Sunday 31st May – Pentecost (Whitsun)

by Rev. Duncan Voice

Welcome to our Sunday Service. We invite you to read through slowly and reflectively pausing where you feel necessary. We start with a chalice or candle lighting so please do join in at home if you wish to.

“Whom God enlightened by His spirit must not be silent and must not hide the truth.”
Francis David (1510 – 1579) considered to be the founder of Unitarianism in Transylvania.

Chalice Lighting

We light our chalice flame
symbol of our faith and commitment
to living in compassionate and peaceful community.
May it be a beacon of hope.

Prayer

Spirit of Love and Life,

We are grateful for this time of peace.
Though we cannot meet in our beloved Meeting House,
we reach out to greet and welcome all in spirit.

We bring to our hearts and minds
those in our friendship groups and our community,
who are unwell and who suffer some hardship,
through the effects of the current virus pandemic.
May they find healing.
Help us to widen our circle of compassion still further.

We think also of those whose passing
comes to our mind at this time.
May they be at peace
and continue to live long in our memories.

Help us to find inspiration and hope
in times of difficulty and despair.
The kind words of a friend;
Seeing beauty in the everyday;
The warm sun on our skin.
May we understand that we are never alone,
and that we are held and loved.
Amen.

Reading: Acts: 1-4 The Coming of the Holy Spirit

The day of Pentecost had come, and they were all together in one place. Suddenly there came from the sky what sounded like a strong, driving wind, a noise which filled the whole house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them flames like tongues of fire distributed among them and coming to rest on each one. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to talk in other tongues, as the spirit gave them power of utterance.

Hymn

The Fire of Commitment (Hymn number 42 “From the Light of Days Remembered” from Sing Your Faith).

“When the fire of commitment sets our mind and soul ablaze;
when our hunger and our passion meet to call us on our way;
When we live with deep assurance of the flame that burns within:
then our promise finds fulfillment and our future can begin.” lyrics by Jason Shelton

Reading: An excerpt from Seeking Paradise: A Unitarian Mission for Our Times by Rev. Stephen Lingwood.

Stephen is a minister serving the Unitarian congregation in Cardiff and doing what is described as “grass-roots pioneering work in inner-city Cardiff.”

“Why do we need “faith”? For the simple reason that we must live. We must get up in the morning and go about our business with some sense that there is meaning and purpose to life. I am calling this sense of meaning and purpose “faith”, and such faith is inescapable for human living. In some broad sense we must all have faith, otherwise we would be spiritually paralysed in life, unable to see any purpose of getting out of bed and getting on with life. All people must have faith, whether that faith is in money, themselves, religion, ambition, hedonism, patriotism, or survival. Nineteenth-century American Unitarian Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote:

“A person will worship something – have no doubt about that. We may think our tribute is paid in secret in the dark recesses of our heart – but it will out. That which dominates our imaginations and our thoughts will determine our lives, and character. Therefore, it behoves us to be careful what we worship, for what we are worshipping, we are becoming.”

We may try to remain agnostic about “truth” (and perhaps we must), but we cannot remain agnostic about “faith”, because to live is to live because of some kind of faith. It is impossible not to choose an option.”

Reflection

The book of Acts, from where our first reading is taken is anonymous, but from its opening dedication, style, language and theological interests, scholars are confident that its author was the same person who wrote the Gospel of Luke. Thereby contributing around a quarter of the writing in the New Testament. It is unique in the New Testament canon in that its narrative describes events following the death of Jesus, up to the time of the apostle Paul’s arrival in Rome. It is sometimes described as a history of the early church, and does provide fascinating insights into the world of first century Christianity. However, calling it simply history is too narrow a definition as it has theological intentions too, and the author is keen to create a kind of bridge from the Gospels, and the Hebrew Bible, to demonstrate the continuity of the Christian message into the new community.

“The day of Pentecost” is placed within a Jewish liturgical timeframe by Luke, subsequently shaping the Christian year. The Jewish Festival of Weeks (Shavuot) is celebrated on fiftieth day after the Passover, and the English word Pentecost comes from the Greek word Pentekoste, meaning fiftieth. So, Pentecost is celebrated by Christian churches on the seventh Sunday after Easter. And just to confuse you a bit more, in this country it is also known as Whitsun or Whitsunday or Whit Sunday!

Back to the story. At the beginning of Acts 2 we find the disciples gathered in a house in Jerusalem. Although “gathered together in one place” may also have a deeper meaning, perhaps symbolic of spiritual unity. As they wait, we are told there is a sudden strong wind and tongues of flame appear. This colourful imagery is strongly symbolic. Loveday Alexander writing in the Oxford Bible Commentary says,
“Both wind and fire are associated with God’s self-revelation in the Hebrew Bible. But the choice of these two images is particularly apt for the coming of the spirit.
“Wind”, both in Hebrew and in Greek, is closely associated with “spirit”. The image of fire links with the spirit’s work of judgement (Lk 3:16-17). And the metaphor of “tongues” links with the fact that the result of this manifestation of divine power is inspired speech.”

We are told in the subsequent paragraphs of Acts 2 that “Jews drawn from every nation”, presumably in Jerusalem for the Festival of Weeks, were able to hear their own language being spoken by the disciples. Some people thought they (the disciples) must be drunk! But Peter stands before the crowd and in a speech quotes the prophet Joel, “In the last days, says God, I will pour out my Spirit on all mankind.”

Recently I attended an online Unitarian Bible discussion group where we considered whether the story of Pentecost has meaning for us. I brought no strong opinion to the discussion, to be honest I can’t say I’d given it a lot of consideration. It seemed, I thought, something that may be more appealing to those of a more evangelical persuasion. Pentecostalism, after all, is an experiential and energetic type of faith, whose adherents practice healing, prophecy and speaking in tongues; and who understand the Bible as being the word of God, and therefore without error. It’s very popular, some Pentecostal churches are huge, especially in South Korea. But Unitarianism it isn’t! And I like the Unitarian way, so is there anything for me, for us?

I didn’t come away from the discussion group with any answers, but over the days and weeks since then I have had a persistent question develop in my mind. What is it that fundamentally inspires us in our faith? I’m specifically thinking of Unitarians, but if you don’t identify as such, the question can still apply to your faith or spirituality.
It’s an important question, I think. So, I invite you to spend a few minutes considering it. Don’t necessarily try to formulate an answer. Just hold the question, or your own version of it in your mind.

The English word “inspire” is derived from the Latin word “inspirare”, which means to breathe or blow into. The Oxford English Dictionary’s oldest source is the Wycliffe bible which translated the Latin bible into English in the late 14th century. Interestingly “inspiration” also has the same Latin root, as the word “spirit”, spirare (meaning to breathe). It is perhaps not surprising to learn then that one of the earliest uses of “inspiration” meant, “to influence, move, or guide (as to speech or action) through divine or supernatural agency or power.”

So, the disciples were inspired, and to paraphrase our earlier hymn, the fire of commitment had set their minds and souls ablaze. Their mission was to go and talk to people. To tell them about the “good news”. At the end of Acts 2, after Peter and the other Apostles have spoken to them, we are told that three thousand people joined the new community. It could hardly have been otherwise! Some people might say that this happen through preaching and miraculous deeds, but in truth the community grew through dialogue. People talking with one another, engaging with ideas and having needs met; giving them a sense of belonging. “They met constantly to hear the apostles teach and to share the common life, to break bread, and to pray” (Acts 2: 42)

Having the commitment and courage to engage other people in conversation about faith matters is not easy. Especially for religious liberals who don’t try to provide simple answers. But if we think we have discovered something worthwhile it is surely worth sharing it. The risk is that the other person will change us, but surely that’s ok if what they say makes sense to us. Faith for me, and many other Unitarians too I think, is not a set of beliefs to be defended at all cost, but a journey of discovery. I don’t have all the answers. I’m not sure I’ve got any! But someone else might be able to provide fresh insight. To inspire me.

In his book “Seeking Paradise” Stephen Lingwood suggests dialogue as a “practice of paradise.” He distinguishes between an old type of evangelism which emphasises the authority of the Bible, seeks to covert people and claims some kind of “exclusive” truth, with a more liberal version, which he equates with dialogue. Talking about faith in its many forms in an open and non-coercive way. Talking about faith and spirituality because its important! And if we don’t think its important then why do we bother with it at all?

