Extract from today’s Service led by Stephen Crowther
Good morning and welcome to our service on this second Sunday of Lent during what continues to be an uncertain time.
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.
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….
So, how ARE you really doing? I’m aware of how fatigued I am – how covid-weary I’ve become. And how some of my behaviours are slightly out of sync. (motorway woman?!)
• There are so many differing experiences of living through this shared – common – pandemic.
• And so many lessons being learned and yet to be learned.
• I have discovered my inner covid nazi.
• I have learned – really learned – painfully, of my need for physical touch – hugs
• I have learned that I need people to follow the rules because if they don’t, I feel unsafe moving through the world. I need to feel safe.
• I have learned that practicing the basic spiritual principles of acceptance and gratitude can be challenging – wearing a bit thin of late!
• I have learned the value of those things I took for granted – theatre, film, dinners out with my husband – being able to make plans. It’s downright impossible to make plans these days with everything constantly changing – we don’t know – we cannot be certain in ways that we used to
• I’m tired of the constant anxiety when walking the streets – are you going to give me room? Tired of feeling under threat. Tired of feeling afraid. Tired of living with not knowing.
• There are some who are too afraid to leave their homes. Others living with an existential angst
• Some of us are starved of human contact and company – I mean real company – not the tv or zoom.
• I find myself wondering what the essential travel the constant stream of traffic along the seafront is on!!
• I get angry when I’m following the rules but the rest of the world doesn’t seem to be.
• It’s been hard to make sense of the world at times – hard not to focus on the negative – especially in the face of news bulletins. Hard to maintain trust and faith in our leaders when we get spoken to like naughty naïve children.
• I find it hard to make sense of the fact that soccer matches can take place with players all over each other – yet some of us can’t be with loved ones in their dying. And then I realise it’s all about money being made. And I start to get angry. Leaders travelling outside the guidelines. And I get angrier. How can I feel safe when nothing seems to make sense? It all seems so UNFAIR! I am so tired…
• And in my anger and exhaustion, do I begin to understand other people’s anger. Am I beginning to taste and experience the injustice that others in the world feel about their situation – do I begin to taste what fuels BLM?
• But –
• I am blessed to be able to work from home in comfort. And I’m blessed not to be stuck in a 12th floor flat with a young family. There are NHS workers suffering exhaustion, ptsd – working non-stop. Some other people are bored – empty days. Some of us may feel guilty because we don’t have it as bad as others.
• It can be hard trying to make sense of it all.
Forgive me for going on and seeming to be on a tirade. I’m not trying to stoke anyone’s anger or fear nor am I trying to garner sympathy for myself. I’m just trying to paint the backdrop to our lives and how difficult some of us may be finding the reality of life right now. And how difficult it can be to remain optimistic and upbeat. And if this is your experience, then please know – you are not alone.
We are living through an abnormal time; where we are forbidden access to those things that bring us joy – that feed our souls – theatre, live music, dancing, eating, hugging – simple human interactions etc. – and so many losses – this makes this an abnormal time of extended trauma.
Whatever your experiences, whatever your feelings, they are yours. Feelings are meant to be felt. Supressed or denied they can distort and manifest in other, more destructive ways. Feelings are part of being human – an integral part of the human experience. It’s what we do with them – how we respond to them that is our responsibility. It doesn’t make us a failure if we’re struggling to keep up a cheerful façade. Again, I urge you to hold yourself gently and to share with a safe, trusted other, just how things are for you right now. Listen to one another without trying to fix or change each other. It is in acknowledging and voicing our painful feelings that they can begin to heal. It is the nature of feelings and emotions that they be in constant flux. Things will change in time.
As a worship leader, I can be seen as needing to maintain a positive posture at all times. But I am human. And it is hard some days – really hard.
• No easy answers. And no one-answer fits all. We are all having different experiences. And we each find our own way through this.
• However you are getting through – may you hold yourself gently.
• And know – you are not alone.
All this was washing around my head the other day when I was out walking – on my daily allowed exercise – trying to reflect on this service. The anger and frustration that I often feel these days seemed ramped up a notch or two that day. I was heading home with a storm of desolation raging within me. And suddenly – there it was – the kin-dom revealed. It might feel odd to be talking about God’s kingdom (rephrased as kin-dom) in a Unitarian service – it’s not spoken of very often! But there is was – God’s kin-dom was revealed in a ‘dance’ with a young father pushing a pram. We do the ‘mistaken direction dance’ – we both smile at the situation – at each other – we connect and go our ways. And all the anger and fear and desolation I had been feeling dissolves. A simple human caring interaction brings me gently and lovingly back into my heart – the home of God’s kin-dom. And all is well again. I have reconnected with my heart. Thank you….
Connection. The healing balm of connection.
And in a wonderful God-incidence, that evening, I pick up the new prayer book I was starting and the opening words to the introduction begin – ‘That was a beautiful prayer’ a voice called to me as I finished praying with one of my congregation. I crossed the hospital ward to meet a Jewess recovering from an operation, and, struggling to think of some appropriate response, I suggested we unite in saying the Hebrew She-ma:
‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is One.
And you shall love the Lord your God
with all your heart, and with all your soul,
and with all your might.’
It says it all. The oneness of God which we need to know and seek to show is found in the love of the heart. it is in the heart that we must stand before heaven and meet with God. Heart speaks to heart.
The heart here is not a souvenir shop of all our past sentimentality nor a barometer of our moods and emotions. It is the focus and centre of our whole life: our understanding and perception, our will and our energy, our whole personality. The heart is where the Kingdom comes, where God’s will is done and heaven is found on earth, because the heart is where we offer our whole selves to God.
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.