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

Sunday 2nd August 2020

Chasing Rainbows

by Rev. Duncan Voice

“For one swallow does not a summer make, neither does one fine day; similarly, one day or brief time of happiness does not make a person entirely happy.” Aristotle (350 BCE)

Welcome

Welcome to this morning’s service, wherever you are, and whenever you are reading this. On this first Sunday in August we gather in a spirit of friendship, which we extend to all who would join us.

You are invited to light a candle, or chalice, where you are, if it is safe to do so. You might like to say the following words.

Chalice Lighting

We light our chalice as a symbol
of our faith and hope.
In lighting it and seeing it,
we know that we are gathered
at a special time;
in a spirit of oneness and love.

Prayer

Spirit of Love and Life,
We gather together
to be in gentle and loving community.
We sit at home with awareness,
each with our own thoughts and feelings;
but bonded through our common humanity
and your spirit among us.

We each bring the burdens of our heart,
to the love of this moment,
our worries, cares and concerns,
which even in silence are shared by us all.

We each bring the busyness of our minds
into the peace of this moment,
where we let go of the everyday for a time
and become quiet together.

We each bring our feelings and emotions,
to the understanding of this moment,
joy and sadness, peace and anger,
they belong to us all.

May we recognise and respect
our differences and our commonalities.
May all find freedom
May all find truth
May all find happiness
May all find peace.
Amen

Reading: Matthew 12:1-7

Parallel verses can be found in Mark 2:23-28 and Luke 6:1-5

Near to where I live the fields of crops have become golden and look as though they are ready to harvest soon. So, for our first reading I turn to piece from the New Testament which places Jesus and his disciples walking through cornfields on the day of the sabbath. As they do so they are accused of breaking the sabbath fast by representatives of the religious authorities, the Pharisees.

“At that time Jesus went through the cornfields on the sabbath; his disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain to eat. When the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, “Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the sabbath.” He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him or his companions to eat, but only for the priests. Or have you not read in the law that on the sabbath the priests in the temple break the sabbath and yet are guiltless? I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. But if you had known what this means, “I desire mercy not sacrifice”, you would not have condemned the guiltless.””

Jesus answers them concluding with a quote from the prophet Hosea (Hosea 6.6) “I desire mercy not sacrifice”, placing one Divine imperative over another in order to deal with the pressing issue of the moment, that of hunger. For mercy we might today say compassion. Jesus is therefore offering a fresh spiritual perspective as well as dealing with human suffering, in the form of hunger this time.

This reminds me of the Buddhist story of “The Monk and the Woman” as re-told by Bill Darlison,

“Two Buddhist monks were journeying from one monastery to another when they came across a beautiful, but timid, young woman standing by a river bank, rather frightened to cross the swift flowing river. The elder of the two monks offered to carry her across and she readily agreed. She climbed onto his shoulders and he waded across, leaving the woman, dry and thankful, on the other side.

The two monks then continued on their way, but the younger of the two was very disappointed with the older monk’s behaviour and he berated him. Had he forgotten that he was a monk, and that he shouldn’t touch any woman? What would people say?
Did he not know the rules of the order to which they both belonged? And so on. The young monks lecture lasted for a good few miles.

Finally, the older monk interrupted the flow of criticism and said to his companion, “Brother, I left the girl by the river bank. Are you still carrying her?”

There are probably lot of interpretations of these stories, but there is one important spiritual message that seems to be the same, in both, to me. Namely that when faced with a choice in life, we choose the compassionate or kind option, rather than turn to scripture or rules. How do these stories speak to you?

Music – Morning has Broken

Reading

Extract from “Daily Meditations for Calming Your Mind” by Jeffrey Brantley and Wendy Millstine, published by New Harbinger Publications

“Everything in this life depends on conditions and elements in order to exist. For example, a rainbow forms in front of you while you water your garden. For this to happen, the necessary elements – light, water, you holding the hose, and other factors – assemble in the present moment. If any of these elements (each of which is formed by other elements) is missing, the rainbow does not appear. For the rainbow to come into existence, different elements that are not rainbows must come together in a particular combination to create it. The rainbow only exists when all of these elements are present and join together. The rainbow is dependent on and connected to each of the elements, which are necessary for the rainbow to come in to being. In this view, you can see that the rainbow is made of non-rainbow elements and deeply interconnected with them.”

You may wish to pause for time of quite reflection or prayer.

“Find a place of stillness within yourself” – The Gospel of
Thomas

“With a quiet mind seek harmony within yourself” – The Bhagavad Gita

Reflection

I love the idea, expressed in our second reading, that the elements that come together to create a rainbow are non-rainbow elements. You cannot see a rainbow in any of them, but in coming together they have the potential to create something new and, in this case, beautiful and of the moment. The rainbow potential is there waiting to be discovered, experienced and enjoyed in the non-rainbow elements.

Think for a moment about all the elements that have brought you to the place where you are, and look at all the objects around you, or the trees or clouds outside your window. Somehow you are here at this time and place. In part due to choices you made, in part due to circumstances. The wretched virus, for example, has played its part in where we are today. And as we share this time, listen to words and music, new thoughts and feelings emerge. Unique to us all and yet shared in some way.

This emergence of new of new thoughts, things, objects even life itself is happening all the time, in ways beyond our plans and calculations and often beyond our understanding. To give you another perhaps obscure example, I read recently about scientists at Warwick University who were researching medieval remedies. Acientbiotics they call it! One mixture known as “Bald’s eyesalve” and containing onion, garlic, wine and bile salts (yuk!) showed promising antibacterial qualities, and low levels of damage to human cells.
Of the ingredients, only garlic is known to have properties against single-cell bacteria, but none against multi-cell bacteria. The effectiveness of the mixture is not attributable to any single ingredient, but requires that unique combination. Something new and unpredictable emerging from, at first glance, unpromising elements.

The passage quoted in our reading is an extract from a piece introducing the reader to the idea of mutual interdependence and connectedness. Which I think is another important idea for us to consider. The rainbow in the garden is simply a small but beautiful illustration of the idea that “everything in this life depends on other conditions and elements in order to exist.” Nothing exists in isolation. The meditation practice, in this case, is a way to help us see this, to have a new perspective and understanding. A new understanding that may have profound effects on the choices we make, and the way we act in the world.

Zen Buddhist, Thich Nhat Hahn, explores this idea from a different perspective, he says,

“When you plant lettuce, if it does not grow well, you
don’t blame the lettuce. You look for reasons it is not
doing well. It may need fertilizer, or more water, or
less sun. You never blame the lettuce. Yet if we have
problems with our friends or family, we blame the other
person. But if we know how to take care of them, they will
grow well, like the lettuce. Blaming has no positive
effect at all, nor does trying to persuade using reason
and argument. That is my experience. No blame, no
reasoning, no argument, just understanding. If you
understand, and you show that you understand, you can
love, and the situation will change”

Understanding is the key says Thich Nhat Hahn, but it can be hard for us to develop this when we are in the middle of an emotional tangle.
It may be difficult for us to appreciate all the elements that have come together to create a difficulty or an issue, especially in our personal relationships. Anger, blame, retribution are some of the thoughts can dominate our minds and lead us into a tunnel of conflict with others and ourselves if we are not careful. When these elements come together something dark, discordant and hateful maybe created. Suffering may be perpetuated.

Whilst none of us controls all the elements of our lives, some of us can exercise some kind of choice. Indeed, we must as different circumstances present themselves. It seems to me that there is great hidden potential within each human being which can be expressed through our choices. A potential to do good. But perhaps it is in our coming together that the greatest hidden potential can be realised. A potential to realise a world where love and compassion and beauty can flourish.

This I think is what we work towards in our Unitarian communities, although we may not always explicitly say so. In fact, as traditional religious language becomes less acceptable, we struggle to find the right words. In the Bible it is referred to as the Kingdom of God, some call it the kindom of God, some beloved community, my colleague Stephen Lingwood suggests it is paradise that we seek. A more loving and peaceful world. How would you express such an ideal in your own words?

It is perhaps worth recalling the words in the Gospel of Luke (Luke 17:20-21),
“The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you.”

Although we struggle in our expression, I think many of us agree that the human world is broken in many ways. Are we in a position to fix it? What would a “fix” even look like? Of course, we don’t know because none of us as individuals is the complete rainbow, to refer back to our earlier reading. But the fact that love and compassion exist, and that new life, new joy, new beauty can emerge from unpromising circumstances gives us new hope. Maybe new faith, and energy to keep walking towards that far off promised land.

We struggle, as previous generations have done, but take comfort in our friendship and our togetherness. So together, let’s take another step. Let’s create beauty and laughter wherever we can. Let’s live in peace. Let’s use our imaginations. Let’s share the wisdom of the past, have awareness of the present and have a dream of better future for all. Let’s be guided by love.

Let’s go chasing rainbows!

May it be so.

Music: Somewhere Over the Rainbow (It had to be really!)

Closing words

All human beings are members of one frame,
Since all, at first, from the same essence came.
When time afflicts a limb with pain
The other limbs at rest cannot remain.
If thou feel not for other’s misery
A human being is no name for thee.

Saadi of Shiraz (1210 – 1292)
Persian poet and prose writer.

Let us go now in faith and hope and peace, and may the God of our hearts be with us now and always. Amen

26th July 2020

by Rev Jennifer Sanders

Opening words

From the beginning, we emerge into awareness within a web of human connections that
unceasingly engage us until death. James Hillman

Good morning and welcome to the read along service. My thoughts and heartfelt wishes to you. May this time that we spend together bring a closer connection to the sacred.
I begin our service today in the usual way by lighting the chalice and you may like to light a candle where you are too.

Chalice lighting

In every darkened corner there is a chance for the light of love to shine. Serving as a beacon of hope, reminding us of the spirit of love, truth and liberty.

We come together in this moment to give thanks for all that we are and all that we have and we are reminded of the love, compassion and generosity of our own hearts and those of others.

We bring our fears, anger, confusion and our brokenness to be healed.
May we seek to find the peace within our inner selves.
May we give ourselves the gift of our union in this gathering.

Divine spirit, help us to come together and be present in this space for a short time of Silent prayer and stillness which will be followed by some music
Amen

On this day in 1956 – June Eileen Beatrice Wiseman married Roy Oliver Sanders in the parish church of Wivelsfield. They went on to have two daughters and were blessed with a grandchild.
Their marriage lasted 46 years until Roy’s death in 2004.

These people were not famous, one born into great poverty in the tenements of the Edgeware Rd and the other into a middle-class family in Harrow.
They had very different upbringings.
June, was a working-class daughter with memories of the Yarrow marches and the chants and roars of Queens Park Rangers Football club on a Saturday afternoon. She remembered the Lon-don bombings often scurrying down to the underground as the sirens roared.

Roy one of 3 sons was raised in a large house in Harrow. At seven he sent off to Cornwall as an evacuee enjoying the space and adventures that a rural coastal farm life brought only to be brought back for finishing school In London after the war.

One had a strong belief one an agnostic.