Traditional religious language does not appeal to everyone, in fact it makes some people run a mile. A word like evangelism still makes me feel uncomfortable! So maybe part of our mission is to find new ways to have those conversations with people. Is anyone else interested though? Well we won’t know until we try! However, recently I took part in a series of online events that ran for three weeks, introducing people to different wellbeing activities such as yoga and Tai Chi on a daily basis. I led a Sunday Reflection each week. I thought it might be the least popular event, but this proved not to be the case. The format was brief, just 30 minutes. I shared some readings around the themes of awareness, contemplation and compassion. We shared moments of quietness, prayer and meditation, and shared conversation afterwards. The feedback I received was very positive.

So, I can only conclude that the interest is there. Meeting in the right place, in the right way, at the right time, where people feel safe they will engage. People looking for something, although they may not be sure what. Spiritual seekers or the those who are simply curious, or feel there maybe something more to life, and others! Maybe a church or meeting house isn’t always the best place for this to happen?

I am a Unitarian, which means I have freedom but also responsibility. I love that we don’t try to convert people or tell them what to believe, and support diverse spiritual explorations. But at the same time it is not enough to say the church door (literal or metaphorical) is open, come in if you want to. That is not welcoming or engaging enough I feel. We have to do what we can to move out of our comfort zones to meet with people in such ways as we can. To reach out to our neighbour. To share their joys and concerns, to find a common language for sharing love and understanding. We may help them, they may help us; but together we can face the future with hope.

May it be so.

Closing Words: Never a Moment by Penny Quest

from “Waiting to be Discovered”, edited by Johanna Boeke and Joy Croft, published by the Unitarian General Assembly Worship Committee.

What is it within us which wells up when we need it most?
That God-sense which is always there;
That inspiration which appears out of nowhere;
The faith in ourselves which takes us by surprise;
That moment of understanding which enables us to call upon our reserves to try again.

We all have within us those fundamental resources of love and joy;
A sense of humour which can turn the most dire happening into reason for laughter;
Inner strength that can be called upon
When we come to the aid of others or when we need help ourselves;
Inner wisdom which provides the answers to our unspoken questions.

There is never a moment when we are alone;
Never a moment when our cries for help will not be answered;
Never a moment when we are left unsupported;
Never a moment when insight is not available to us;
Never a moment when we are not connected to God, the Universe, All-That-Is.

Benediction

May the spirit of peace and love and forgiveness abide in our hearts as we go on the ways of our lives. Amen

Sunday 24th May

A VIRTUAL SERVICE BROUGHT TO YOU
BY MICHAEL ALLURED, MINISTRY STUDENT


WELCOME DITCHLING UNITARIANS; A TIME TO REFLECT ON THE THINGS THAT MATTER

We invite you to visualise entering the gate and walking up the path; opening the door and through the door into a still quiet space. Imagine you’re the first to arrive to enjoy the stillness.

Choose your favourite seat and prepare to listen to the piano as you settle down.

MUSIC TO SETTLE INTO STILLNESS by Elizabeth Hornby, another Unitarian ministry student and talented musician.
[Some guidelines for listening: You are invited to settle and to be virtually with our community of Ditchling Unitarians. We begin by listening to soothing piano music by Elizabeth Hornby
Please click on the youtube link below.

OPENING WORDS


Welcome to another virtual service sent to you from the community of Ditchling Unitarians.
From wherever you are joining us you are warmly welcome.
In this time of sharing – whether you are reading this service at 11 am or at another time – may we find comfort in the words offered, the music played and the insights shared.
May you be nurtured by courage and a sense of being together, and by kindness and hope: in the virtual spaces, through telephone and newsletter: through the spirit behind our doors that remain open I our hearts.
May our open minds, loving hearts and helping hands keep us on that path of wholeness for which our spirits yearn.

An invocation of welcome: Come, come whoever you are

CHALICE LIGHTING


As is the custom of Unitarians and Universalists worldwide we light our chalice candle.
Let us spend a few moments looking at the picture of the chalice flame. May we be drawn together by its light.
May we be encouraged by its helping us to see a way through.
If you look through the chalice flame may you find a peace, rest, orientation.

Imagine us gathered around linking the hands we cannot link in solidarity with the interdependent web of existence of which we are part.


A PRAYER FOR GATHERING US TOGETHER
As we gather here this morning, or afternoon or evening:
let us pause to remember the faces of those who have helped shape and continue to shape our lives and co-create its meaning.
• The teachers or mentors who gave us unstintingly from their vast store of experience of wisdom.

• The friends and colleagues who allowed us to acknowledge our imperfections by telling us of their own.

• The one whose quiet wisdom and good humour gently showed us a more fulfilling way to be in the world.

• The opponent who fought us fairly and forgave us when we won.

• The beloved other whose touch has made us whole, not once but again and again.

Our lives are made holy by the unearned generosity of the countless fellow travellers who share the road with us.
Let us respond by passing on to others the joy, kindliness and consideration with which they have graced our lives and taught us, through their actions, what love really means.
We ask this in the name of all that we deem holy and sustaining, that great unknowable Power that keeps us together on the pathway of love.
We value times of quietness as we sit in this nurturing space.
We open our hearts and minds to fresh possibilities and seek a calm for our troubled spirits.
We gather in reverence to reflect on the wonder of life, the wonder of this moment.
The wonder of being together, so close yet so apart.
Each listening, each trying to speak, yet none fully understanding, none fully understood.
We gather in reverence before all intangible things, that eyes cannot see and ears detect;
that hands can never touch, that space cannot hold and time cannot measure.
Let us share a few moments of silent reflection and hold in our thoughts all who need our healing prayers.
May we be reminded here of our highest aspirations.
May we be inspired to bring our gifts of love and service to the altar of humanity.
May we know once again that we are not isolated beings but connected, in mystery and miracle, to the whole Universe, to this community and to each other. Amen

Reading 1

Anger in the service of compassion and justice is a prophetic spiritual trait that must be nurtured in our schools and in our homes. From the earliest ages the child’s insight into fairness must be heard, held up and honoured, especially since so many of us have lost the way….Anger depends on the light of possibility. If you take a bone away from a dog, the dog’s temper remains. If you take food away from a child the child’s temper remains. But only, in either case, if the dog or the child has expectations of the bone or food not going away. The child trained to hunger no longer complains. Anger remains only when there is the possibility of something better. The important subtraction is the subtraction of hope…. Many angry people working together are called a movement. With humour, compromise, spiritual centeredness, and hard work, these groups [we] can change the world.
(From ‘In Which Anger Is’ in Humility, Anger and Grace by Nancy Jay Crumbine.)


Reading 2.

Our second reading for today is by retired Unitarian minister, Cliff Reed.

Colours of the Rainbow by Cliff Reed

“My bow I set in the clouds to be a sign of the
covenant between myself and the earth.”
Genesis 9: 13

Rainbows have become symbols of hope,
our defiance of a pestilence that spreads fear,
ruin and death around our reeling world.

What can be the meanings of those seven colours?
The meanings we could give them as a prayer,
as an affirmation of the life we cherish?

Let red be for the courage and devotion of those
who risk their lives to protect and heal us.

Let orange be for the warmth of their compassion,
for the inner flame that fires their resolution.

Let yellow be for the exultant spirit in all loving hearts,
shining undefeated like the golden sun.

Let green be for the earth, for resurgent nature,
for the springtime beauty that refreshes our weariness.

Let blue be for transcendence, for the over-arching
sky that lifts us up when we are weighed down.

Let indigo be for quietness and reflection,
for the soul’s rest and restoration.

Let violet be for our mourning and our grief,
the beauty that is loving sorrow.

The rainbow can encompass all our moods,
all our colours, all shades of our glorious diversity.
And may it stand for the assurance that all will be well.


LET’S SING (or listen to): Spirit of Life by Carolyn McDade
This has been called by Sarah Tinker, the minister at Kensington Unitarians ‘a bit of a Unitarian anthem’. Here it is sung by All Souls Choir Langham Place.

A TIME FOR MEDITATION, REFLECTION, PRAYER


• Let us be still and with each other through the warmth of spirit. In that way, we draw near to that which we recognise as the ultimate source of being, a God of many names, Spirit of Life and of Love.

• We make our prayers to the source of Life and Love for those whose lives we have met and not met and who have died.

• We make our prayers for those known and unknown to us who made our lives richer with joy and beauty, kindness and laughter, thoughtfulness and understanding.

• We make our prayers for ourselves and trust that we shall find comfort through those who travel with us. Amen.


