January 24th – One More Step

A Service for Hastings Unitarians given by Rev. Duncan Voice

Opening: Together…as one by Margaret Kirk

We come from separate places to be together here.
We know only a little of each other’s thoughts,
dreams and cherished hopes,
only a very little of each other’s confusion and anxiety.
But together here we are become as one,
lifted by each human presence,
lifted by the spirit flowing between us,
the comfort of togetherness.
Every whisper of truth, every openness of heart
takes us away from our separateness
and binds us to the common purpose of serving what is good,
beautiful and true.

Chalice Lighting

We light our chalice,
symbol of our Unitarian faith.
Guiding light by which
the story of our community continues,
to a place where love and hope abide.

Prayer

Spirit of Life and Love,
As we gather here this morning
we think first of those suffering due to the pandemic,
whether directly or indirectly;
those that mourn, and those that have died.
Reaching out in compassion,
we bring them into our hearts.

[Silence]

May they find healing and peace.

We think of those who have worked so hard,
and given so much to help others
in these difficult times.
We are thankful for their courage
and dedication.
Reaching out in gratitude,
we bring them into our hearts.

[Silence]

May they find fortitude.

We think of our church community members at Hastings,
especially those who cannot be with us this morning.
Those good people whose physical presence,
and companionship, we miss.
Reaching out in friendship,
we bring them into our hearts.

[Silence]

May they find hope.

We think of all who have joined us in this gathering.
Each with their own joys and concerns.
Each seeking a sense of belonging.
Each following their heart.
Reaching out in loving welcome,
we bring them into our hearts.

[Silence]

May we all find beloved community.

Amen

Story: Heaven and Hell from The Shortest Distance by Bill Darlison

Reading: Matthew 18: 1-5

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? He called a child, who he put among them, and said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.”

Hymn: 124 One More Step (SYF)

Reading: Extract from Anam Cara by John O’Donohue

“In contrast to nature and to the animal world, there is a mirror within the human mind. The mirror collects every reflection. Human solitude is so unsolitary. Deep human solitude is a place of great affinity and of tension. When you come to your solitude, you come into companionship with everything and everyone. When you extend yourself frenetically outwards, seeking refuge in your external image or role, you are going into exile. When you come patiently and silently home to your self, you come into unity and into belonging.
No-one but you can sense the eternity and depth concealed in your solitude. This is one of the lonely things about individuality. You only arrive at a sense of the eternal in you through confronting and outfacing your fears. No-one else has access to the world you carry around within yourself, you are its custodian and entrance. No-one else can see the world the way you see it. No-one else can feel your life the way you feel it. Thus, it is impossible to ever compare two people with each other because each stands on different ground. When you compare yourself to others, you are inviting envy into your consciousness; it can be a dangerous and destructive guest. This is always one of the great tensions in an awakened or spiritual life, namely, to find the rhythm of its unique language, perception and belonging. To remain faithful to your life requires commitment and vision that must be constantly reviewed.”

Quiet Prayer and Reflection

An Idle Day by Rabindranath Tagore

On many an idle day have I grieved over lost time.
But it is never lost, my Lord.
Thou hast taken every moment of my life in thine own hands.
Hidden in the heart of things Thou art nourishing seeds into sprouts,
Buds into blossoms and ripening flowers into fruitfulness.
I was tired and sleeping on my idle bed and imagined all work had ceased.
In the morning I woke up and found my garden full with wonders of flowers.

Reflection

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”
attributed to Lao-tzu (c.604 – c.531 BCE)

We live in strange times, when in fact only journeys of a few miles are permitted, let alone a thousand! Nevertheless, we travel on through our lives. Without some of our usual reference points, without the physical presence of many others and being unsure what lies ahead. All of us will be experiencing this thing we call “lockdown” in different ways. Some will busier than usual; doctors, nurses, care workers, delivery drivers. More will be quieter; those who work in hospitality, travel, high street retail, hairdressers and beauticians to name a few. The young not attending school; the retired isolating, unable to pursue interests other than those which can be moved online or undertaken close to home. A walk in our local area, or a brief foray for food, perhaps our only outdoor adventure at the moment.

When I first read that quote from Lao-tzu I began to think about all the ways that we use the idea of “taking a step” in our proverbs, idioms, sayings and metaphors. If we were together I would ask you to shout a few out. Here’s some I thought of:

“One step at a time” – taking things steadily not planning to far ahead.
“Stepping over the line” or “out of line” – behaving inappropriately or disobediently.
Mind or watch your step – be careful!
Being out of step – not conforming.
A step too far – overreaching.
One step forward and two steps back – getting nowhere!
A difficult step to take – undertaking something challenging.
Taking the necessary steps, steps to improve…etc.
I’ll leave it there!