Their experiences could not have been more different – class, education, siblings and yet some kind of love brought them together and through they had many difficulties and challenges they remained married – Through times of abundance and debt and in sickness and in health until death parted them. Today would have been their 64th wedding anniversary.

These two people were my parents and each year and every year I take some time on this day to remember their relationship, the eclectic mix of culture, class and experience and the legacy it brought me.

In the fifties when women were supposed to give up their careers and be stay at home mums, and fathers were the bread winners, it was far removed from today’s mix match of part time work con-tracts, home working, shared parenting, same sex and trans relationships, civil partnerships, mar-riages, single parents, co parents, mix religions and no faith relationships.

They had to work at their marriage – it wasn’t an easy match; adapting to new jobs, homes, friends, several redundancies and financial insecurity, raising two fiercely independent daughters and long periods of illness and eventually loss and grief. A lot was asked of them and they adapted as best they could with a commitment to work through challenges.

Marriage has not been part of my journey to date and yet when I made my vows as an Interfaith ordinand I was asked to compose a personal vow that would grow with me as I developed in my ministry. It has and continues to serve me and although that commitment to the sacred and my spiritual practice falters on what seems a daily basis there is a commitment to build that relationship despite the trials and tribulations that face me.

We have all faced huge challenges and changes to all of our relationships in recent times
In the words of Mark Oden and Stefano Mariotti of the Christian mission,

“What a fascinating social experiment. 60 million people in lockdown for an indefinite number of days or weeks, maybe even months – just like the big brother house – and even without the camer-as, has felt intense and surreal.
It has affected us differently. For some it has been a chance to take stock, for others it has been a time dominated by anxiety, for others there may be tension as they have shared space and time with others.
We got used to a new way of doing things and to some degree have been forced to live in the pre-sent. Some of us have found the lack of hustle and bustle unsettling. We’re so accustomed to background white noise that when it ceases, we may feel uneasy.
Quietness and solitude can also expose us to discord in our minds, which starts to chatter away, creating a sense of disturbance. Negative thoughts and feelings emerge — especially during un-certain times, when there are urgent and real concerns about job security, family members, and financial stability.

Not unlike a marriage these times have been troubling, upsetting, rewarding and challenging. Huge life shifting events have an impact and they illustrate and highlight what is and isn’t working.
We have not been able to worship together in the flesh. The doors to our churches have been firmly closed for some months now and we have lost some of that intimacy and soul food that we receive by being together and yet we have experienced growth in other ways. The willingness to worship online or through the written word has sustained many of us and our relationship with the sacred may look different now.
For some of you your relationship with spirit may have deepened and for others you may be left questioning if there is any such thing as the sacred?
Like a marriage our spiritual lives sometimes need a spring clean, an injection of commitment, look-ing at things in another way.

We are not bound to be married to the God of our understanding but like any relationship we get out of it what we put in.
As Unitarians or seekers, we have the wonderful freedom of choice. Our connection and commit-ment to the sacred is based on our own set of beliefs and this is something that develops over time. Its unique like a marriage or long-term relationship. Externally it may bare similarities but within the soul it has a unique imprint to each of us and this is the beauty.

We may crave the time when we can go to church and sing and pray and worship together, nourish our souls and re build our relationships with each other and God. These times will come again but they will be different shaped by our individual experiences and external influences – sitting further apart maybe, no tea, strange entrances and exits, maybe face masks
We don’t even worship the same God or in some cases any God and yet we have a commitment to come to worship together, to be together differences and all, to feel and share in a sacred experi-ence
And as we have found out recently our relationship with God is not just about sitting in the pew or saying our prayers – it’s so much more that. Like a marriage it is so much more than the fancy suit and cake.

Reading

Linda and Charlie bloom have been Married since 1972 and are counsellors and spiritual guides.
In a recent article in Psychology today they talk about relationships as spiritual practice.

“Most people think of spiritual practice as going to church or temple, prayer, singing of hymns, chanting, ritual, and meditation rather than daily interactions with other human beings all day long. In fact, they have their spiritual rituals in a very separate category from the way they relate to those in their lives. But the process of spiritual development and conscious relationship are not separate or mutually exclusive. The chanting and meditation are optional, as is the wearing of orange robes, but what is as essential as any of the spiritual rituals we do, is how respectful we are and how we hon-our and support those with whom we interact.

A spiritual practice is any process which promotes the experience of openheartedness, speaking the truth as a means of uncovering and discovering who we are, and connecting us to our true na-ture. It’s not necessary to go to India or to meditate hours a day. The experience of the sacred is available through relationship with our spouse, lover, parents, children, and closest friends. They are all our holy teachers providing us with opportunities to practice.

It is the joy of using our relationship as our spiritual practice that can transport us to the sublime. But it is the breakdowns of relationship that can also propel us to a divine energy source. In fact, it is those places where our edges rub most abrasively against each other that can provide the greatest amount of growth.

Quiet Reflection and Meditation

So, we take the next few moments to reflect on those important relationships we have with our selves our spiritual community and the sacred.

I invite you wherever you are to take a moment to breathe and bring yourself into the presence of what you choose to call spirit. Read each paragraph and then take some time to reflect before morning on. You may like to play a piece of music at the end of the quiet reflection.

Without judgement or criticism and with compassion and gentleness we think about the relationship that we have with ourselves.
How we live our daily lives, how we talk to ourselves how we feed and nurture our bodies and minds, how we give and receive.
We are reminded we are a child of God.

Pause

Without judgement or criticism and with compassion and gentleness we think about the relation-ships we have with our partners or close friends, colleagues and those in our church communities – you may be new to Unitarianism so you may want to think about what friendships you would like to grow. You may have been coming to church for a while yet the relationships that you have with others may be somewhat fleeting. There may be someone that you would like to get know a little more, but have not had the courage to do so or there may be a relationship that requires some at-tention, some of your time and patience.

We are reminded we are a child of God.

Pause

Without judgement or criticism and with compassion and gentleness we take a moment to reflect on our relationship with the sacred, the Divine, the God of our understanding. It may be the best it has ever been; it may be a new relationship in its infancy delicate and fragile or we may be strug-gling and we may have no idea of what this could be

We are reminded we are a child of God.

In this moment, in this virtual sacred space we look, we see, we accept where we are in all of these relationships and in prayer we ask for guidance, Divine wisdom and unconditional love granting us the courage to remain on the path of connection.

We give thanks for all these relationships we have in our lives. We honour each and every one of them
Amen

Angela Wilson a faculty member at Kripalu – A centre for yoga and health was once asked by a student what is the most healing experience of her yoga practice – going straight to the postures of yoga she wracked her brain as to which one had brought long standing change.
A host of memories flooded in: moments of insights and emotional release, a nurturing sense of be-ing a part of something greater than herself but she was left feeling there was still something more.

She wrote,

“As images of yoga mats and meditation cushions began to fade, other images emerged—of people who had supported, challenged, moved, and consoled me. Moments with friends, teachers, part-ners, and parents. A time crying on a friend’s shoulder. A time when conflict merged into greater understanding. Some of these faces were directly connected to my formal practice; others were, surprisingly, not. But they all had one thing in common—they had changed my life.
I was surprised that so many of my most transformational moments came with another person at-tached. It got me thinking: When it comes to healing, how important are relationships on the spiritual path?

From birth, we require connection to survive. Babies who don’t receive enough physical contact and emotional responsiveness are at higher risk for behavioural, emotional, and social problems. They cry more and sleep less. At its extreme, babies who are neglected and not touched often don’t survive. Human contact and engagement is as fundamental to our survival as food and water.
Relationships become transformative when we stick our necks out, when we’re honest and vulner-able. The more we allow ourselves to be truly seen and known, the more we open the door to heal-ing. When we do this, there’s no guarantee that things will go the way we want them to.
The transformation arises not from the outcome but from being honest, open, and willing to receive and be impacted by what comes from that authenticity.”

As we come to the close of our time together this morning my wish as a Unitarian is that we contin-ue to grow together whether that be online, in person, or a combination; in spirit and in friendship.

And in the words of Swami Kripalu,

“The key to your heart lies hidden in the heart of another.”

May you go in peace and with an open heart accepting that the relationships that you have in your lives today our exactly as they need to be

Amen

Sunday 19th July 2020

To Come Home to Yourself

by Rev. Duncan Voice

““Holy”, “Healthy”, “Whole” – they all come from the same root and carry different overtones of the same meaning.”
Aldous Huxley, Island

Welcome to our Sunday Service. I trust this finds you well.
You are invited to light a candle or a chalice to begin this Service.

Chalice Lightning

May our chalice flame
be a symbol of welcome,
to all who join us in a spirit
of freedom.
May this time together
bring us peaceful reflection
and spiritual refreshment.

Gathering Prayer

Let us pause and sit quietly for a while to gather ourselves in this moment.

Sprit of Love and Life,

We hold in our hearts those we know who suffer,
and whose passing comes to our mind at this time.
(Pause)
Help us to extend our circle of caring still further;
Broadening our perspectives,
and deepening our compassion.

May all find love and healing.

We turn to face the dark and difficult places in our own lives,
with openness and honesty.
(Pause)
Help us to turn away from angry thoughts and bitterness,
and instead seek reconciliation and forgiveness.

May all know peace.

In this season of sunshine and warmth,
may we be grateful for all that we have.
(Pause)
Help us to turn away from selfishness,
and instead share generously where we can.

May all know happiness and joy.

Amen

Reading

Excerpt from “Everything Belongs” by Richards Rohr

Turning and turning in widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
the ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

William Butler Yeats, “The Second Coming”

“We are a circumference people, with little access to the centre. We live on the boundaries of our own lives “in the widening gyre,” confusing edges with essence, too quickly claiming the superficial as substance. As Yeats predicted, things have fallen apart and the centre does not seem to be holding.

If the circumferences of our lives were evil, it would be easier to moralise about them. But boundaries and edges are not bad as much as they are passing, accidental, sometimes illusory, and too often in need of defence or decoration. Our “skin” is not bad; its just not our soul or spirit. But skin might also be the only available beginning point for many contemporary people. Earlier peoples, who didn’t have as many escapes and means to avoid reality, had to find Essence earlier – just to survive. By contrast, we can remain on the circumferences of our lives for quite a long time. So long, that it starts feeling like the only life available…….

Yet the great teachers tell us not to stay on the circumference too long or we will never know ourselves or God. The two knowings, in fact, seem to move forward together. The movement might also be understood as conversion, transformation, or growth in holiness. You cannot make this journey in your head, alone….

We do not think ourselves into new ways of living. We live ourselves into new ways of thinking. In other words, our journeys around and through our realities, or “circumferences,” lead us to the core reality, where we meet both our truest self and our truest God.”

Hymn

To Seek and Find Our Natural Mind

Words by Rev.Richard Boeke, Music by David Dawson, published in “Sing Your Faith” by The Lindsey Press

A time of Reflection and Prayer

Perhaps spend a few minutes in silence before reading the following prayer by Thich N’hat Hahn.

Let us be at peace with our bodies and our minds.
Let us return to ourselves and become wholly ourselves.

Let us be aware of the source of being,
common to us all and to all living things.