CANDLES OF CONCERNS, JOYS AND HOPES


Some Unitarian communities light candles. I invite you now to light your candles. They can be real or virtual candles. It matters not.
They are candles of and from the heart. They are expressions of our fears, our hopes, our sorrows and our joys. In the dark hour there will somewhere and in the most unexpected places remain small parcels of joy. Let us light our candles. Let us embrace the light in these times of life’s darkness. Amen.

We light this candle for each other: ourselves, members, friends and all those connected to the community of Ditchling Unitarians and your families and friends.
We light this candle to honour all those who have died of the coronavirus across the world.

We light this candle in solidarity with all in physical and emotional pain, who suddenly have had their usual lifelines and sources of connection ripped away
We light a candle for the medical services and all those who are working, particularly on the front line, wherever they are in the world, to support the struggle to combat the coronavirus.

We light a candle for our London District, Minister, Rev. Martin Whitell, in gratitude for all he is doing for Unitarian congregations throughout the district.
We light this candle in gratitude for large and small joys: all significant for what they are: for good, loving, generous people the world over who help to lessen the darkness.

I light this candle for all our unspoken sorrows, fears, hopes and joys. May we be blessed this day, this hour, this moment.

Let us take a few moments to pause. Let’s imagine that we are gathered in our usual space where we have gathered over the generations.

Our candles are lit. They are our collective hopes: for ourselves, for each other and for the world.

Let us gaze into the candles for a few moments
in quiet stillness with our hearts and our thoughts
of appreciation and goodwill for the world.

May our candles burn brightly. May their light sustain us through the darkness, giving each one of us the courage to endure.

REFLECTIONS: Reflections on Humility, Anger and Grace


I’ve been reading a lot of theology over the last six weeks in lockdown as I write my dissertation. Some of this theology is incomprehensible. For some light relief I’ve revisited Nancy Crumbine’s wonderful little treasure house: Humility, Anger and Grace: Meditations Towards a Life that Matters.
The theology sparked all those feelings in me. And the film I’ve re-watched during lockdown, the true story of Philomena Lee’s search for her lost child did the same. I’ve wept over both. The tears over Philomena, played in the film by Judy Dench, whose mother, like mine, was a Dubliner, were more ones of anger: though they were for her humility and grace too.
Let’s remind ourselves of her story. Philomena Lee a teenage girl in Ireland and innocent of the facts of life, gets pregnant in the 1950s and is disowned by her family.
She is sent to work in a convent alongside other unmarried mothers where she gives birth to her son. She is denied pain relief by the nuns because she must suffer, and then her son, Anthony, is sold by the convent at the age of three and a half because she could not pay the £100 to get out. They never had a chance to say goodbye.
She saw him looking out of the window of the car taking him to America with his new parents who were told he was an orphan.
In the film 50 years on, Philomena tells her daughter about Anthony and the former BBC journalist Martin Sixsmith becomes her ally in searching for the son she has asked the nuns to help her find over all those years.
Anthony – now Michael Hess and a top lawyer working for the Republican National Committee – goes in search of his mother too and is told by the nuns she abandoned him.
He never knew Philomena had returned to the convent over the years and left them her latest address. Mother and son never meet because Hess has died of AIDS in 1995. His ashes had been buried at the convent at his own request—he hoped that his mother would return and find him.
I shed tears for their longing and pain, for Philomena’s humility and grace: and tears of anger too.
There’s a scene in the film where Martin visits one of the now old nuns, who refused to help a dying man find his mum and she is castigating Philomena for her sin and proud of how she herself was free from sin and had kept her vow of chastity. We feel and understand Martin’s anger when echoing the story in Matthew’s Gospel (chapter 21, verse 12) he confronts the Rev. Mother:
If Jesus were here he would tip you out of that …chair.
The convent said this scene of high drama in the film is made up. It may have been and maybe it doesn’t matter. It made its point. Biblical stories suggest that Jesus would not have approved of the church selling babies for money, denying pain relief and inflicting self-righteous punishments.
Philomena is a film made to make us feel anger at the Church, and at orthodox organised religion. We see that anger in the writings of the so-called New Atheists I’ve been reading for my dissertation. They spend pages telling us that religion is not only a delusion but positively dangerous. Philomena’s story of what happens when religion goes wrong – her guilt and fear and loss and pain – is testament to that.
That’s why I reject creeds and revealed religion for its rigidity, outward conformity and self-righteous punishments inflicted on so-called ‘sinners’.
Now we come to Nancy’s book that shows us a technicolour way of walking alongside our God. She too is a mother and sometimes when she writes it feels like she’s seeing through the eyes of her children, especially because of her fondness for quoting from Alice Through the Looking Glass.
Nancy’s book opens with the words: I told my children I was going to the ocean…for a couple of days [to have a talk with God] and, she writes, a few days later her four-year-old asked her if she’d had the talk yet. The rest of the book is about how the talk went.
We’ve heard in our reading earlier what Nancy has to say about anger: that it’s about the lost possibilities and what might have been. Here, in these times we are living through, families and friends who have been robbed needlessly of life, feel anger.
We’re left with what we do with such a destructive but understandable and sometimes necessary emotion.
Nancy I think is suggesting that by channelling the anger with others we can help change the world: a world with
• more humility and compassion,
• more grace,
• more LOVE.
On humility and grace Nancy offers us these reflections:
We do all die in the end. With or without a hierarchy of angels, many of us will have tubes…and pumps prolonging and postponing what we fear and too often forgot to anticipate. We realise too late that we did not pay attention. Some life plan swept us up…before we had a chance to wake up.
Thankfully, Nancy says, we have moments, moments in which we stand in some light, catch a slant of it for ourselves or burn with it to light another’s way. Thankfully, most of us come to know, come to remember, somewhere along the way, part of the whole and ourselves in relationship with it. We intermittently kick and drift, letting that little flotsam of comprehension buoy us up.
We bear witness, we share what we see, we are grateful, until, when it is time to let go….We need to be forever present to the grace available to us when we slow down and turn to what matters most.
For the last six weeks WE have borne witness and there are those who belong to us who have been in the thick of the action: living MINUTE BY MINUTE with life and death.
If all we can do is reach out in thought with humility and grace, and even a little anger at what they are going through, that is the start of creating a better world.
As Nancy writes:
Humility, anger and grace help us in this dance…. Humility, anger, and grace are states of being by which a life can be structured and lived, by which a life can help the world be a slightly better place.
… we [should] try to help each other appreciate inherent contradictions, help us hold dear the paradoxes of every situation, of every living being. They are our faith. Although we fail as often as all humans fail in the stumbling towards humility, we believe in the redemption in a certain openness.
In questions, beginnings happen, paradoxes are revealed. After inevitable failure, in forgiving ourselves we regain our hope….Rather than eliminating life’s paradoxes, Nancy continues, it is possible to embrace them for what they are: something beyond us.

Embracing complexity, holding the paradox, is like living with a child. Living with a lively creative growing child gives us a continuum of choices.
What, then, do we ultimately know?
We know that the institutionalized version of religion can, as the New Atheists tell us, cause unspeakable harm and suffering. We also know from experience that what really matters is our capacity for human warmth, for caring and love and our connection to each other. The impulse to nurture and not punish, to heal and not harm: that is what religion is to me.
Nancy puts it this way:
Love particularlised into action constitutes the moments when the holy is present, when the eternal is held in time, when the spirit becomes matter and matter becomes spirit. Every living being knows part of the whole. You can call the whole God, Goddess, Universe, Energy, Substance, Chaos, Cosmos, it is still “the whole”.
We do all die in the end, she tells us. This much we know. Between our birth and death we live a life alongside the lives of millions of other souls whom we shall never meet.
We may appear to have no common meeting ground but we do: we are all more human than otherwise. We just don’t always choose to acknowledge it.
As individuals living our own lives we know so little of the rest of the world. We often don’t even fully know ourselves. Maybe this time of lockdown is that time: for finding time to remember what really matters.
Ultimately, we have only our experience of life and the events and the known and unknown people that have shaped it and us.
We have holy books and creeds. But we know so much more about what is really true from the living of our own lives and from Philomena’s story. It’s her story that teaches humility, righteous anger and grace.
Nancy’s book and the film of Philomena, who is not bitter towards the nuns who mentally tortured her, help us to understand more and know more.
They teach us, like today’s reading from Cliff Reed that life, like the rainbow, can encompass all moods, all colours, all shades. To humility, anger and grace let us say, Amen.


LET’S SING (OR LISTEN) to Jerusalem
210 (from the green book, Hymns for Living)

And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England’s mountains green?
And was the holy Lamb of God
On England’s pleasant pastures seen?
And did the countenance divine
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here
Among these dark satanic mills?

