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.
May our chalice flame
be a symbol of welcome,
to all who join us in a spirit
May this time together
bring us peaceful reflection
and spiritual refreshment.
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.
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.
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.
Help us to turn away from selfishness,
and instead share generously where we can.
May all know happiness and joy.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
To Come Home to Yourself by John O’Donohue
“May all that is unforgiven in you,
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.