By Celia Cartwright, former minister of the Unitarian Chapel in Kendal, and current President of the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches.
I am a fixer of things. A maker of ways to achieve things. I will turn myself inside out to make my family’s life easier. This virus has changed that.
Today all I can do is let my daughter’s dog out and, well and …….. I cannot look after my granddaughter full time, I cannot make my daughter’s burden any lighter. I cannot do anything to help my son. I cannot aid the sick. I cannot keep a friend company. I cannot hold a hand. I cannot do very much. But I can stay cheerful and phone my friends I can spend uninterrupted hours playing with a complicated crochet pattern I can read my book without interruption I can stay well in isolation and cause my son and daughter no worry I can face-time with my granddaughter every day. I can talk to my daughter and my son on the phone I can play 60’s music and pretend I’m a teenager again I am lucky I can walk out of my door into open country. I can go for a walk I can write I can rearrange the furniture I can be creative I can make bread I can stay well.
Maybe this can be not all fear and trepidation but a time to re-engage with things I never get time for.
A very warm welcome to our first online Sunday Service. I hope there maybe something here that brings you peace, comfort, hope or inspiration. These are challenging times for us all, but by reaching out in different ways we can still support one another.
As I get used to creating Services online I hope to include more audio and visual elements. Before you begin reading this Service you may like to have a candle or chalice ready to light.
Chalice Lighting by Rev. Martin Whitell
As is our normal custom I invite you to light a chalice or a candle to begin this time of worship. As you do so, you may wish to say these words shared by our District Minister Rev. Martin Whitell:
“As I light this personal chalice flame, I am grateful that I am not alone. I remember with affection those who are doing the same and I look back with happy memories of the countless times I have observed it before. What a privilege it is to belong to a faith which unites people and sees the divine in many ways. During the coming days may I keep our values of care, kindness and hope burning strong no matter how difficult things become. One thing is certain, the time will return when I can meet again with those I love and care for and then I will appreciate the meaning and strength of this ritual more than ever.”
Spirit of Love and Life,
We gather in separate places, but with one spirit, to be together in loving community. We are apart, with our own thoughts and feelings, but bonded through our common humanity.
We each bring the burdens of our heart to the love of this moment; our worries, cares and concerns, which even in isolation 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, a joy, a sadness; some peace and some anger, they belong to us all.
May we recognise and respect our differences and commonalities: May all find kindness, May all find healing, May all find happiness, May all find peace. Amen
This Mothering Sunday many people will find themselves at home. If not self-isolating then maybe unable to go out because pubs and restaurants are closed. Perhaps not able to visit elderly mothers for fear of spreading infection; bunches of flowers not delivered. All around the country a strange feeling of dislocation, of distance and disruption; and yet as we sit at home and look out of our windows all seems well, no hint of crisis. Just less traffic, less people, less human activity in general. In our hospitals and supermarkets, a different picture however.
As I write this address, I too am in self-isolation having felt a little unwell for a time. Is it? Isn’t it? Better be on the safe side. But I am also fortunate, as for me being at home is OK, and of course I have a home! I live in a house with a small garden and when I look out of my window, I can see the birds busy with their springtime nesting preparations. My garden has some hedges around it and this year it looks like a pair of blackbirds may have begun to take up residence in one of them. From my window I can see the female going to and fro with a variety of nesting materials. No knowledge of our human troubles, preparing for her own journey into motherhood.
As I read from Catherine Robinson’s book of daily reflections, “Fragments of Holiness”, today’s piece of wisdom seems to ring very true:
“This we know: the Earth does not belong to us: we belong to the Earth. This we know: all things are connected, like the blood which unites one family. Whatever befalls the Earth befalls the sons and daughters of the Earth. We did not weave the web of life: we are merely a strand in it. – Attributed to a native American chief.”
Our “new normal”, our rapidly changing lifestyles and circumstances may have revealed this to many people in a shocking way. But it has always been true, that we are not in control of everything and we are connected, as Lynn Ungar says in her “Pandemic Poem”, “in ways that are terrifying and beautiful.” Beauty and suffering exist side by side.