Bring me my bow of burning gold!
Bring me my arrows of desire!
Bring me my spear! O clouds, unfold!
Bring me my chariot of fire!
I will not cease from mental fight,
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand,
Till we have built Jerusalem
In England’s green and pleasant land.

(William Blake)


CLOSING WORDS


Our virtual service is drawing to a close. In my home congregation of Golders Green Unitarians we gather in a circle and hold hands. And we say these words together. We say them to and for each other and to and for the world.
They were written by Keith Gilley and have been said at the close of every service at Golders Green Unitarians since the 1970s.
We reach out to the world and each other as we link hands in our hearts and heads in a virtual circle of love for ourselves and for the world of which we are part.

I invite you to speak the words aloud:
In the name of us all, let there be peace and love among us.
May the skies be clear and may the streets be safe.
In the name of us all, let there be peace and love.
Amen.

May these candles bring you light and hope in the coming week.


CLOSING MUSIC


More gentle piano music by Elizabeth Hornby. This piece is called ‘Roots and Wings’.

Thank you for coming to our virtual service.
Go well into the day and the coming week
with the blessing of your God and of each other.

Here is a picture of me with your minister Duncan on my first day of ministry training at Harris Manchester College, Oxford.

Sunday 17th May – To Wrestle and Rest in the Questions

by Stuart Coupe

Today we welcome Stuart Coupe, Lay Leader at The Chapel, Billingshurst, to lead our Service. We invite you to read through these words of worship slowly and reflectively, pausing whenever it seems appropriate to you. We begin with our customary chalice lighting, which you may like to say at home as you light a candle or chalice.

Chalice Lighting

We light this Chalice in the spirit of hope and love.

Together we celebrate life.

Together we face the struggles of life.

Together we love.

Preamble

This service was written after reading the book ‘Love Wins’ by Rob Bell. For many years Rob Bell was an evangelical Christian who built up a church in America from scratch, to having a weekly attendance of over 11,000. The church started out renting a school gym in Michigan before being in a position to purchase a shopping mall. But over time,  Rob Bell changed his views and walked away from his enterprise. He remains a Christian but is much more liberal in his outlook. He recently co-wrote a book with liberal theologian Richard Rohr whose work is often cited in Unitarian worship.

Prayer

As we gather in prayer, may we remember that prayer alone means little without inspiring action.

May we always remember that true religion is not in rites or hymns or even prayers – the holiest worship of all is in a loving, peaceful, generous life.

Feeding the hungry, comforting the sick and the bereaved, sheltering the homeless – loving others as we love ourselves.

May we do all these things whenever called upon to do so, and may we thus make everywhere we go a temple to that which we worship, and every day a holy day.

So let us honour you, Spirit of love, in the highest way of all.
So may it be.

Spirit if life – open our hearts to the suffering of others. May we see with eyes of compassion; may we hear with ears of love. May we not neglect the needs of our own hearts and be forgiving of ourselves, gentle in spirit. May those who lead us do so with respect and justice, thinking and acting for those in the world who are downtrodden and neglected. Spirit of life, in these challenging times help us to fully experience moments of joy and gratitude, no matter how small or insignificant they may appear.

Amen. 

Hymn – We’ll Build a Land 

Reading   

Rob Bell, ‘Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived.’

“As we experience love, there is a temptation at times to become hostile to our earlier understandings; we may feel embarrassed that we were so “simple” or “naive,” or “brainwashed” or whatever terms arise when we haven’t come to terms with our own story.

These past understandings aren’t to be denied or dismissed; they’re to be embraced. Those experiences belong. Love demands that they belong. That’s where we were at that point in our life and God met us there. Those moments were necessary for us to arrive here, at this place at this time, as we are. Love frees us to embrace all of our history, the history in which all things are being made new.”

Address

When I left school at eighteen I worked in a bank. I can’t imagine how much money NatWest lost as a result of my financial incompetence but if nothing else it did sharpen my mind as to thinking about how I might better spend my working life. This said, I’m now the treasurer at Billingshurst.  God help us all.

For a while back then, I worked with a girl who I’m going to call Julie. Julie lived for the excitement and thrill of the weekend and on a Monday morning, she’d launch into the office telling us all about her weekend; which night clubs she’d been to, what fella’s she’d met, which Sylvester Stallone or Arnie Schwarzenegger film she’d just seen.

All year, she’d save and save for her summer holiday and spend a couple weeks somewhere warm blowing her hard-earned cash on clubbing and drinking and doing all the things that many teenagers do with a bit of money and bags of energy. 

The only thing that slowed Julie down was her asthma.

I also worked with another young girl who I’ll call Sally. She was an evangelical Christian. At that time, I was taking some tentative steps into the world of Christianity through attendance at a pretty conservative Methodist Church and Sally knew this.

I think that Sally assumed that I was a Christian in the ‘same way’ that she was, although at the time, I had very little idea about the different ways in which Christianity has been, and still is, represented.

I kind of got the impression that because she went to lots of Christian rallies and seemed to talk confidently and competently about God, Jesus and the Bible that she was in some way a ‘proper’ Christian and I was scrambling around in the dark.

It was dark because I harboured, mostly secretively, many, many doubts and questions about Christianity.

A few months after I had left the bank (I wasn’t fired by the way, but came close a few times) I ran into Sally at a Christian Arts Festival.

“Shame about Julie.” Sally said.

“How do you mean?” I replied.

“Don’t you know? She was on holiday and had an asthma attack. She died.”

I remember feeling shocked and stunned – not only by the news that fun-loving, life-abundant Julie was dead, but by the comment that followed it up.

“Isn’t it terrible to die at such a young age,” Sally continued, “without ever knowing the Lord and then having to live the rest of your existence in hell.”

I had no response to this other than disbelief and an inner feeling that it did not have much to do with Jesus. At least, that’s what I hoped. I certainly did not have enough intellectual or theological understanding to challenge what she had said. What I do know is that her comments felt to me to be completely the opposite of what my understanding of Christianity was. I couldn’t argue a theological case for my sense of distaste -I’m still not good at this –  but I felt that if this viewpoint was what Christianity represented, then I was better off out. So out I went.

I was recently reminded of the episode when recently reading a book by Rob Bell called ‘Love Wins.’ Rob Bell, once a pretty much died-in-the-wool conservative Christian went through quite a significant repositioning of his faith position and whilst he still operates within mainstream Christian orthodoxy, his theological vision is much broader than it was.

Rob’s book opens up with an incident that he experienced which was similar to mine. Somebody in his congregation had commented to him that Mahatma Ghandi was obviously now living in hell because he was a Hindu. Bell uses this comment as a spring point for questions directed at the brand of Christianity that he has since distanced himself from.

Are you sure that Ghandi is in Hell? How do you know?  Why have you taken on the responsibility of informing the rest of us? Is this the act of a loving God?  What exactly is the criteria for the avoiding hell?  Why them and you and me? Why not you and me?

Throughout the book, Bell, I think, is very effective in his questioning of the views that he now find abhorrent because they are first and foremost, common sense questions that anybody, whether connected to religion or not, might ask. There’s nothing ‘high-brow’ or even theological about them at all.

Also, because he operates within an orthodox setting he doesn’t get caught up in the “well what do you mean by God” – thing that we Unitarians often find ourselves negotiating because there is more of a shared understanding within his orthodox circles about what/who God is. Still his legitimate questions are incisive and make the challenge well from within and outside of his own religious community.

Another reason why these expressed doubts are incisive might be because they are asked from a position of humility.

The way that any question can be asked can be aggressive and threatening and many of us will have experienced this at some point, either in the giving of or the receiving of. But questions that are asked in the spirit of genuine enquiry and answers that are listened to with a genuine sense of a seeking to understand can foster genuine dialogue and a whole lot more love.

If we want to genuinely understand another’s religious position and we want to use the answers to help us to test our own positions, then we have to ask the right questions in the right way. This can take a lot of thought and putting questions into a book as Rob Bell does through a process of clear deliberation is a lot easier than thinking of them in a face-to-face dialogue whilst also trying to digest the exchange of responses.

My friend was recently telling me about a late-night radio show where a presenter was interviewing a Benedictine monk. He was telling me that between every question from the presenter there might be up to 10 seconds of silence before the monk responded. This was a little disconcerting at first – radio silence can seem an eerie thing – but overall, my friend found it really refreshing especially compared to the usual, hurried, cut-and-thrust, cat-and-mouse kind of dialogue that is the usual radio-fare.