All very familiar and understandable in our culture. I imagine similar expressions must occur in other languages too, as walking/stepping is such a natural, familiar and basic thing to those of us that are ambulant. As we walk down the street toward a destination time passes and we have a sense of going forward. This seems to be consistent with our experience of time and our lives heading in one direction. So the step is simple to relate to, when we think about our lives and the decisions we make and our achievements. Think of Neil Armstrong’s quote as he walked on the moon, “one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”

As those sayings about steps are not actually about walking, neither too is Lao-tzu’s adage. It is piece of wisdom to help us face a great task, or an overwhelming situation, in an incremental way. In Lao-tzu’s day such a journey would most likely have been made on foot, without modern conveniences and comforts, and perhaps with many perils to face along the way. Even today, imagine walking from Hastings to Scotland and back, which is about a thousand miles; it would still seem daunting to us. Which way would you go, where would you stay, what would you take with you, would you have the physical strength? A lot to be concerned about! But after you thought about these kind of things you only have one decision left if you are going to make the journey, which is, when to take that first step. Once you have done that you have started your journey.

If we look back at our own past, although we might not have recognized it at the time, we might see now how small steps have helped us when we have faced great personal difficulty or challenges. Challenges that at the time were like staring up at an enormous sheer cliff face. Seemingly impossible to surmount, blotting everything else from view. Making us feel small and helpless. But somehow we found a way through that time. Somehow we found a way around the cliff face, perhaps a gentler path, maybe a longer route. Maybe we needed help. Importantly we managed to go on, to live.

I saw a television program the other day which made me think of the enormous, and diverse types of challenges that people can face. It was one of those garden make over shows, where a team come in to do up a garden for someone who really needs it. A young girl had been the victim of freak accident where she had been severely burnt by boiling water. Her hands, arms, legs and feet were very badly damaged. She was left with mobility issues, pain, scars, and faced many years of ongoing treatment; and her mother, although not to blame, felt enormous guilt. The whole family were affected.

The girl however was a cheerful soul. She now had physical limitations but she continued to play and have fun as a little girl should. Her life wasn’t over, there were plenty of things she could achieve, there was plenty fun to be had, plenty of life to live. Her steps were difficult and painful, but she continued to take them and brought joy to those around her. It was wonderful to see her so full of life as she enjoyed her new garden. I was reminded that in Japanese Zen temples they have a wooden sounding board, or gong, which is struck periodically to signify that it is time for some part of the monks daily routine. On the board is written something like, “Life is full of fortune and misfortune, but cherish being alive, every single day. Take care, don’t waste time.” To me, the little girl in the television program was the living embodiment of this wisdom.

Two prayers come to mind:

In “The Way of the Boddisattva” Shantideva writes:
“If something can be done about it,
what need is there for dejection?
And if nothing can be done about it,
what use is there for being dejected?

And in his Serenity Prayer, Reinhold Neibuhr says,

“God, give us the grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other.

Perhaps each of us needs to regularly hear the sound of the wooden gong in our hearts to remind us to cherish life despite its difficulties and challenges. Perhaps we need to learn from children who can find joy in the most desperate of circumstances, whether they are ill or living in a refugee camp.

We are greatly challenged as individuals and as communities at present, and we will need to work hard to help each other through. To remind ourselves what is important, or as John O’Donohue put it, to have a “vision that must be constantly reviewed”. As circumstances change we must keep asking, “where are we heading”? How can we live fully according to our values and beliefs in these times?

We are each unique in our outlook and our feelings, but we are not alone. Despite the challenges of life we are together. Together in the faith of our Unitarian community. Together in our love and caring. Together in hope. So let us gather ourselves then, this day, as we take one more step.

May it be so.

Hymn: 125 One More Step Along the World I Go (SYF)

Poem: The Waking by Theodore Roethke | Poetry Foundation

Closing Words: Time by Anon

Take time to think: it is the source of power.
Take time to play: it is the secret of perpetual youth.
Take time to read: it is the fountain of wisdom.
Take time to pray: it is the greatest power on earth.
Take time to love and to be loved: it is a God-given privilege.
Take time to be friendly: it is the road to happiness.
Take time to laugh: it is the music of the soul.
Take time to give: it is too short a day to be selfish.
Take time to work: it is the price of success.
Take time to do charity: it is the key to heaven.

Blessing

As we go from here
May we accept and keep open
the invitation to love.
May we journey with
humility, gentleness and an open-heart
into the coming days;
and may the God of our understanding
be with us now and always.

Let us go now in peace.

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