Mothering Sunday apparently may have had its origins in the in the 16th century when people returned to their mother church during lent. It is a strange and sad irony therefore that the first Sunday we are unable to meet is Mothering Sunday. Later it became a tradition for children to pick wild flowers to give as posies to their mothers. My own mother recalls doing this in the village where she was brought up. It is a quaint image, but in our more populous world and with our environment under threat it is not practical or desirable to pick wild flowers any more. But we nevertheless still recognise and celebrate mothers and mothering in its many forms.
Mothering, of course, means to look after children but sometimes also others as well. In other words, it is about caring. Women exclusively give birth to children, where we find beauty and suffering once again, but all of us can care. Today we have same-sex couples who care for children, two mothers or two fathers, but still caring, still mothering. And in many families, it is maybe Dad who has childcare responsibilities, or they may be shared between seperated parents. Grandparents often play an important role. As Unitarians we celebrate loving and caring in all its forms, whenever and wherever it happens.
Perhaps this Mothering Sunday is a good opportunity for us to reflect on the care we can extend to others, especially in these difficult times where there is wide spread anxiety and people are experiencing many practical difficulties. As we have to learn to do things differently, perhaps we can also learn to care differently. We have to keep our distance from each other, but we can still reach out in many ways. Good community is more important that ever and wonderful examples of caring community have already started to emerge. For example, in the village where I live a coronavirus support group has been formed to offer help and advice to people. We have seen how panic begets panic in our supermarkets, perhaps caring can beget caring in our communities.
In our meditation group at The Old Meeting House we sometimes practice a “loving-kindness” meditation. We offer loving-kindness to ourselves, to those closest to us, to those with whom we have difficulty and to those we don’t know. It can be challenging, but it is supposed to help us cultivate feelings of unconditional love and compassion. It is a practice and therefore has to be practiced regularly; experienced rather than read about. Meditation may not be your thing, but I think it is helpful for us to find practices that support the cultivation of compassion in us. Perhaps these challenging times that we face present us with a new opportunity to practice loving-kindness through our caring actions. Although we shouldn’t forget to take care of ourselves as well.
This year instead of rushing of to buy cut flowers I’d like to suggest that maybe we could grow some instead. Sowing the seeds for a more beautiful and sustainable future. Grow some for mum, or her memory, but also for the insects and the birds. Who knows perhaps the blackbird in my garden will have chicks, and they will be fed by what you grow. Now wouldn’t that be a beautiful thing.
May it be so.
We may perhaps find ourselves a little lonely at times as we avoid gatherings and crowds. But one crowd that we can spend time with is a crowd of daffodils. If we take time to look, we can always find inspiration in nature.
I Wandered Lonely as a Cloudby William Wordsworth
I wandered lonely as a cloud That floats on high o’er vales and hills, When all at once I saw a crowd, A host, of golden daffodils; Beside the lake, beneath the trees, Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
Continuous as the stars that shine And twinkle on the milky way, They stretched in never-ending line Along the margin of a bay: Ten thousand saw I at a glance, Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.
The waves beside them danced; but they Out-did the sparkling waves in glee: A poet could not but be gay, In such a jocund company: I gazed—and gazed—but little thought What wealth the show to me had brought:
For oft, when on my couch I lie In vacant or in pensive mood, They flash upon that inward eye Which is the bliss of solitude; And then my heart with pleasure fills, And dances with the daffodils.
As we continue on the ways of our lives may we do so with courage and compassion. May love always be our guide and may the God of our understanding be with us now and always.
Welcome to our new blog where I will be publishing worship material each Sunday. Notes and links about each Service can be found on the Service Info page. Please enter your email address and click the follow button below. You will receive an email to confirm your subscription to the blog (there are no fees). Once you receive the email, click “confirm follow” and then you will receive automatic notifications of new publications. Please do get in touch if you have difficulty with any features and let me know your feedback.