Rob Bell continues to ask lots of pertinent questions of his own religious community. For example, he talks about the notion of a ‘personal relationship’ with Jesus might actually mean.

He writes: “Do you know individuals who grew up in a Christian Church and then walked away when they got older? They were probably resisting behaviours, interpretations and attitudes that should be rejected. Perhaps they simply came to a point where they refused to accept the very sorts of things that Jesus would refuse to accept. Some Jesuses should be rejected.”

Bell argues that ‘which Jesus we are talking about’ may well be dependent on who and how the Jesus message is delivered and he wonders if God really leaves the condition of our religious futures resting in the hands of the competence and views of another single another human being.

Throughout the opening Chapter to “Love Wins” Bell challenges his own religious community with questions that he has struggled to reconcile with the answers that he has been traditionally given. This expression of doubt and enquiry is nothing new to Unitarians whose very existence was founded in the asking of such questions.

We all wrestle with the questions that religion throw up. Whether the frame of reference is Christianity, Humanism, Buddhism or whatever – the questions are there to be lived. Those of us who operate within Unitarianism are fortunate that this can be done openly, with freedom, integrity and honesty. We can wrestle with the questions and also rest in the questions without fear of being ostracised.  For that, I often remain confused about what I believe but joyful that I have the luxury of this confusion.

I wonder if Sally is still espousing the views of her youth or if she is out there somewhere asking the questions. Perhaps she would be horrified that I even remember what she said.  But I also hope that the possibility of transformation of those who are fiendish and cruel in their views is what lies at the very heart of the message of Jesus and indeed at the heart of all religions because in this, there is hope for us all, no matter what our starting points may be.  

May we both wrestle and rest in the questions and be changed for the better in their asking.

Amen.

Closing Words

May we live our lives with peace.

May we live our lives with love.

May we wrestle and rest in the questions of our lives.

May we go out into the world with the confidence to live our truths.

Amen.

Postlude: (Aside) I know that Country and Western music isn’t used that often in Unitarian circles and may not be everybody’s cup of tea – but here’s a C&W song to lift your spirits!

‘I Hope You Dance’  Lee Ann Womack.

Sunday May 10th – Practising Compassion

By Rev. Duncan Voice

Dear friends, I hope this finds you safe and well. Today I was supposed to be celebrating with Horsham Unitarians at their anniversary service. Sadly this has had to be cancelled and so my heart-felt good wishes to any friends from Horsham who maybe reading this. I look forward to when we can meet again. This Service follows on from my last one, “Practising Awareness.” I hope you find something here that speaks to your heart and benefits you in your reflections. I invite you to read through slowly and pause whenever you wish.

Opening Words

“Love your neighbour as yourself” – Jesus, from the Gospel of Mark

“Out of the abundance of your heart, cultivate love and compassion for all beings” – The Buddha

“Nothing but good comes to him who loves others as himself” – Lao Tzu, from The Tao Te Ching

“Practice gentleness, seek truth, give up anger, do not slander, and have compassion for all living beings” – Krishna, The Bhagavad Gita

“All faiths insist that compassion is the true test of spirituality and that it brings us into relation with the transcendence we call God, Brahma, Nirvana or Dao. Each has formulated its own version of what is sometimes called the Golden Rule: “Do not treat others as you would not like them to treat you” – or in its positive form: “Always treat other as you would wish to be treated yourself.” Further, they insist that you cannot confine your benevolence to your own group: you must have concern for everybody.”

Karen Armstrong, Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life, published by Bodley Head

Chalice Lighting

The flame of this chalice is a symbol of the light that is within us all. It is the light of love.
As this flame shares its light with us this morning,
so may we be inspired to share the light of our love with the world.

Prayer

Spirit of Love and Life, source of all being,
we are grateful for all that keeps us together in community,
and for this time of peace and contemplation.
In this moment we seek a deeper connection
with that which is Divine and which dwells within us all.
We remember those who are no longer with us and who’s loss comes to our mind at this time, we are thankful for their lives and for the time we spent with them.
Help us to be healers in the community, to support those in need and to turn away from retaliation and hateful rhetoric.
We offer our heartfelt love those in our community who suffer and are unwell, and to those who care for them.
We open our hearts to you loving spirit and share our troubles and anxieties. Help us to accept help when we need it and to offer it when we can. Amen.

Please sing along with, or listen to, our hymn “Spirit of Life”

Reading: 1 Corinthians 13: 1-3

“If I have all the eloquence of men or of angels, but speak without love, I am simply a gong booming or a cymbal clashing. If I have the gift of prophecy, understanding all mysteries there are, and knowing everything, and if I have faith in all its fullness, to move mountains, but without love, then I am nothing at all. If I give away all that I possess, piece by piece, and even if I let them take away my body to burn, but am without love, it will do me no good whatever.”

Before reading this address you may wish to sit for a few minutes in quietness.

Address

“Compassion can be defined in many ways, but its essence is a basic kindness, with deep awareness of the suffering of oneself and of other living things, coupled with the wish and effort to relieve it…..Not only has it been encouraged as a spiritual and moral pursuit in many religions, but compassion has also been seen as a major healing process for our turbulent minds and relationships.” – Professor Paul Gilbert, The Compassionate Mind published by Constable

Has there ever been a time where compassion and caring has been so visible and at the forefront of our minds? Usually the news we read, listen to or watch is dominated by the rich and powerful, the notorious, and by celebrities (they maybe one and same of course!). But now we are aware of nurses and doctors and other health workers in our hospitals, the hitherto barely noticed groups of people called carers who take care of the most vulnerable in society, and volunteers helping people in various ways, from doing shopping for neighbours to supporting the NHS. The dire situation of the virus pandemic has of course thrust itself upon us, disrupting the focus of our “normal” lives, but we have also had more time to be aware and perhaps reflect on what is important in life.

As I write this, there is an expectation that Prime Minister Boris Johnson is going to deliver an address to the nation on Sunday 10th May, in which he will unveil a “roadmap” setting out how he intends to “unlock the various parts of the UK economy”; and in doing so, start the process of bringing people out of isolation. Inevitably our thoughts turn to the future, but not without anxiety for some. Aside from health and financial concerns, which of course are huge for many people, some are concerned that things will return to how they were before. Having perhaps for the first time in their adult lives had the chance to slow-down (not everyone has of course!); they fear a return to fast-paced life, to intolerance, to selfishness, to the “rat-race”. They fear the compassionate and caring community will disappear from sight once more.

In an article in the “I” newspaper called “Scared of the end of lockdown? You are not alone”, psychologist Dr Abigael San says,
“It’s been a massive shift to a much slower existence. A lot of people are realising what they can do without, realising how some of what they do is unhelpful to them, superficial or damaging. People are saying this in therapy sessions, how they realise they spend money they don’t really want to spend, that certain things don’t make them happy.” One young mother, for example, having spent time with her young son in lockdown, was concerned about going back to an office job she didn’t like and leaving him in childcare once more. Missing out on that precious time together.

Nevertheless, many will be keen to at least begin a journey that they hope will recover much of their old life, to see family and friends, to earn a living once again or to simply to enjoy some familiar pleasures. We are warned to expect a “new normal” by politicians, although no one really knows what this means and where it will lead. Undoubtedly it will be a slow unravelling of restrictions though, too slow for some businesses to remain viable. Most organisations, including churches, will have to adapt to doing things differently for some time, perhaps a long time. Another thing to lament? Maybe. But instead of being a problem though, are we presented with an opportunity to do things differently? Can we begin to build the caring community that we would like to see? Can we live more compassionately? Well, only if we can begin to change our minds and our attitudes.

Changing attitudes in society probably sounds beyond what any of us could, or indeed, would want to do. Especially we few liberally minded Unitarians, we wouldn’t want to go around telling people how they should live their lives! But it is less a question of telling people what to do, it seems to me, than as Ghandi put it, “being the change we want to see in the world”. In other words, we start with ourselves and then our relationships to those we personally come into contact with, our family, friends and other associates.

Most people wouldn’t normally consider extending compassion to themselves. But often though, we are our own harshest critics, we blame ourselves for our failures and perceived shortcomings. However as clinical psychologist Professor Paul Gilbert explains in his book “The Compassionate Mind” things are not always how they seem, he says,

“Much of what goes on in our minds is not our fault – or even our intention. This was a fundamental insight of the Buddha nearly 3000 years ago.
When we realise how and why we did not design much of what goes on in our minds, we can take responsibility in new ways and learn how to live in and work with such a mind. This may seem odd but it’s not really so strange. After all you didn’t build your physical body – your genes did – but learning how your body works means you can train it to be fit, working on different muscles groups or your cardiovascular system and eating a balanced diet….
Before we begin to train our minds however, we need to capture the right spirit of non-blame and kindness. We really need to grasp why we are not to blame for much of what goes on in our minds, and why developing compassion is the road to a better regulated mind.”