Evoking the presence of the Great Compassion,
let us fill our hearts with our own compassion –
towards ourselves and towards all living beings.

Let us pray that we ourselves cease to be the cause
of suffering to each other.

With humility, and awareness of the existence of life,
and of the sufferings that are going on around us,
let us practice the establishment of peace
in our hearts and on earth.

Amen

Story

The Mustard Seed – a story from the Buddhist tradition.

A story is told of a woman named Kisa Gotami who came from a poor background and was often hungry and weak. Kisa means frail.

Despite her difficult circumstances she grew up and eventually married. Soon she gave birth to a baby boy whom she loved very much. Suddenly though the baby became ill and very tragically died. Kisa Gotami was grief stricken and went around her town asking if anyone had medicine that could bring the boy back to life.

Most people turned her away saying that nothing could be done. Eventually however a kindly neighbour suggested that she visited the Buddha who, he had heard, was teaching nearby.

So, she went to the Buddha and begged him for help. The Buddha looked at the baby and said comfortingly to her, “You did well in coming here for medicine Gotami. Here you will find the help you need. But first, before I can help, you must do something for me. You must return to the town, find me a single mustard seed and bring it back here.”

Kisa Gotami’s face lit up for she thought this would be a simple enough task. The Buddha continued however, “The mustard seed must come from a family in which no one has died.”

So Kisa Gotami hurried back to the town. At the first house she came to she knocked at the door and asked if she could have a mustard seed. Mustard seeds were commonly used for cooking in that area and the woman who answered quickly found one for her. As she was handing it over, however, Gotami remembered the second part of the Buddha’s instruction and she asked, “Before I take this I must ask has anyone died recently in this family?” Tears filled the other woman’s eyes as she replied that her husband had died just six months ago. “I am so sorry”, said Kisa Gotami. “Thank you for your kindness, but I cannot take this seed.”

She knocked at the door of another house, and another, and then another but every time they had lost someone – a brother, a sister, a grandparent, an aunt, a mother, a father, a child. The list grew longer and longer.

It began to grow dark and Kisa Gotami sat down to rest against a tree. Not a single household she had visited that day was untouched by death. Many had suffered as she did. And somehow, with these thoughts, her grief lessened just a little. She decided to return home.

The next day she readied her son for his funeral in the traditional way. Her tears flowed freely as she wrapped him in clean cloth and said farewell.

After the funeral, Kisa Gotami went back to see the Buddha. As she approached, he could see that she had changed, but he asked her, “Gotami, did you bring me the mustard seed?”
No, teacher. I am no longer looking for the mustard seed. I know that in the whole town, in the whole world, there is not one family, not one person, free from the certainty of death. It is the way of all living things – we must at some time leave one another.”

“And where is your child?” said the Buddha.

“At last I have said goodbye to him. I felt terribly alone in my grief, but now I know there are many others who have lost what they cherished most. We must help each other, as you have helped me.”

Kisa Gotami’s search had brought her understanding and compassion. It is said that she never left the Buddha, and was able to comfort many others in her lifetime.

Reflection

This week I watched on television a father bury his infant son in Yemen. The father had been a fisherman until his boat and his home had been destroyed in the ongoing conflict there. He had no money; the family were hungry. The mother could no longer provide milk and they could not afford to buy milk supplements. The father got a lift on the back of a motorbike to an emergency feeding station, with the boy wrapped in a blanket. They did what they could, but recognising that he needed further medical attention they tried to get him to another location. Sadly, he never made it, and he died on the back of that motorbike, wrapped in that blanket. I watched the father praying by the graveside. A baby let down by the world into which he was born.

I have a feeling of helplessness when I watch such scenes, which don’t seem to be uncommon in the many poor and war-torn areas of the world. As the world tries to deal with coronavirus, the poor and the vulnerable suffer even more. After the news there was an appeal by the Disasters and Emergency Committee (DEC) and the following day we made a donation. But it didn’t feel like enough and perhaps that’s a good thing. If I felt that by making a single donation, I had done all I could to alleviate hunger and suffering in the world I would be deluded. Or perhaps living on the circumference of my life as Richard Rohr put it in our earlier reading.

It seems wrong to be sitting in my comfortable home watching the life and death struggles of other people. Like watching the emergency services at road traffic incident – rubber necking. But the difference is, that at the road traffic incident, if the emergency services are in attendance, there is nothing for me to do; other that move on and let them do their job. To turn away from the pain of the world is not a good option however, there is always something to be done.

It is important to know what is going on in the world, no matter how upsetting and disturbing it is. I know we all have different levels of tolerance to this for many different reasons, but we need to face reality so that we don’t live in wilful ignorance. It helps us to put the problems in our lives, and the world, in to some kind of perspective and provides us with an opportunity to cultivate greater compassion in our hearts for all those who suffer; no matter their nationality, religion or location.

Death is a reality for humans; for all living things. Some might say that it is gloomy to think about this, but it seems to me very important. Joan Chittister, spiritual writer and Benedictine nun, says, in an article called “Life Fulfilled”,
“Death, the awareness of its coming, the sounds of it around us, is what calls us to life beyond apathy, beyond indifference, beyond unconcern. Death reminds us to live.”
We need awareness of death therefore to be aware of our lives and how we live them.

Christina Feldman, in her book Heart of Wisdom, Mind of Calm suggest that we gain awareness by using our wise attention. She says,
“Without attention we live only on the surface of our lives. The song of a bird, the beauty of a sunset, the cries of someone who needs help are lost on us. It is only when we are attentive that we are able to explore our inner landscape and learn the lessons we are asked to learn if we are to live with authenticity and freedom. To be touched by anything in the world, to love and to live fully, we need to be present and awake.”

Although talking about an inner landscape might sound like navel gazing, there is undoubtedly a relationship between our inner spiritual self and how we live in the world. A balance to be struck between contemplation and action. If we can approach the place of greatest value and meaning within ourselves, it maybe that what we actually do in the world will be more worthwhile. It probably is not going to mean greater leisure and comfort in our lives however, and it may also require courage and commitment. But it may mean greater simplicity and peace, and perhaps fulfilment.

To talk about fulfilment in our lives could seem self-indulgent when set against the death of a child from malnutrition; but if the death of that child becomes a part of us then the fulfilment of our lives may have more meaning. And perhaps also the short life of that child has more meaning too if we, as a result, lead a life of greater awareness and do more to give others a better chance at life. The child then lives on in us as well as in all who knew him.

The journey to the centre of ourselves is a journey of faith. We don’t know how it will work out or what we will find, but if we set out on that journey anyway, carrying with us our doubts and questions, we have a faith. It is a journey that we can only make in openness and honesty, and Richard Rohr describes it also as a journey to know God. A God that is within us and others. A journey to a place where we might find connection with something, where words and concepts cannot go.

Our faith journeys may be personal but we make them together. I am inspired by others and have been supported by our Unitarian community too. There is very little certainty on the journey, but it feels worthwhile. Do my prayers work? Do my donations do any good? I don’t know, but it is how I prefer to live. I could be cynical and uncaring, but I don’t want to be, that’s not my journey. So, I pray for the Yemeni family and their child, and I pray for our community. May we all find faith, hope and love.

Amen

Music

Closing Words

by Maya Angelou (Adapted)

We are weaned from our timidity

In the flush of love’s light
we dare to be brave

And suddenly we see
that love costs all we are
and ever will be.

Yet it is only love
Which sets us free.

Blessing

To Come Home to Yourself by John O’Donohue

“May all that is unforgiven in you,
be released.

May your fears yield
their deepest tranquillities.

May all that is unlived in you,
blossom into a future,
graced with love.”

May the God of our understanding be with us now and always. Amen.

Sunday 12 July 2020

by Stephen Crowther

Joy and woe are woven fine
A clothing for the soul divine
Under every grief and pine
Runs a joy with silken twine
Man was made for joy and woe
And when this we rightly know
Thro’ the world we safely go
.

(Auguries of Innocence by William Blake)
Submitted by Liz Button

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

11.00am light a candle.

As some of us begin to come out of hiding and some of us remain isolated, may we be reminded once more 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 in this continuing time of uncertainty.

(pause)

Good morning and welcome once more to our weekly communal Sunday service during this ongoing pandemic time.

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)

Opening Words


Prayer is like watching for the
Kingfisher.
All you can do is
Be where he is likely to appear, and
Wait.
Often, nothing much happens;
There is space, silence and
Expectancy.
No visible sign, only the
Knowledge that he’s been there
And may come again.
Seeing or not seeing cease to matter,
You have been prepared.
But when you’ve almost stopped
Expecting it, a flash of brightness
Gives encouragement.

(Disclosure by Anne Lewin)

(pause)

Reading


There can be few of us who try to pray regularly who have not found our pattern of prayer disturbed by the lockdown. This is partly owing to other changes in our daily rhythms, and partly by the burden of distress and confusion which we are all carrying at the moment. Our lives have been suspended, and, in spite of the cautious changes that have been announced, there is no “normal” in sight. Meanwhile, we worry — for our­selves, for ageing friends and parents, for school-age children, for the furloughed and those unemployed, for the future.
We should not be too hard on ourselves if we find personal prayer difficult at this time. It is challenging enough to have our health threatened by a mindless micro­physical entity.
But the virus has also cast a shadow into our souls, creeping into our dreams and our daylight reveries, perhaps causing us to question the love of God. If prayer was once a safe stronghold, it may often now be a battleground. And yet, while my regular pattern sometimes seems meaningless, I find that the urge to pray comes suddenly in the dead of night, or in encountering the multiple, and often unknown, names on intercession lists, or when I watch the news.

Our lives may never be quite the same again, but all shall be well, all manner of thing shall be well.

(Angela Tilby in the Church Times, 15.5.20)

(pause)

Reflection


So, how is your prayer life going? How has it been during this abnormal time? Has your prayer practice (if you have one) changed at all in the 3 months of lockdown?
I know mine has. With this expansive sense of time that has been a gift of lockdown, I have found myself praying more regularly and consistently. I have felt God’s presence more closely. Particularly when spending time in my garden first thing each day and in the busyness and songs of the birds that visit. I suspect this is because I’m not travelling around much or stressfully clawing myself from one deadline to the next. I have the time to be alert. It seems I am not alone in this. In a recent Church Times survey exploring the impact of the lockdown on relating to God, it was shown that, while respondents felt more distant from other people, 41% felt closer to God, and 48% felt more prayerful.

So, how’s your prayer life going?

(pause)

Reading

Listening with the Heart by Gary Kowalski

https://www.uua.org/worship/words/meditation/listening-heart

(pause)

As we enter a time of Prayer and Quiet Reflection, let us come together in prayerful stillness. We will we move through prayers of thanksgiving, reflection, loving and listening. (This format may be familiar to those of you who have been to a heart and soul service.)

You may want to begin by closing your eyes and directing the focus of your attention inwards, bringing it to your heart – penetrating its walls and spending a few moments breathing into it deeply.

With each out breath, let go:

• of tension in your body – let it soften

• of thoughts in your mind – let them go – don’t follow them – let them move off.

