

We lift up our leaders and all those with the power of decision making, and we ask that love surround and enter them as wisdom, as strength.

And we lift up the whole of humanity, what beautiful, fragile, tender magnificent beings we are. We ask that this be the moment that the eyes of our hearts are open and that we recognise truly we are all family and we learn to live wisely in deep care and compassion for the well-being of all.

We ask that this knowing of connection be a balm to any sense of loneliness and isolation and disconnection so many are feeling right now. And we ask for the inspiration and the willingness to reach out, to be a presence of encouragement, of strength, of kindness, of reassurance, of compassion to one another.

And finally, we offer you ourselves. We place ourselves, our loved ones, our precious world in Your hands. You know the way to healing. Please show us the way.
Blessed be, Amen

As we leave may we be blessed by the healing power of community and the connection to the divine replenishing out hearts minds and souls
And so it is

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