Not only did we not create our physical body, we had no control over our upbringing either, the other important factor in our development. Whether our upbringing was privileged, loving or miserably abusive, we didn’t choose it. Take these two factors alone (not to mention anything else that may have befallen us!) and we can surely see that we can offer ourselves some compassion, if we don’t live up to some perceived ideal. That we maybe a bit messed up! And if we accept this as true for us, then it is true for all humans. Behind each of us is a complex chain of events and circumstances that have shaped us, much of it beyond our control, which can sometimes lead us to make bad choices or to hurt others.

In her book “Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life” Karen Armstrong reminds us how each religion values compassion. She invokes the so-called Golden Rule that we should treat others as we wish to be treated ourselves, and later in her book reminds us that there are two sides to that aphorism. In other words that “if you cannot love yourself, you cannot love other people either.” However, she also recognises how difficult practising compassion towards ourselves and others is, and so she has divided her book into twelve steps to develop a gradual understanding and practise. Self-awareness is challenging, and so is having self compassion, but if the if the wisdom of religion, as well as modern psychology, is to be believed it is eminently worthwhile practising. For our own well-being and the well-being of others.

We have seen during our pandemic lockdown how important compassion has been in a very real and practical way. How it gives hope and encouragement, giving us a sense of what loving community can be. It is something we can take with us into whatever the future holds, to encourage us in our faith and our personal practise. Perhaps then, one day, our “new normal” may be a compassionate and loving world.

May it be so.

Prayer by Elizabeth Tarbox (abridged)

Spirit of Life, I give thanks for the opportunities to love that present themselves in the turmoil of life.
Where the light catches the tears in another’s eyes, where hands are held and there are moments without words, let us be present then, and alive to the possibility of changing. Let us seek to make another’s well-being the object of our concern. Let us seek to be present to another’s pain, to bathe another’s wounds, hear another’s sadness, celebrate another’s success, and allow the other’s story to change our own.
Let us not defend ourselves against the discomfort of unruly emotion, nor seek to close down our hearts for fear a new love will come to shake our foundations. Let us instead be open to discovering a new way of seeing an old problem, or appreciating the perfection of a seashell, or the possibility of friendship. For in giving ourselves to what we do not understand, we receive life’s blessings, and in taking care of another, we are cared for. Amen

Closing Words: The Meaning of Namaste by Ram Dass

I honour the place in you
Where the entire universe resides.
I honour the place in you
Of love, of light, of truth, of peace.
I honour the place in you
Where, if you are in that place in you,
and I, am in that place in me,
There is only one of us.

As we end this time of worship may the stirrings of compassion sing in our hearts, and may the God of our understanding be with us now and always. Amen

As we commemorated VE day on Friday there was really only one song I could finish with. I hope you enjoy this version (may need your tissues ready though!)

Sunday 3rd May 2020

Welcome to friends and visitors. This morning’s Service is brought to us by Jennifer Sanders. Please listen the audio recording by Jennifer and follow the text below if you wish.

Breathe on me, Breath of God,
Fill me with life anew,
That I may love what Thou dost love,
And do what Thou wouldst do.
Breathe on me, Breath of God,
Until my heart is pure,
Until with Thee I will one will,
To do and to endure.
Breathe on me, Breath of God,
Till I am wholly Thine,
Until this earthly part of me
Glows with Thy fire divine.
Breathe on me, Breath of God,
So shall I never die,
But live with Thee the perfect life
Of Thine eternity.

Opening words

We breathe peacefully and calmly for those that can’t. We breathe and become connected to the earth and to the sky and to all living things.

Good morning and welcome to Ditchling audio service. My thoughts and heartfelt wishes to you all reading the service from home.
May this time that you spend reading bring comfort sustenance and connection.

As I begin our service today, in the usual way by lighting the chalice, I invite you to light a candle where you are too.

Chalice lighting

May the flame we see or imagine bring a spark of hope. A light that illuminates what is present in our lives, a warmth to our soul and a reminder of the connection we share with each other as Unitarians

Let us come to a period of stillness and prayer

Great spirit of love, light and hope we come together in this moment to give thanks for all that we are and all that we have.
It has been some weeks that we have been displaced from our physical connections within the church and yet as you read this I hope it will help to imagine your connection to the church community at Ditchling and further afield.
Let us be reminded of the love, compassion and generosity of our own hearts and those of others.
May we seek to find the peace within our inner selves despite the outer changing landscape.
May we feel the blessings of each moment as we worship together.

Amen

Music

The following is a poem by Kabir the 5th-century Indian mystic poet and saint and is called The Breath of life

Are you looking for me
I am in the next seat
My shoulder is against yours
You will not find me in the stupas
Not in Indian shrine rooms
Nor in synagogues or cathedrals
Not in masses or kirtans
Not in legs winding around your own neck
Nor in eating nothing but vegetables
When you really look for me
You will see me instantly
You will find me in the finest house of time.
Kabir says “Student tell what is God
He is the breath inside the breath”

The focus of our service this morning is the breath. Something that for the great part of our lives we take for granted. For most it happens automatically. We don’t think about it much. There may be moments of our days that we become more aware of its magical properties.
For those who can, our daily walk outside or the exercise in our own homes, whether that be climbing the stairs or doing some housework – not something that is top on my list I have to say, we may notice the rising and falling of the chest more , the need to take in more oxygen as the heart beats faster . The need to breathe more deeply.
Then when this passes and we forget; it’s like time, it just passes as does our breath. We forget the miraculous mechanical masterpiece that makes up this seemingly automatic response to bring forth and retain life.
I was reminded, having looked up its mechanics, that breathing consists of two phases: inhalation and exhalation. When you inhale, the diaphragm—a dome-shaped muscle separating the lungs from the abdominal cavity—contracts. This allows your lungs to expand and fill with air. On the exhale, the diaphragm returns to its normal position, air is expelled, and the lungs shrink back to their original shape.
The respiratory centre of the brain stem involuntarily controls our breathing without our having to think about it.

There we are, breathing, an automatic and often mindless process, and yet its implications for all of our wellbeing are profound.

As we witness or perhaps experience personally the effects of Covid 19, we have been reminded in the most brutal of lessons, that the breath is the most priceless commodity. It’s a gift to those of us that can inhale and exhale without aid, without fear, without thoughts of where the next breath will come from and yet can be taken away by a silent yet devastating virus.
Dr David Knott is a consultant surgeon at several London hospitals. He is also a world-renowned trauma surgeon who, for over 20 years, has worked with agencies such as Medicine sans frontier offering his skills as a volunteer to save lives and train other surgeons.

In an interview with The Sunday Times, last week, he spoke about his experience working to save Covid-19 patients on ventilators at St Mary’s Hospital in Paddington.
Despite near death experiences in Syria he called the pandemic the most frightening enemy he has ever faced
“To be with patients so seriously sick for 13 hours a day, wearing masks on their face which cause so much discomfort,” said Dr Nott. “I have never seen people work so hard, so desperate for each individual patient to get through their sickness…”

It seems this desperate intensity to will someone to breathe as it becomes such an effort can often be overwhelming and sometimes the disease wins.
He talks about the main problem being that patients become too tired and “can’t breathe any more”.

In the past week I have found myself listening to accounts of those who were unable to be with their loved ones as they took their last breath, our prime minister who has recovered having been on a ventilator, a programme on the tv about birth and witnessing new borns sometimes struggling to take their first breath with anxious parents waiting for the first cry as their tiny lungs fill with air for the first time.

Only a few days ago did I receive perhaps the most uplifting email for some time when a couple whom I married 3 years ago, and who had struggled to conceive, sent a picture of their newborn baby boy. A new life and a miracle.

And then I found the recording I took of my mother’s breathing in the last few days of her life.
That comforting and yet so painful sound of her laboured breathing until the out breath was not followed by an in breath and that precious life force was gone not to return.

Breath and breathing …It’s the first thing we do when we’re born and the last thing we do when we die.
It’s easy to get caught up going form task to task without stopping to take a moment to breathe.

In his book ‘The Naked Now ‘ Richard Rohr talks about the sacredness of breath.