(pause)

Come, Holy Spirit of Love.
In the silence come to us and bring your peace;
Rest in us that we may be tranquil and still;
Speak to us as each heart needs to hear;
Reveal to us things longed for;
Rejoice in us that we may praise and be glad;
Pray in us that we may be at one with you and each other;
Refresh and renew us from your living springs of water;
Dwell in us now and always

• We begin with Naming Prayer.
This is a time to reflect on the things we feel grateful for and to acknowledge them. I invite you to think back over your day, week or month. Notice what or who you feel grateful for – however big or small. Take your time with this. Naming and holding whatever it is you are grateful for, in the confines of your heart.

(pause)

• And now, we come to Knowing Prayer.
Resting in God’s presence, allow yourself to be bathed in the healing light of unconditional love – breathe it in….. breathe it out, filling the space around you with it.

(pause)

Take a few moments to look back over your day so far. If your day has only just begun, then also include yesterday. Without judgement or criticism of any of it, gently recount events from the moment you awoke right up to this moment here, now.

  1. And as you do this, ask God to bring to your heart the moment for which you are most grateful.
    If you could relive one moment, which one would it be?
    When were you most able to give and receive love?
    When did you feel most alive? most connected? most fully yourself?

Ask yourself what was said and done in the moment that made it so special. Breathe in the gratitude you feel and receive life again from that moment….

(pause)

  1. Ask God to bring to your heart the moment for which you are least grateful. When were you least able to give and receive love?
    When did you feel most drained of life? least connected? least yourself?

Ask yourself what was said and done in the moment that made it so difficult. Be with whatever you feel without trying to change or fix it in any way. You may want to take deep breaths and let God’s love fill you just as you are….

(pause)

As this time of knowing prayer comes to a close, you might want to speak inwardly to God, that which you hold to be Divine, asking for comfort, compassion, or forgiveness… perhaps asking for guidance, or ways to live your own life more fully.

(pause)

• Now we move to Loving Prayer

At this time, let us bring to our hearts and minds all those who are in need of our prayers right now.

(pause)

Those who are confused and unclear with the lifting of restrictions; those living in fear of infection and those infected with the coronavirus. May they be granted courage and be restored to wholeness.

(pause)

Those who are alone, feeling the pain of isolation, starved of human contact. May they know they are not alone. May they feel God’s touch and be comforted by His presence.

(pause)

May those who are suffering be released from their pain.
May we all be released from our pain.

Amen

• Now we move into Listening Prayer.

  • time to sit in silence and stillness, with the intention of allowing ourselves to listen for the still, small, voice within that may speak….

Silence for aprox 5 minutes

Reading

Six Recognitions of the Lord by Mary Oliver

http://yearsrisingmaryoliver.blogspot.com/2010/09/six-recognitions-of-lord_25.html

(pause)

A closing story


This story is about a little wave, bobbing along in the ocean, having a grand old time. He’s enjoying the wind and the fresh air – until he notices the other waves in front of him, crashing against the shore. “My God, this terrible”, the wave says. “Look what’s going to happen to me!”
Then along comes another wave. It sees the first wave, looking grim, and it says to him: “Why do you look so sad?” The first wave says: “You don’t understand! We’re all going to crash! All of us waves are going to be nothing! Isn’t it terrible?”
The second wave says: “No, you don’t understand. You’re not a wave, you’re part of the ocean.”
(from Tuesdays With Morrie by Mitch Albom)

(pause)

Blessing


Spirit of all blessing,
be with us in the ordinariness of our days.
May hope’s light guard us and keep cynicism from our hearts.
May the energy of laughter build endurance for the dark times of our lives.
May creativity’s vision grant the possibility of seeing old relationships with new eyes.
May the oil of healing keep us from anger’s hardness or despair.
May the mantle of humility give courage to admit when we are wrong.
May compassion’s loom weave in us the discipline to forgive.
May patience help us bear in mind that ours is not the only scale of time.
May the flame of justice be a beacon for the choices we must make.
May peace be ever in us and sustain our stressful days.
Spirit of all blessing,
be with us
in the ordinariness of our days. (Maureen Killoran)

And so, until such a time that we can meet in person, may the wind of the Spirit blow through our world, giving the answer of God’s everlasting love. That when you leave this place, you go with peace and joy in your heart.

Amen

Sunday 5th July

by Rev. Duncan Voice

“I never made one of my discoveries through the process of rational thinking” – Albert Einstein

Welcome

Welcome to our Sunday Service, which should have been our Anniversary Service, before it had to be cancelled sadly. So, no scones and cream, and tea at the village hall this year; but we’ll enjoy it all the more next year. We face adversity in our ability to gather together, but let us gather instead in spirit and draw encouragement and strength from community.

You are invited to light a candle, or chalice, to begin our Service.

Chalice Lighting

We light our chalice as a symbol of our faith
in the enduring good that abides in the world.
May we discover it, and nurture it, in ourselves and others;
and may it give us purpose and meaning.

Prayer

Come and Experience by Roger Courtney

All of those whose lives feel empty or meaningless

  • Come and experience the possibility of meaning and the healing of the spirit.

All of those who have had their heart broken

  • Come and experience the possibility of the healing heart.

All of those who feel cynical or pessimistic

  • Come and experience the possibility of hope for the future.

All of those whose lives are filled with superficiality

  • Come and experience the possibility of stimulation for the mind and the soul.

All of those whose lives are filled with noise

  • Come and experience the possibility of silence and tranquillity to reconnect with who we are and the divine ground of all things.

Amen

Story

Starfish on the Beach from The Shortest Distance by Bill Darlison

While walking along the beach one day, a young man noticed that thousands of starfish had been washed up by the tide. The tide was going out, and the starfish were stranded. There was no way they could get back to the water, and within an hour or so they would all be dead.

In the distance, he noticed an elderly woman, who was picking up the starfish from the beach and throwing them back into the sea. He approached her and asked, “What are you doing?”
“I’m throwing these starfish back into the sea.”
But why are you bothering? There are thousands of them, what you are doing won’t make any difference,” said the young man.
“It will make a difference to this one” said the woman, as she hurled another starfish into the receding tide.

Hymn: Grant Us God, A Mind to Know You (from Sing Your Faith)

Grant us God, a mind to know you,
let us feel you stir in our heart;
fill our lives with your abundance,
show us how to play our parts.
In this changing world, in which we make our way,
keep us in your love ever true.

Help us to be kind to each other,
value people’s thoughts and needs.
Human hearts can give so much loving,
Human flesh for mercy pleads.
In this warring world in which we would survive,
why should we not give peace a chance?

Keep our spirits young and lively,
teach our children how to flower.
When our limbs begin to weaken,
send your comfort, let us know your power.
In this jostling world in which we strain and strive,
let us hear your still small voice.

Reading

God Within by Stephanie Ramage

There is “something” in a man and a woman
Which inspires them to create things of great beauty…
To write poetry which moves the spirit,
To tend a garden full of sweet-smelling flowers,
To create music which can move us to tears of joy,
To design fine buildings,
To use threads of silk and wool and turn them into beautiful fabrics which please the eye.

There is “something” in a man and a woman
Which enables their hearts to be touched by things of great beauty…
The sound of music created by the human voice and musical instrument,
The music of nature – the roar of the sea – the howl of the wind – the sound of gentle rain,
The sight of a perfect seashell or a beautifully turned pot or a vast range of mountains viewed at dawn.

There is “something” in a man or a woman
Which inspires them to behave in a loving way…
To give themselves to the service of others,
To help a friend when help is needed,
To look after and care for their family even when the daily tasks seem too much for them,
To withstand torture and face death for their beliefs.

That “something” which
Touches
Every Life,
Every day,
Is God within.

(From Waiting to be Discovered, Edited by Johanna Boeke and Joy Croft, published by the Unitarian General Assembly Worship Committee)

You may wish to pause for a time of quiet prayer or reflection.

Reflection

I expect many of us, from time to time, have asked ourselves the question, is what I am doing worthwhile? Or am I doing any good? Or why do I bother? Questions which may lead us into a depression or an apathy, if the answer appears to be negative or if, maybe, we don’t know. Perhaps we feel we have no direction in our life, or meaning. In such circumstances, tasks, even life itself, may appear mundane or pointless. Goals impossible to achieve. We might give up or walk away, and perhaps sometimes that is the right thing to do; but how do we know? It is good to question the meaning or the purpose of our lives, or aspects of our lives, I think, but where do we find some sort of answers?

It may be difficult in the first instance to find the right space and the time we need for reflection on such fundamental questions. Sometimes in meditation we reflect on important questions such as “what do I need to let go of to find peace in my life?” First, we calm ourselves and try to be present through gentle awareness of our breathing, then we place the question on the work bench of our mind, and see if an intuitive response emerges. It may do, or it may not for a while. But we can be patient if we understand the need to be so; and we do need to be so. Chasing an answer gives us no time to listen for that, perhaps, small quiet voice within. Sometimes it may be necessary to remove ourselves from the centre of things. The world really isn’t revolving around us as individuals after all! But we have something important to offer, a gift, or gifts; we all have a contribution to make.

I read an article recently, in the latest edition of “Faith and Freedom” magazine, an article called “The Sovereignty of Good and the Kingdom of God – a view from the hospital waiting room , written by retired minister Frank Walker .” He describes sitting in a hospital waiting room as his wife emerged from a consultation. He said,
“Something was obviously wrong. Her face was distorted; her walk agitated. The scan had revealed growths on her bladder, a serious case of cancer. I held her as she sobbed the news. I was shocked, stunned. The accustomed world dissolved. A new world appeared. It was a heavy burden to take up, and of course I shrank from it. It was the last thing I ever wanted.

Yet I realised immediately what I must do. I must do whatever I could to help and support her. I didn’t make a decision. I didn’t weigh up the pros and cons, and then decide. It was as though a light was switched on and immediately, I saw, I recognised, and I accepted. This light shone with authority. What else could I do? I knew at once I was necessary, absolutely necessary to my wife. A great work was entrusted to me, a more important work than anything I had ever done. It was most needful, and in the most special and intimate way possible it was mine. I knew all this at once without having to put it into words.”

The title of this piece is taken from a book by Iris Murdoch and Frank references this to examine the good that is within us, that in traditional religious language might be called a Divine spark. He discusses our use of more naturalistic language today, so someone might be inspired by nature rather that the glory of God, or have a love of life, rather than a love of God. But he suggests that in essence these are perhaps the same thing. He points out too our unique ability, in the animal kingdom, to care for the vulnerable and the sick, when this Divine spark might glow. He says,
“There emerges within people very powerfully and unmistakably the will, the determination to help. They could not do otherwise, or so many feel. It is so strong and universal, it has such depth of feeling, it is so unmistakable and assured, it is so supreme a value that in its service is perfect freedom. It is the love of the Good, the promise of the Kingdom of God. Normally we do not express it in such words. It seems all the same to be a universal experience, not captured in any one theological language. The impulse is so powerful it asserts itself without language…..the sovereignty of Good mysteriously lures us on, inviting, persuading us to attempt the impossible.” (Faith and Freedom, vol.73, part 1, published at Harris Manchester College, Oxford)

So adverse circumstance can make what is important clear to us, and we may feel this very deeply, giving us the courage to do what must be done, to love and to care. Perhaps this kind of revelation has helped some of our carers who have had to deal with the difficulties and dangers of coronavirus?

Revelation, in a traditional religious sense means disclosure of knowledge to humans by divine or supernatural agency. God partially revealed, a glimpse of ultimate truth. Perhaps not part of most peoples everyday thinking these days in our increasingly secular country? For some religious groups the source of this Truth can also be a narrow and exclusive one too, a historical figure, a scripture or maybe a church teaching. Not something that might evolve or change. As one inquisition Bishop put it “you can always tell a heresy, it is something new!”

This is not so for Unitarians however. When describing a classical Unitarian approach minister Stephen Lingwood says,

“Revelation for the Unitarian is not a once delivered truth that must now be preached and practiced, and defended, but a process of gradually imperfectly discovering a mysterious truth.”

So, while there might be dramatic moments of revelation in our lives during extraordinary times, it is more usually a process of discovery throughout our lives. Imperfect because we are, and maybe uncertain, but honest and open when followed truly. Stephen continues,

“All that we know is provisional (true for now, but might need to change in the future) and perspectival (not a “bird’s eye view of the world, but shaped by the particular place we are coming from). This means, as noted by American Unitarian theologian James Luther Adams. “Nothing is complete, and thus nothing is exempt from criticism.”” (Seeking Paradise: A Unitarian Mission for Our Times by Stephen Lingwood published by The Lindsey Press)

Stephen points out later in his book that we should avoid the mistake of trying to discern revelation in a “primarily individualistic way.” We are a part of the world, and the world is part of us; we live in communities and societies that shape our views; we are interconnected; “we are part of a social and historical conversation.” We are discerning truth in community; a truth we intuit, that feels right at this time and place.

In our reading Stephanie Ramage speaks of how beauty in its many forms can stir that “something” within us. Another kind of revelation. Something special, something sacred, something inspirational. We can find different words, but there always seems to be that “something”. So, revelation may come to us in many ways. Through nature, literature, poetry, but also the pain and suffering we may encounter on our journey through life; and of course, the inspiration of others – their wisdom, courage and compassion. All these and more can change the direction of our lives or the view we have of life.

Sometimes all the problems in the world, in our lives, can seem overwhelming, hopeless maybe. Their scale and magnitude, and our limitations; but there is always something we can do for the good. It may be seem a small thing, like the old lady in our story throwing starfish back in to the sea; but it may be the most important thing we do in our lives. And perhaps someone will see us on that beach, going about our hopeless task, and perhaps they will join us and we’ll form a community whose task is hopeless, but who manage to do some good. Wouldn’t that would be a beautiful “something” indeed.

May it be so.

Closing

by Rainer Maria Rilke

Have patience with everything
unresolved in your heart,
and try to love the questions
themselves, as if they were locked rooms
or books written in a foreign
language.

Don’t search for the answers,
which could not be given to you now,
because you would not be able
to live them.

And the point is, to live everything.

Live the questions now.

Perhaps then, someday far in the future,
you will gradually, without even noticing it,
live your way to the answer.

May we go on the ways of lives in love and peace, and may the God of our understanding be with us now and always. Amen.

Sunday June 28th

Opening words

Our Opening words, loosely translated, come from Matthew 16: 24-26

If any person would come after me, let them pick up their cross and follow me. For whoever would save their own life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit an individual, if they gain the whole world and forfeit their own spiritual life?

Good morning and welcome to the read along service. My thoughts and heartfelt wishes to you
May this time that we spend together bring a closer connection to the sacred.
I begin our service today in the usual way by lighting the chalice and you may like to light a candle where you are too.

Chalice lighting

In every darkened corner there is a chance for the light of love to shine. Serving as a beacon of hope, reminding us of the spirit of love, truth and liberty.
.
Divine spirit, help us to come together and be present in this space for a short time of prayer and stillness

We come together in this moment to give thanks for all that we are and all that we have and we are reminded of the love, compassion and generosity of our own hearts and those of others.

We bring our fears, anger, confusion and our brokenness to be healed.

May we seek to find the peace within our inner selves.

May we give ourselves the gift of our union in this gathering.

Amen

We invite you to listen to some, or all, of this piece of music.

There is no question over what we are being asked to do in out opening words, which is echoed by the words of St Charles of Sezze:

“The sacrifice the divine wants of us is to die to ourselves.”

We are being called to give everything, without holding back. Sometimes it’s hard to comprehend the lengths to which we are being asked to extend ourselves. Whatever we chose to believe in, whether that is what we could call a religious faith or a spiritual sense of something good in the world, the answer will be the same. As we put ourselves aside and follow a path of love, compassion and righteousness then our gift in the spiritual sense will be so much bigger than anything material that we wish for or believe will bring us happiness.

Christ does not mess around with words here. We can scope and change the quote all we like but we are called to love with a special kind of devotion. Lose our own selfish desire and wants for the sake of others rather than forsake others for the desires of ourselves. Well that’s just a wee small ask isn’t it ?!

All those months ago, back in March when spring was beginning to be a real possibility, the early shoots were showing themselves, many of us were holding our breath as an unknown virus worked its way across our waters and began to make its devastating path across all areas of our lives. Lock-down began with an overnight change in the way we lived, I’m sure in times to come it will be one of those moments that we recall where we were when we heard, or saw, our prime minister giving us a clear instruction. It will become to be known as a defining moment in our history.

Stay at home – Protect the NHS – Save Lives

Pick up your cross – acknowledge the sacrifice you are being asked to make, put others first.

We did well, we made alternative plans we shared our Tesco slots, queued up at the local shop to pay our neighbours tv license, we got busy sewing scrubs or volunteering at the food banks, we wrote letters, watched old tv programs, cleaned out cupboards.

For some little changed – work was moved to the spare bedroom. For others the patience of saying for the umpteenth time “wear your mask wash your hands” began to wear thin.

For some of us it was the sacrifice of not seeing our family and friends and for others we had no choice but to stay in and rely on others to help. For yet others it has been a life changing time – the loss of a job, unable pay the mortgage, no money for food they find themselves queuing at the food bank or requesting a food parcel.

Even those that seem to be relatively unscathed have been touched by this time.

We have all been doing our bit and we celebrate this. For some it was getting out of bed in the morning, making a cup of tea keeping the inner demons at bay taking prescribed medication. Or risking a trip into the outside world, or getting to grips with zoom! We have all made sacrifices.

Reading

Our first reading comes from ‘The chad’ an online northern newspaper and was written by the journalist David Bell in April 2020:

“The Derbyshire village of Eyam has never been shy making capital from its famous plague heritage where a unique exercise in self- isolation was played out with such tragic consequences 355 years ago.
During the bubonic plague outbreak of 1665, the population of Eyam agreed to be locked-down voluntarily to prevent the spread of an invisible killer disease. The story of the Eyam plague began with the arrival of a consignment of cloth and second-hand clothes from London, where the disease had already killed 30 per cent of the population. In the London consignment there were fleas from infected black rats carrying the deadly plague bacteria.
A tailor’s assistant called George Viccars was said to have opened the delivery unwittingly stirring the disease-ridden fleas. He became the first of the plague’s victims in the village some 10 days later.
The pestilence, as it was known, began its unrelenting surge through the community. Between September and December 1665, almost 50 villagers died
and by the following spring with more deaths – and increasing alarm – many were on the verge of fleeing their homes and their livelihoods to save themselves.
It was at this point that the newly appointed vicar, William Mompesson, intervened. Believing it his duty to prevent the plague spreading to other towns and cities he sought to quarantine Eyam.
However, as if persuading his flock to sacrifice their lives was not difficult enough, he had another problem – Mompesson was already deeply unpopular with the villagers.
Realising he would need help, the vicar decided to reach out to his popular predecessor Thomas Stanley in the hope that together they could persuade the villagers to make a huge sacrifice.
Mompesson persuaded his parishioners that the village must be enclosed, with no-one allowed in or out. The Earl of Devonshire, who lived nearby at Chatsworth House, had offered to send supplies if the locals agreed to the plan.

By the end of the outbreak, 260 of the village’s population of 350 were dead. 79 out of 90 families recorded the death of an immediate family member. The plague outbreak however had been contained after a 14 month long grim struggle.
The Eyam Plague Story has endeared itself to the British public with its stirring accounts of personal sacrifice for the greater good. Two pandemics – one historical and another current – both strangely with powerful parallels of lockdown, social distancing and self-isolation.”

Eyam in 1666 showed the value of love, compassion, togetherness and leadership; all powerful traits the majority of us have taken on in the current pandemic.

Reflection

We take some time together in reflection So please take moment to get comfortable where you are.

We think back over the last few months and acknowledge to ourselves the impact that this pandemic has had upon us and the sacrifices that we have had to make as individuals. They may be large or small, significant or hidden. They may have been acutely painful and frightening, or life changing and as we sit in this stillness, we acknowledge all we have done.

Pause

We acknowledge the sacrifice our loved ones have made during this time, looking after us or other family members, working in difficult situations and/or long hours.

Pause

We acknowledge the sacrifice of people that we may have seen once or twice – the bus driver or the shop assistant, the post person. We take time to think about how their lives have been impacted by the pandemic and what has changed for them. What they have had to do without.

Pause

We think about those that perhaps we don’t get on with, we have fallen out with, or those who occupy positions of power with whom we have not seen eye to eye. We acknowledge some of the sacrifices they have made at risk to themselves – long hours of working distanced from their family. Difficult almost impossible decisions for the greater good.

Pause

We think about people across the world, carers, parents, cleaners, drivers, surgeons, neighbours, new borns and the elderly, and we acknowledge their sacrifice.

Pause

We acknowledge the global sacrifice that so many billions of people have made over these 6 months.

And we remember those who have made the ultimate sacrifice with their lives.

Pause

Great spirit of life and love as our time of refection comes to a close we come together in prayer.

A prayer for all that walk this earth, as we are all teachers and students in this great universe, no greater no less.

Amen

Reading

In April 2020 Steve Ford wrote an article in the nursing times which like other articles in a similar vein has led to an enquiry about the sacrifices and impact on BAME members of our society.

Here is an extract:

“The country must not forget the sacrifices you make while the rest of us are in lockdown. The growing list of nurses and other health and social care workers who have died from Covid-19 is rightly in the media spotlight. Although not all the deaths can be conclusively attributed to lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) we can say with a fair amount of confidence that a significant proportion can. The list also reinforced to me how disproportionately people from black and minority ethnic backgrounds are losing their lives, including many originally from the Philippines.

Every death from Covid-19 is a tragedy, but people from BAME backgrounds in general seem to be overrepresented in the mortality figures, a trend now being recognised at national level. The government launched formal review into the impact of coronavirus on people from BAME backgrounds, including staff, comes too late to save lives…. people from BAME backgrounds were at a “greater risk” from coronavirus because these communities were more likely to have “a number of comorbidities”, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, sickle cell, thalassemia and lupus and they were being chosen to work on coronavirus wards more so than their white colleagues.