“Yahweh The Jewish name for God is a mixture of the masculine weh and the feminine yah. Yah is feminine within us, receiving spirit, the breath of life, and our exhalation weh is masculine, giving spirit, the breath of life. This is embodied spirituality.
It is rarely spoken and it’s correct pronunciation is an attempt to imitate the sound of inhalation and exhalation. We do that every moment: our first and last word as we enter and leave the world… The one thing we do every moment of our lives is therefore to speak the name of God. This makes it our first and our last word as we enter and leave the world”

When Jesus was on the cross seemingly his last words were “Father, into your hands I give my spirit.” and he breathed his last.
With the resurrection Jesus shared with his disciples “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
Our spirit is the essence of who we really are, and our spirit and our breath intermingled as one. It’s electric, living, pulsating with life.
As God is spirit and as God breathed into us the breath of life, so our breath is our closest point to God. What is lacking often is that awareness.

In the words of Bob Holmes “In this time of Covid 19, take time with eternity and breathe. “

Breath Prayer is a way to make the unconscious conscious and become closer to God.

So we take some time to breathe together.

Please settle yourself in a comfortable position trying to ensure that you will not be disturbed for the next few minutes. The words of this breath prayer are written by Bob Holmes. At the end of the breath prayer we will listen to a piece of music.

The Breath Prayer

As you begin, take two or three deep cleansing breaths.
Take a moment to still your heart.
Then gently turn your focus to your breath and follow your breath with your awareness.

Pause

Fully breathe in this moment
taking time with eternity.
Let the stillness soak into your being.

Pause

Breathe in forgiveness
and breathe in grace,
Breathing out gratefully,
releasing your spirit to expand.

Pause

By faith, breathe in the Spirit
and breathe out, giving thanks
You might silently say ‘thank you’

Pause

Breathe…embracing belonging, releasing gratitude.
Release, like a trust fall into the arms of God
focusing in the presence of the eternal.
Breathing in and out.
Rest and soak in the presence of God.

Music

We give thanks for the breath of life that we have in this moment. We pray for those who now struggle to breathe. May they know the deep love that surrounds them at this time.

We give thanks for the lives that have been lived and those that are just beginning.

We find comfort within our community and pray for all who may feel alone and isolated.

As we touch and comfort our tender hearts we reach out in prayer to those that are yet to find a connection to spirit.

We give thanks for the sacredness of breath. Amen.

Poem: The Breath of Life by Philip Burley

http://philipburley.com/blog/a-poem-the-breath-of-life

May we go in peace in love and in hope one breath at a time.

Amen

Practising Awareness – Sunday 26th April 2020

by Rev Duncan Voice

Purple Orchid, photographed near Partridge Green, West Sussex

Welcome to our Sunday Service. While we are observing social distancing restrictions I have been thinking about some things that we might do to develop, or deepen, our personal spiritual practise. This is my first offering.

As usual you are invited to light a candle as part of this service. Thank you for joining us.

Opening Words by Gretchen Haley

Give up the fight
For some other moment
Some other life
Than here, and now
Give up the longing
for some other world
The wishing
for other choices to make
other songs to sing
other bodies, other ages,
other countries, other stakes
Purge the past; forgive the future—
for each come too soon.
Surrender only to this life,
this day, this hour,
not because it does not
constantly break your heart
but because it also beckons
with beauty
startles with delight
if only we keep
waking up
This is the gift
we have been given:
these “body-clothes,”
this heart-break, this pulse
this breath,
this light,
these friends,
this hope.
Here we re-member ourselves
All a part of it all—
Giving thanks, Together.
Come, let us worship

Chalice Lighting by Joy Croft

As is our custom, we light our chalice – and see!
The flame of truth burns bright,
fed by the vision of each of us,
rising from the hearts of us all.
Let its light shine out as our lives shine out,
brightening the dark places of the world,
bringing wholeness and peace.

[You may like to pause for a moment or two before reading the prayer]

Prayer

Spirit of love and life,
Help us to be fully present at this time.
Aware of ourselves and our environment;
Aware of others sitting quietly in their homes;
Aware of your spirit that connects us
and brings us into community.

We take time to think of those who suffer.
Those struggling with loneliness in isolation;
Those who are unwell;
Those who mourn the loss of a loved one in difficult circumstances.
Help us to reach out to them in compassion.

Each of us has our own strengths and vulnerabilities;
May we remember to extend compassion to ourselves.
If we feel down;
If we feel inadequate;
If we feel scared.
Help us to avoid judgement, to talk, to share.

May all our senses be open to the beauty that is in the world.
The small flower in the spring sunshine;
One neighbour helping another;
A simple meal.
Help us to live with open-hearted wonder and love,
from moment to moment.

Amen

Please sing a long with, or listen to, our hymn.

Words by Richard Boeke, music arranged by David Dawson, published in Sing Your Faith by The Lindsey Press, used by permission

To Seek and Find Our Natural Mind

To seek and find our natural mind,
and suffering let go,
awake from night, behold the light,
find every life aglow;
awake from night, behold the light,
find every life aglow.

To seek and find compassion’s law
and share the holy quest,
awaken to the cosmic awe,
find peace and be at rest;
awaken to the cosmic awe,
find peace and be at rest.

To seek and find community,
the love that will not cease,
begin today the joyful way,
walking the path of peace;
begin today the joyful way,
walking the path of peace

Reading: Matthew 26: 40-45

Then he came to the disciples and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, “So, could you not stay awake with me one hour? Stay awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Again, he went away for the second time and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” Again, he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. So, leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words. Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? See, the hour is at hand….”

Reading: Today by D. Elwyn Davies

Today
Of course, when tomorrow comes
Will be yesterday.
And when it was yesterday, Today
Was tomorrow yet to come, but
Today is Now, alive,
The end of your life so far,
A milestone reached.
Today is the beginning
Of all your tomorrows left,
The first day of your future life.
Tread through it carefully
For it has never been before
And will not come again.
It is a gift to hallow and to hold,
A precious link
That grips the golden chain of time.
Let us celebrate this day with but
The best we have,
For it will give us not
Another chance. It is
Today.

It was Earth Day last Wednesday and so I thought it would be nice to remind ourselves of the beauty of our planet, by taking this aerial trip during our musical interlude, courtesy of Greenpeace. Enjoy!

Address

Here we are, several weeks in to our pandemic lockdown. As this human tragedy plays out, we have had to innovate, adapt and change in order to stay in touch as well as to remain a Unitarian community. We have had to accept new rules for how we live our lives and change our routines and many of our long-term habits. No face-to-face chats with friends, or coffee and cake. No going out for a meal or a day trip. No meeting up with family or friends, or visits to the shops. The list goes on. We grieve the loss of some of these things, the human contact perhaps the most, but also we might question how necessary some things were in our pre-pandemic “normal” lives. All the chasing about, the busyness, traffic jams, crowded trains, consuming and polluting. Was all that we did before necessary or helpful or wholesome; or were we doing some of it because we thought we should, or believed we needed to for our happiness, or because that’s what we always did? Has this lockdown become a wake-up call in some ways?


In his book “Awareness” Anthony de Mello says that, “Spirituality means waking up.” He goes on to say, “Most people, even though they don’t know it, are asleep. They are born asleep, they live asleep, they marry in their sleep, they have children in their sleep, they die in their sleep without ever waking up. They never understand the loveliness and the beauty of this thing that we call human existence.” Anthony de Mello had a bit of an eccentric style and you might question his use of “most people” or feel affronted by his assertion that we are asleep most of the time! But recent events have shattered many of our assumptions and illusions; we have been stripped of some of our comforting routines and distractions. He goes on to say that, “waking up is unpleasant”, and he may be right. We may have to face some harsh realities, some difficult questions.

Anthony de Mello was a Jesuit priest and spiritual author who came from India. He was considered something of a maverick for a time, but was well placed to understand the mysticism of Christianity and Eastern religions. Please follow this link to the De Mello Spirituality Centre and watch the first video which starts with him saying, “Life, what’s this thing we call life.”(What You Need to Know 1)

https://www.demellospirituality.com/tonys-essential-message/

Apologies if you found the sound quality a little poor. The video is quite old, but I think the points he talks about are still relevant to our times. I like the phrase he used, that in the presence of the rickshaw puller he was, “in the presence of a mystic, in the presence of life.” Although we might feel sad for the rickshaw puller, his poverty, health issues, and limited life, he was very aware of life and accepting of the difficulties he faced. The patient dying of Aids too, said his last 6 months of life were when he felt most alive. Facing his own mortality heightened his senses somehow, living every moment more fully albeit in a, perhaps, more limited way.