The pandemic was “shining a light” on the inequities and among the names on the memorial list is Donald Suelto, whose body was found at his flat in London around 10 days after he was sent home to self-isolate and five days after he last contacted his family. Nurses were very much skilled professionals doing their job, but in challenging conditions and recognition of that sacrifice, and of the skill, professionalism and courage required to do your job in unprecedented circumstances, must be a key legacy of this pandemic.”

Sacrifice the ultimate death of ourselves to help another who we may not even know. In our reflection many of us may be feeling good about what we have done and how we have behaved during lockdown. Others of us may feel rather uncomfortable, the extra journey we made which wasn’t necessary but we justified it then pushed it aside. For some we may feel we made so much more of a sacrifice than others. It’s not a competition and yet there is an uncomfortable truth that some make more sacrifices than others just because of what colour of skin they are born into.

Michael Beckwith – a spiritual leader from the US talks about the two-fold apocalypse we are living through. That of Covid 19 and racial inequality. It may sound extreme but he goes on to explain that Covid 19 is bringing about the end of way of living we have been used to, the death of the old and thereby making the way for a new way. This pause has led to the lifting of the veil and a small window of opportunity for the world to wake up to a new consciousness.

We may have thought crikey I’ve done enough sacrificing for one year, for one lifetime, now let’s just get back to some sort of normal … Most of us will have the opportunity to do so especially after July 4th when the landscape of us lives will become a little more familiar – a pint in the local, perhaps a holiday, a BBQ with friends, a return to the office and there is nothing wrong with any of these desires. They are part of the fabric of our society and yet we are being asked to make more sacrifice – perhaps the hardest of all we have been through in recent months. Because the difference of this sacrifice is not about staying in, not seeing others, the 2 or now 1 meter’s rule. This is the inner sacrifice, the death of our old ways of thinking, of being, of operating. A chance to look deeper, to take inventory or stock of our beliefs and thought processes, and a deep willingness to behave in a more conscious way.

The apocalypse he says is here – now what? I was reminded by the lyrics of Gill Scot Heron in his song The Revolution Will Not Be Televised (for some of you this will be what I was listening to in my late teens and early twenties!)

The revolution will not be televised
The revolution will not be brought to you
The revolution will be no re-run, brothers
The revolution will be live.

Everything has been brought to our living room especially during the pandemic. We have no escape. Its 24 seven and there are images that sum up or can be defined as a moment in history when things changed. In 1945 there was image of Atomic bomb ‘Little Boy’ as it is dropped on Hiroshima – the final death toll stood at more than 1400000. On Feb 4th 1968 the then live televised images of South Vietnam’s chief of National Police, Nguyen Ngoc Loan, executes a Viet Cong operative in Ho Chi Minh City – one of the most prominent images to fuel anti-war sentiment at home. In 1989 An unknown man blocks the path of tanks in Tiananmen Square, China. Which struck a chord for its David-and-Goliath-like image of defiance. In 1993 David Carters depiction of the famine-stricken South Sudan, showing a vulture stalking a starving black child. On 27th May 2020 footage of the death of George Floyd , a black man murdered on the streets by a white police officer goes viral igniting a world-wide protest of the inequalities of Black lives .

George Floyd is not the first black person to be murdered in cold blood on the streets. He’s not the only black person in a so-called democracy whose rights have been left wanting.

We cannot un-see what we have seen, we cannot un-hear what we have heard, we cannot un-read what we have read, we cannot erase the strings in our own spiritual consciousness of what is so un-holy, so un-sacred, but it takes great courage to stay in that uncomfortable place. We are a mix of seeing the possibility of change, fear of the decay of the old world and the changes that will bring, and a pull to distract ourselves. Covid came to our shores, although back in January is was happening to someone else. We had to wake up fast and acknowledge that we weren’t separate from recent events in America are occurring here.

Perhaps those that have died at the hands of police brutality, perhaps those that because of the colour of their skin have not been given the same opportunities as others, have been the sacrifice for us to open our eyes. Perhaps those black men on the estates of north London who have been arrested on suspicion due to the colour of their skin are the sacrifice for us to see our privilege. Perhaps those that march despite the risks of the pandemic are the sacrifice for a greater movement of change.

And we are left with the question of what we do – in lock-down we were given a set of instructions for living!

Our spiritual lives give us daily sets of instructions for living and in the words of Mandiba:

“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”

We stand, we sit, we think, we reflect on our own lives and those that came before us.
We open our minds to transform our ancestral world, challenge what has gone before us and what now needs to come.
We stand and accept our own inadequacies our own privilege.
We do what is ours to do.

And in the words of Jesse Jackson:

“Never look down on anyone unless you are helping them up.”

Amen

May you go in love, in peace and in greater awareness and willingness to serve.

Sunday 21st June – Shades of Green

by Rev. Duncan Voice

“God lifts up those who are bowed down” – Psalm 146.8

Welcome

Welcome to our Service today. In nature, if Autumn is a time of harvest, Winter a time of stillness, Spring a time of awakening then Summer is a time of flowering. Yesterday we marked the summer Solstice and entered summer, so I hope you have been able to enjoy the warmer weather and the longer days. Connecting in some way with the beauty of the natural world as it reveals itself to us.

Today is also Father’s Day and we celebrate with any Fathers that may be joining us. We celebrate the contribution of Fathers, step-fathers, and those who have acted as a father, to the lives of their children and those they have supported. However, today may also be a reminder of those we have lost; and some may not have had a good relationship with their father for many reasons. So, may this be a time healing too.

We begin with our chalice or candle lighting. Please join in at home if you can.

Chalice Lighting

We light this chalice flame
as a symbol of our faith,
which brings warmth and light
into our lives;
and through us,
in to the lives of others,
who we meet and we welcome
in peace and love.

Prayer and reflection

Spirit of life and love,
We gather together, though we are apart.
Into this gathering we bring our worries and concerns,
our questions and uncertainties,
but also, our gratitude.
Gratitude for this moment, this peace, this sharing.

On this day we think of the joys and sadness’s
connected with fatherhood.
Our own relationships, those that we know.
The wise and the caring, the unwise and the uncaring.
May we celebrate all that is good
and find healing where there is pain and separation.

Help us to understand ourselves
so that we may better understand others.
At this time of summer help us to flourish and grow,
in gentle spirit and in loving community.
As we celebrate, and appreciate more than ever,
those that work as carers, help us to be carers too;
in our relationships with each other, and our world. Amen.

Story – The Song of the Bird by Anthony de Mello

“The disciples were full of questions about God.
Said the master, “God is unknown and unknowable.
Every statement about him, every answer to your questions,
is a distortion of the truth.”
The disciples were bewildered.
“Then why do you speak about him at all?”
“Why does the bird sing?” said the master.

Anthony de Mello comments,
“Not because it has a statement, but because it has a song.
The words of the scholar are to be understood. The words of the master are not to be understood. They are to be listened to as one listens to the wind in the trees, and the sound of a river, and the song of the bird. They will awaken something in the heart that is beyond all knowledge.”

[Pause for a little while to consider how this story speaks to you.]

Reading

The Casa del Sol Blessings of Jesus (Based on Matthew 5. 3-9) by John Philip Newell can be found by following this link : https://heartbeatjourney.org/casa-del-sol-blessing-of-jesus/

Please pause for a time of quiet reflection and meditation. You may like to listen to this piece of music called Una Mattina by Ludovico Einaudi.

Reflection

Walking recently in the countryside, near to where I live, I have been captivated and amazed at how many shades of green there are in the natural world. Different every day, even when viewed from the same perspective. The crops in the fields, grasses and trees create an astonishing green patchwork. I simply don’t have the vocabulary to describe it really. Dark and bright, emerald and olive and lime, so many; and so many beyond naming. All these plants bursting with energy as they soak in the summer sun. Home and food to many creatures, and a delight to a casual wanderer like me.

Yet how casual is my relationship? I feel deeply moved at times when my senses connect with the natural world; on a midsummers day when I hear the birds, smell the scent of flowers and see the different shades of green. I feel the sun on my skin as humans have done for thousands of years and I know that I am alive. I feel thankful and grateful.

I am aware though that some people when they look over fields and trees would see nothing except a landscape devoid of anything that interests them. Some might feel fear of wildlife or discomfort at being out of their urban environment. Some, for one reason or another, will never have the opportunity to look upon shades of green, and decide how it makes them feel. Our lives take different paths, each of us having to find our own way, each with a different point of view. Maybe that is the way of it. I can only speak of what makes my heart sing. The ways and the places that I find connection with. Something simple and yet infinitely complex; a wholeness, greater than myself and yet it is me and I am it. I hope that such places exist for everyone somewhere at some time.

The easing of lockdown in our country has begun and shops are re-opening gradually once again with the appropriate restrictions in place. Good news for those that enjoy a trip to the shops and for the businesses themselves of course. Although the experience will not be quite the same for some time to come. The slogan “shop for Britain” has emanated from somewhere inside our government to encourage us to spend money and support businesses. On one level seemingly a good idea to get the economy going, but a hollow message for the increasing number of people who are struggling financially.

Nevertheless, I notice that some people queued from 3am in Brighton, this week, to get back to their favourite shop. They had clearly missed the experience of shopping greatly, and I don’t criticise or judge them for that, although it does seem alien to me! It is good to support our high streets if we can, especially local traders and those that encourage a more ethical dimension to our shopping habits; selling healthier and more sustainable products. But I don’t think the queues were for these kinds of shops, but more likely connected with clothing and fashion. Clothing is important but fashions are fickle, leading us into to environmentally harmful habits.

According to James Dyke, senior lecturer in global systems at Exeter University, writing in the I newspaper,
“It can take 2,700 litres of water to make a single T-shirt. That begins to explain how the textile industry has become the second largest polluter of freshwater in the world. The industrial scale of cotton production accounts for 16 percent of the world’s pesticide use. Every time you wash synthetic fabrics, thousands of fibres are released which pollute the air, water and ecosystems…. Perhaps most important of all, clothes change the climate. As an industry, fashion produces 10 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions. That’s five times more than aviation.” His article was called “Throwaway fashion is literally costing us the Earth.” (I newspaper, 18th June 2020)

So advertisers will soon be after us again, if they are not already. Telling us how unsatisfactory our lives are, that we need a new look, a new car, a holiday, an indispensable new something or other; leading us to a place of anxiety because we think we need to have these things to be happy, to keep up, to look the part. This kind is kind of social pressure, which I have discovered has a name, it is referred to by some as “affluenza.”

In their book “Active Hope” Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone explain,
“Affluenza is a term used to describe the emotional distress that arises from a preoccupation with possessions and appearance. Psychologist Oliver James views it as a form of psychological virus that affects our thinking and is transmitted by television, glossy magazines and advertisements. The toxic belief at the core of this condition is that happiness is based on how we look and what we have. If we compare our appearance or wealth to that of models and millionaires on prime-time television, it is easy to feel we don’t measure up so well. James comments, “Since programmes are saturated with exceptionally attractive people living abnormally opulent lives, expectations of what is “normal” are raised.” (from Active Hope by Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone)

Of course, during lockdown some of these images have been reduced or removed from our lives. Even celebrities haven’t been able to get a haircut! So, what will happen as lockdown restrictions lift? Will we go back to the old normal, or will there be an even more manic, anxiety inducing, new normal? Or will we use any spending power we may have for less frivolous reasons; for something healthier and more wholesome for ourselves, others and our planet. There is a chance for new beginning, I think. Less consuming and more gratitude for what we already have, less polluting and more caring for the earth, less selfishness and more generosity, less materialism and a more spiritual way of being.

We can learn much from those whose culture has traditionally had a more respectful attitude towards the natural world; such as Native American people like the Haudenoshaunee.

“[They]…see humans as interconnected parts of a larger web of life, where each being is uniquely valuable. Crops, trees, rivers and the sun are respected and thanked as fellow beings in a community of mutual aid. If you have this view you don’t tear down forests and pollute rivers. Instead…you accept other life forms as part of your extended family. [They say] “We are shown that our life exists within the tree of life, that our well-being depends on the well-being of vegetable life, that we are close relatives of the four-legged beings.” (from Active Hope by Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone)

To begin their meetings and gatherings they use words like these:

“Today we have gathered and we see the cycles of life continue. We have been given the duty to live in balance and harmony with each other and all living things. So now we bring our minds together as one and we give greetings and thanks to each other as People. Now our minds are one.”(from Active Hope by Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone)

A gentle but strong reminder of what is important. Not making as much money as possible, not exploiting others or the earth, not living as anxiety driven individuals thinking only of ourselves, but living in “balance and harmony”. And seeing this as a sacred duty, rather than some sort of optional extra. Something for all us to think about as the human world begins to re-open.

Unless you are restricted in the activities you can currently do for health reasons, there has never been a better opportunity than this summer to re-connect with the natural world. The hills, the rivers, the sea wherever your spirit takes you. The skies are clearer, the air is cleaner, saviour it and connect if you can. Walk among the many shades of green.

(Pause)

Prayer – Earth Teach Me – A prayer from the Ute people of North America

Earth teach me stillness
As the grasses are stilled with light.
Earth teach me suffering
As old stones suffer with memory.
Earth teach me humility
As blossoms are humble with beginning.
Earth teach me caring
As the mother who succours her young.
Earth teach me courage
As the tree which stands alone.
Earth teach me limitation
As the ant which crawls upon the ground.
Earth teach me freedom
as the eagle soars in the sky.
Earth teach me regeneration
As the seed which rises in the spring.
Earth teach me to forget myself
As melted snow forgets its life.
Earth teach me to remember kindness
As dry fields weep in the rain.

Closing

I can do no other than be reverent before everything that is called life.
I can do no other than to have compassion for all that is called life.
That is the beginning and foundation of all ethics.
Albert Sweitzer (1875-1965)

Blessing

May we grow in reverence for our Earth;
May we grow in respect for all life;
May we grow in loving;
May we grow in wisdom;
May we grow in gentle spirit;
May we grow in gratitude;
May we grow, together.

As we go on the ways of our lives may the God of our understanding be with us. Amen.

This week we lost Ditchling resident and national treasure Dame Vera Lynne so it seems appropriate to finish with one of her songs. She is remembered for the iconic “White Cliffs of Dover” and “We’ll Meet Again”, but I’m rather fond of this one, released in 1940, “A Nightingale Sings in Berkeley Square.”

Sunday 14 June 2020

by Stephen Crowther

God is a river, not just a stone.
God is a wild, raging rapids and a slow, meandering flow.
God is a deep and narrow passage and a peaceful, sandy shoal.
God is the river, swimmer, so let go.

So I’m going with the flow now, these relentless twists and bends;
adjusting to the motion and a sense of being led.
This river is like my body, carrying me along past ever-changing scenes
and the rocks that sing the song –
God is the river, swimmer, so let go.

(from God is a River by Peter Mayer)

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

11.00am light a candle.

As we gather ourselves in and join with others in our community isolated in our homes, separated by the pandemic, may we be reminded 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 at this unprecedented time in our lives.

(pause)
Good morning and welcome once more to our weekly communal service on this Sunday morning during a continuing time of upheaval and uncertainty in our world. May we hold ourselves gently in the uncertainty and fear.

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, 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)

A story:


There is a Buddhist story that tells of an ancient spiritual teacher who meditated each day by the side of a river. He was approached one day by a student who asked him how meditating on the bank of a river could lead to enlightenment. The master smiled and told the student that sitting on the bank of a river is the same as paying attention to one’s life. Like a river, life simply flows. It can bring us pleasure but if we try to grasp or hang on to the pleasure too hard we will cause ourselves suffering, because, like the river, life will eventually take the pleasure away.

The teacher explained how in entering the River of Life we enter into opportunity and risk. There are times when that river will cause us suffering and pain. Holding on, we travel further, but in letting go we enter a new hope and, in time, the scenery changes, all we can do, said the teacher, is sit with what the River of Life brings us, and learn the lessons that we are meant to learn.

After a while, the student bowed to the teacher and continued on his journey.

(pause)

Reading: Don’t Push the River by Richard Rohr

All of us are much larger than the good or bad stories we tell about ourselves. Don’t get caught in “my” story, my hurts, my agenda. It’s too small. It’s not the whole you, not the Great You. It’s not the great river. It’s not where life is really going to happen. No wonder the Spirit is described as ‘flowing water’ and as ‘a spring inside you’ or, as it states at the end of the Bible, as a ‘river of life’. Your life is not really about “you.” It is part of a much larger stream called God. The separate self is finally an illusion for those who stay on the journey of prayer.

I believe that faith might be precisely that ability to trust the river, to trust the flow and the Lover. It is a process that we don’t have to create, coerce, or improve. We simply need to allow it to flow. That takes immense confidence in God, especially when we’re hurting. Usually, I can feel myself get panicky. I want to make things right, and right now! I lose my ability to be present, and I go up into my head and start obsessing. I try to push or even create the river—the river that is already flowing through me.

The river is God’s providential love—so do not be afraid. We have been given the Spirit. Without this awareness of the always flowing river, without a sense that we are supported, we will all succumb to fear and control mechanisms. Why wouldn’t we? To stay in God’s holding means that I have to stop taking full hold of myself. I have to be able to hold a certain degree of uncertainty, ambiguity, and tension. Faith does not need to push the river precisely because it is able to trust that there is a river. The river is flowing; we are in it.

(pause)

Reflection

As we begin to emerge from lockdown I’m wondering how we might hold on to any resolutions we may have made to live our lives differently in the future.
Do you remember feeling grateful at hearing birdsong in the absence of traffic noise? Do you still remember the excitement when news spread of the lockdown’s effects on the environment? Fish could be seen in the canals of Venice. Skies were blue over parts of China for the first time in decades. People in Northern India could see the Himalayas for the first time in their lives and New Yorkers could see the Catskills. Goats took over Llandudno. Deer roamed a Japanese city. The post office tower in London reported measuring a 52% drop in air pollution. No wonder the virus became known as Gaia’s Revenge! For in the Great Pausing, we were being shown the truth of the environmentalists calls for change and the immediacy of its effect. Surveys reported that as many as 91% of people in this country didn’t want things to return to how they were before Coronavirus (BC). We heard repeatedly of an approaching ‘new normal’.

And so it was for a little while.

Then a partial lifting of restrictions was announced, and, like others, I found myself going ‘No. Not yet – it’s too soon!’. Much like the last night of a great summer holiday when it’s time to go home the next day – ‘No. Not yet – it’s too soon. I’m not ready!’. And, of course, within a few days of getting home, we feel like the holiday never happened – the relaxation and any intention to live life differently, get forgotten in the return to busyness.

So now, it seems we inhabit an in-between place of not knowing. If you like, we have begun the journey home from the great holiday. How do we hold to our determination to do things differently? In the face of economic pressures and powerful market forces, how do we create a ‘new normal’ and not return to how things were? How do I reconcile the sadness of rising noise and traffic levels with the understanding that people need to return to work?
And then, into this place of wondering how, crashed a different image of the world – George Floyd’s unlawful killing. And I found myself responding with the familiar – it’s happening over there – it’s not my problem. But God burst my heart open one day, by way of a photograph taken by a friend of a peaceful protest in New York. It shows a young woman holding a placard that simply says –

KNEEL WITH ME
NOT
ON ME

And just as the effects of the lockdown affirm the damage we’ve been causing the earth, so George Floyd’s death is affirming the damage that racism and white privilege cause in the world.

And so, I offer the following words for gentle self-reflection. They come from an essay by Peggy McIntosh titled White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.

Reading

I decided to try to work on myself at least by identifying some of the daily effects of white privilege in my life. I have chosen those conditions that I think in my case attach somewhat more to skin-color privilege than to class, religion, ethnic status, or geographic location, though of course all these other factors are intricately intertwined. As far as I can tell, my African American co-workers, friends, and acquaintances with whom I come into daily or frequent contact in this particular time, place and time of work cannot count on most of these conditions.

  1. I can go shopping alone most of the time, pretty well assured that I will not be followed or harassed.
  2. I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely represented.
  3. When I am told about our national heritage or about “civilization,” I am shown that people of my colour made it what it is.
  4. I can be sure that my children will be given curricular materials that testify to the existence of their race.
  5. Whether I use checks, credit cards or cash, I can count on my skin colour not to work against the appearance of financial reliability.
  6. I do not have to educate my children to be aware of systemic racism for their own daily physical protection.
  7. I can do well in a challenging situation without being called a credit to my race.
  8. I am never asked to speak for all the people of my racial group.
  9. I can be pretty sure that if I ask to talk to the “person in charge”, I will be facing a person of my race.
  10. If a traffic cop pulls me over or if the IRS audits my tax return, I can be sure I haven’t been singled out because of my race.
  11. I can easily buy posters, post-cards, picture books, greeting cards, dolls, toys and children’s magazines featuring people of my race.
  12. If I declare there is a racial issue at hand, or there isn’t a racial issue at hand, my race will lend me more credibility for either position than a person of colour will have.
  13. I am not made acutely aware that my shape, bearing or body odour will be taken as a reflection on my race.
  14. I can take a job with an affirmative action employer without having my co-workers on the job suspect that I got it because of my race.
  15. I can think over many options, social, political, imaginative or professional, without asking whether a person of my race would be accepted or allowed to do what I want to do.
  16. I can be late to a meeting without having the lateness reflect on my race.
  17. I can be sure that if I need legal or medical help, my race will not work against me.
  18. If I have low credibility as a leader, I can be sure that my race is not the problem.
  19. I can choose blemish cover or bandages in “flesh” colour and have them more or less match my skin.
  20. I will feel welcomed and “normal” in the usual walks of public life, institutional and social.

There are no easy answers to how we might bring about change. But I believe it is our individual responsibility to hold firm to our convictions, honour our intentions and do what we can within our own limited capacity. We can begin by extending empathic understanding to the other. We can kneel with them, not on them. For we are all children of God, made of the same stardust……

(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)

In a moment of pausing, let us hold in our hearts, the family and friends of George Floyd. May they and all of us affected by his murder, feel the touch of God’s Love and that by its Light be shown ways in which we can play our part in bringing about change to the world.

(pause)

Let my life give witness to You, God,
to those filled with fear.
Create in me a clean heart,
that Your light might be seen!
My soul sighs awaiting your
living Presence; for
I sense your Love and Light.
My heart wells up with gratitude
and praise, as
I recall the innumerable blessings
You continually bestow.

When I ponder the plight of the world,
my heart weeps for all the
oppressed.
How long, O Merciful One, must we
endure the greed,
the arrogance of those who are
in power –
Those whose hearts have turned
from You,
who follow not the way
of Love,
Who have become blind to the Truth,
and deaf to your Voice
whispering in their hearts?

Awaken the people of earth, O You,
who are the Great Awakener!

(from Psalm 119 by Nan C Merrill)

(pause)

In this time of lockdown, we give thanks for the new and 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. May we take our learning from this experience of Covid19 forward in our lives.
We have learned how much we value human connection and physical closeness; may we not lose sight of the resolve we hold in this moment to prioritise those connections.

(pause)

Let us bring to our minds and hearts all those who are infected with coronavirus. May they be restored to good health.

Let us bring to our hearts and minds, those living alone, still feeling the pain of isolation, starved of human contact. May they know they are not alone. May they be comforted by God’s presence.

(pause)

While some have begun the limited return to work, we bring to our hearts and minds the NHS front-line workers and key staff who never stopped working to bring healing and an end to this pandemic. Let us silently offer them our continued respect and gratitude.

(pause)

May we hold those who we brought to mind in the loving and healing light of our hearts.
May those who are suffering be released from their pain.
May we all be released from our pain.

Silence for aprox 5 minutes

Poem: At the River Clarion, by Mary Oliver, please click on the link below:


(pause)

Some closing words from Tielhard de Chardin which I find myself returning to again and again:

Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything
to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way to something
unknown, something new.
And yet it is the law of all progress
that it is made by passing through
some stages of instability –
and that it may take a very long time.

And so I think it is with you;
your ideas mature gradually – let them grow,
let them shape themselves, without undue haste.
Don’t try to force them on,
as though you could be today what time
(that is to say, grace and circumstances
acting on your own good will)
will make of you tomorrow.

Only God could say what this new spirit
gradually forming within you will be.
Give Our Lord the benefit of believing
that his hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
in suspense and incomplete.

(pause)


Blessing:

Until such a time that we can be together again in person –
May the Lord bless you and keep you.
May the Lord make his face to shine upon you,
and be gracious to you.
May the Lord lift up his countenance upon you,
and give you peace.

May the Lord bless us and keep us.
May the Lord make his face to shine upon us,
and be gracious to us.
May the Lord lift up his countenance upon us,
and give us peace.

Amen

Sunday 7th June

Welcome you to our Sunday Service with words contributed this week by our District Minister Rev.Martin Whitell.

Welcome and Greetings.

You may like to quieten your mind by sitting comfortably and lighting a candle to remind you of the many times you have met before with your many friends in The Old Meeting House.

These words are from Cliff Reed’s book: Sprit of Time and Place:

“Divinity is present everywhere.
Heaven and earth are filled with God.
But in some places at certain times
we feel a special presence.
May this be such a place and such a time.”

Please listen, or sing a long, to our hymn, “The Fellowship of the Church”

Lyrics by John Andrew Storey, music by Clement William Poole, published in Hymns for Living by The Lindsey Press, used by permission

The Church is not where altar stands
Within the hallowed walls,
But where the strong reach out their hands
To raise the one who falls;
Not stately building, standing fair,
Where people sing their creeds,
But fellowship of loving care
Which serves all human needs.

The Church is not where ancient rite
Is seen on Sabbath days,
But wisdom’s constant beam of light
To guide our common ways;
The Church is me, the Church is you,
Not mortar, brick and stone;
It is with all who love the true,
And where true love is shown.

by John Andrew Storey

Prayer

Sacred source of life, Spirit divine and faithful companion of our souls; what a joy it is to revel in this our vibrant world of colour, texture, sound and sense.

We revel in the gift of our wonderful tapestry of fellowship where different gifts and graces, ideas and beliefs all work together to produce a living flame of light and warmth. But today we face afresh the problems of our time. Unexpectedly, a virus has paralysed our world and our communities, and we are forced to be apart, which can make us fearful and lonely. Help us to be strong and patient, to play our part in reducing the risks and hastening the days which will return when we can be together again.

Maker of our days enable us to imbibe all the beauty and affection of those who work for our best purposes and make each of us generous in spirit and in kindness. Especially we think of those who are alone and those who are sick and those who are grieving.

As we worship this day, let us be glad for the hand of goodness that rests gently upon us

Amen

Here are two quotes for you to think about as we listen to a piece of music.

“There are days when solitude is a heady wine that intoxicates you with freedom,
others when it is a bitter tonic, and still others when it is a poison that makes you beat your head against the wall.”
Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette (1873 – 1954) French author.

“Be around people that make you want to be a better person,
who make you feel good, make you laugh, and remind you what’s important in life.”
Germany Kent (b. 1975) American broadcaster and journalist


SOLITUDE OR FELLOWSHIP

There are many things which have happened since I was last with you, like winter and Christmas. But, although many of us have seen epidemic and pandemic somewhere on risk assessments during our working lives, I don’t suppose many of us imagined anything quite like we are experiencing. Global pandemic (Covid 19) whether by neglect or misjudgment certainly took us by stealth, and before we knew it our lives and lifestyles were changed on March 23rd. Some say that things will never be the same again; some want things never to be the same again; but if you are not one of them, be assured that you are not alone! Among the several tragedies of the last months have been the lives snatched from us, too soon and too privately. To be denied the natural process of grieving is neither progress nor regression but a cruel consequence of a natural disaster. There is much of value that I for one want to regain and make even better.

But this short ‘sermon’ is about the age old question of whether we can live out our spiritual pilgrimage alone, maybe in a virtual world or whether we need to relate to others in physical community to do it effectively. You’ll be relieved to know that I think I’m preaching to the converted, because you are weighing the risks and benefits, so that you make responsible decisions as time moves along. Although the circumstances are different, the underlying questions are in fact not new. I would like to share some stories with you.

Fifteen years ago, I received an illustration in an e-mail from a friend in Manchester who was also training for the Unitarian ministry.
Ask people about God nowadays and they usually reply,
“I’m not religious, but deep down, I’m a very spiritual person.” What this phrase really means is:
“I’m afraid of dying, and I want to live well, but I can’t be bothered with going to church.”

Now I don’t want to criticise those who lead a life of spiritual solitude, those who want to work at their spiritual journey on their own. This of course was the craving of Cuthbert the marvelous and perhaps a little strange Northern saint. He like many other monks longed to be a hermit. He spent nights standing alone in the sea and eventually ended his days on Inner Farne, off the Northumberland coast, with eider ducks and seals for company! But he was formerly and essentially part of a community. Monks read, studied and admired the lives of the Desert Fathers of the C3rd, C4th and C5th. Monasticism of course had started with the Buddhists and Zen Buddhists centuries before probably in the mountains of Tibet, but western or Christian monasticism began in the deserts of Egypt. Once Christianity became accepted by Rome the emphasis for spiritual excellence changed from martyrdom in the cities, to monasticism in the desert. There were two types of monastics: Hermits (or eremites: desert monks) and Communal Monks (or Cenobites). Spirituality was never the exclusive property of those who live in solitude.


Let me tell you a story about two of these Hermits. They lived in 4th century Egypt. They are the inspiration for the title of former Archbishop Rowan Williams’ book “Silence and Honeycakes”. One was called Arsenius he had been the tutor of the children of the emperor Theodosius. He enjoyed luxury and wealth and gave it all up to go to the desert. The other was called Moses the Black (not PC but true). Moses was a converted runaway slave, murderer and robber. He too became a hermit.
A story is told of Moses being summoned to adjudicate in the case of a mon
who had been guilty of some serious crime.
He walked from his desert cell carrying a leaking pitcher of water.
The monks ran to him as he arrived asking what he was doing, he said
“My sins leave a trail behind me and you call me to judge a brother”
The monks forgave the offending monk!
The story goes that a person went to one of the desert monasteries asking to have an interview with the holy Arsenius. A monk took him to Arsenius who greeted the man gave him a seat but returned to his silent prayer and said nothing. After hours of waiting the visitor slipped away. The monk asked the visitor if everything was alright and he said he was disappointed to be ignored. So, the next day the monk took him to Moses the Black. Moses greeted him offered him food and drink and talked for hours. That night the visitor had a dream. He saw Arsenius in a boat on the river of life sailing steadily, praying in silence with the Holy Ghost On the same river he saw Moses the Black in a similar boat talking with an angel and they were eating honey cakes and sailing along just as well. He concluded that God is present both in solitude and in company.
You see in point of fact we need both solitude and company.

Many of us are currently leading a life of solitude, circumstances constrain us. But we recognise the need for the stimulation and insight into the spiritual world that comes from companionship. Being with other people, friends and neighbours, and worshiping with the people who meet in our Churches, Chapels and Meeting Houses provided us with that.

One more story.
In the Church of St Mary’s on Holy Island there is on display one of Fenwick Lawson’s powerful sculptures.
It is magnificent. It is a larger than life carving in wood of the monks, six of them,
carrying the coffin of Cuthbert away from the Island because of the frequent Viking raids at the end of the C9th.
Six serene yet determined, cowled faces, none can see the other, each with his personal thoughts
and bearing their precious burden.
If you stand on the backs of the church pews, which you shouldn’t do – but I did –
you can look into the open coffin on their shoulders.
Here is the carving of the body of Cuthbert, facing heavenwards at peace,
seemingly incorruptible, all with fantastic presence and power.
In one way it oozes the solitude of spirituality. But if you walk behind the sculpture,
you don’t see, so much as experience the most powerful thing of all.
Very little detail, the folding fabric the habits of two monks.
BUT, most powerfully, two arms each clasping the back of the other brother.
That says it all – no matter how singular, precious and important the work, or how holy the task.
It is done together!

What does all this say to us as Unitarians at a time of pandemic? Well, there is something good about being contemplative in our faith – just as you are reading this service, or even watching lots of other people in a zoom meeting even with your microphone muted! But also there is the God and Spirit who comes to us uniquely and mysteriously in the presence of others; catching us between the ribs, welling up the tear in the eye, bringing the lump to the back of the throat when we see something or someone, beautiful (maybe), needful (maybe), damaged (maybe), questioning (maybe), recovering from Covid (maybe), but each in their own way lovely and loveable, real and physical, and yes, even Divine.

Finally, A blessing

From wilderness to community, from
solitude to company, we return. These
are the poles of existence. May we
fear neither ourselves, nor each other,
and may what we learn in our aloneness
deepen our sense of being at one with
our neighbour, with our own true selves
and so with the divine root of being
which we share.

Wilderness by Cliff Reed