I was fortunate enough to visit India when I was in my twenties, travelling around some parts for about three months. It was a wonderful experience although I was brought close to the poverty that millions of people lived in. I think about those people who have very little now. How are they coping in this pandemic crisis? Many of them probably in the same way as Anthony de Mello’s rickshaw puller. I certainly found most people to be welcoming and generous when I was there, despite their lack of material wealth. Does having very little mean, that by default, you are confronted by the realities of life on a day-to-day basis and therefore more aware? No time to be “asleep”, do you have a more spiritual approach to life?

Certainly, in the past many holy men and women took vows of poverty and chastity, to presumably avoid the distractions of the material world. Not too many would opt for that way of life now in our society! Do we need to? Can we awaken spiritually without enduring deprivations? I hope so. But I think we need to make a conscious decision, an effort. It is much easier not to be engaged with life, and indulge ourselves.

Being spiritually aware, or waking up, has been a major theme for many faiths. Jesus, as we read earlier, said to his disciples, “could you not stay awake with me one hour?” And used other phrases such as, “Let anyone with ears listen!” (Matt 11:15) to stress the importance of engagement with life rather than apathy. In Buddhism the title, Buddha, literally means “one who has awoken”, and his teaching, The Dharma, is in essence about knowing and seeing the nature of reality, or ultimate truth.

Yet somehow, and sometimes, these important messages get lost in various religious rules and doctrines. Obedience to rules, and observances, become more important than “waking up” or staying awake; being aware. Both Jesus and the Buddha respected many teachings of those that had gone before them, but neither was bound by them. Their messages of salvation and enlightenment were inexorably bound up in the context of their own lives; which I think is the only way, we too, can discover meaning in ours.

That is not to say that spirituality is all about us as individuals; community and serving others is important. But we must awaken to our authentic selves in order to offer our gifts to the world, such as they might be. Remove the disguise and the pretence, and step out into the world as if for the first time. With what the Buddhist’s call a beginners mind, experiencing the world with curiosity and wonder and with love.

To do so we must break the bonds of habit. As Buddhist teacher Christina Feldman says,
“An awakened life is one in which the confines of habit are challenged through interest and attention. Habit and wakefulness are rarely compatible.
Habit leads us to see life through the eyes of images and assumptions; awareness teaches us to see each moment, event, person, ourselves anew.
Habit binds us to the past; awareness awakens us to the present.
Habit distances us from the moment-to-moment realities of our life; awareness is the cultivation of intimacy with each moment.
Habit inclines us to dismiss many of the simple activities and events of our day as being insignificant or unworthy; awareness is free of hierarchies of value, deeming every single moment and activity of our day as being worthy of our attention.” (Heart of Wisdom, Mind of Calm by Christina Feldman)

We may not, therefore have to necessarily change all the things we do, but we can try to view those “simple activities and events” with a new awareness and intimacy. Many of our old habits have already been broken, will we just go back to them as soon as we can? If the spiritual alarm clock is ringing, will we wake up or hit snooze button and go back to sleep for a bit longer?

For us in our isolation we have a unique opportunity, to deepen this relationship with ourselves, our everyday tasks and eventually with others. Through gentle questioning, through attentive listening, through caring, in many ways. Patiently we can explore new relationships and in doing so we may discover a new joy or peace; and then in time, perhaps, awareness may become our practise.

May it be so.

Closing words by Thich Nhat Hanh

Waking up this morning, I smile.
Twenty-four brand new hours are before me.
I vow to live fully in each moment
and look at all beings with eyes of compassion.

Benediction

As we come to the end of this service,
our time together in spirit,
may the ears of our ears be awake
and may the eyes of our eyes be open ⃰
as we go on the ways of our lives.
Amen

⃰paraphrasing of words by e.e. cummings, from his poem “I thank You God for this most amazing day.”

Ditchling Communal Service, Sunday 19th April 2020

by Stephen Crowther

Bless us, O God—
whisper in our hearts and light our times.
Help us to understand your love and your law
and bring them to bear on the world’s ills.
Let all the people of the earth praise you
with all their diverse voices.
Let them call out the ten thousand names.
Let all nations praise you with the best of their ways.
Let us all enjoy each other’s wisdom.
Let the peoples of the earth bless the earth
and heal her together.
Bless us, O God, with your presence in our hearts,
And in the soul of our nation.

(Doubter Psalms Psalm 67 by Christine Robinson)

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.

11.00am: On this Sunday morning in this strangest of times, we gather ourselves in and light a candle.

(light your candle)

As we join with others in our community, isolated in our homes, separated by a 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 bewildering and fearful time in our lives.

(pause)

Welcome to our ‘online’ service at this unprecedented time in our history. It may seem a little inappropriate to greet you with ‘good morning’ but I wish you a very good morning – whatever the state of your heart or frame of mind this morning.

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….

Opening Words: NONE OF US ARE IMMUNE by Jeff Foster

It’s going to be okay.
It really is.

We will face this situation together with love, humour and patience.
We will weep together, we will laugh together.
We will discover togetherness in our apartness.

And the worst of it will end one day.
And we will have learned so much by then.

We will now be called to face very difficult feelings inside of us.
Fear. Grief. The loss of an old way of life. Our devastated plans.
We will learn to face ourselves. Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide.
Nowhere to go except within.

A sacred quarantine.

We will learn to face our boredom. Our restlessness. The part of us that wants to be somewhere else, with someone else, doing something else, having some other experience, in some other Now, living in some other life.
We will let go of the wonderful future we had planned.
We will let the fantasy future die, release it, and grieve it.
We will return to the solidity and warmth of the present.

We will make the present into our home.
We will begin again, here, build a new house on new soil.
We will explore a new way of life.
Strange, at first. But full of possibility.
Slower. Kinder. Quieter.

We will talk to each other honestly about death, and life, and impermanence, and how we feel about all the changes that have come to us and our loved ones.
We will learn to value life a little more.
Yes, perhaps we will learn to value life a little more.

And live with our hearts cracked slightly open to the elements.
And lean into uncertainty, and find our salvation there.

None of us are immune to change.
To rupture. To the shattering of old, familiar forms.
This is the way of things, this has always been the way of things.

From this perspective, nothing has gone wrong.
Crisis simply means “turning point”, and none of us are immune from the turning.

The breaking of the old makes way for the birth of new.
It has always been this way.

Love. Humour. Patience. With these things, we will come through.
Stronger than before. Renewed. Ready.

If you wish, please join in singing our hymn, Trust in Life

Words by Sidney Henry Knight, music John Bacchus Dykes, from Hymns for Living, published by The Lindsey Press, used by permission

Trust in Life

We do not seek a shallow faith,
A God to keep us free
From trial and error, harm and death,
Wherever we may be.

For none can live and not grow old,
Nor love and not risk loss:
Though life brings raptures manifold,
Each one must bear some cross.

When future days seem but a mass
Of menace more than hope,
We pray not for the cup to pass,
But strength that we may cope.

God grant us faith that when some ill
Unwanted comes our way,
Deep in our hearts, thy Spirit will
Give power to win the day.

And if from fear of pain or strife,
Calm peace we cannot win,
Then give us faith to trust thy Life
Invincible within.

Reading: from The Grace of Waiting by Margaret Whipp
The tragedy of our impatient generation is that we live as functional atheists, blind and deaf to the loving entreaties of this God who waits eternally for our embrace. Whether it is our shallow hedonism, which demands the immediate gratification of all our egotistical desires, or our self-determined Stoicism, which boasts of its own capacities for endurance and heroic indifference, we resist God’s patient invitation to embrace life’s necessary waiting as a matter of grace.
Grace is something entirely different: it is the quality of tender relatedness that is suffused with realism, mutuality and gratitude. Our word for ‘grace’ derives from an old French word for ‘kindness’. It bears the echoes of divine mercy and favour, of elegance, good will and virtue. Grace has the connotations of a blessing, a quality of the sacred, and implies beauty, ease, and fluidity. Grace seems endlessly responsive to our longing for it.
Grace is the beautiful alternative to our ugly and selfish refusals to wait on God. Grace is the conscious choice we make to enter into communion with the loving patience of God, who is eternally creating and re-creating our wonderful world. Grace is the delicate sense of reverence we feel for the gift of a life that we did not manufacture; and grace is the profound sense of respect we owe to the rhythms of an infinitely complex ecology of breathtakingly diverse life-forces that are not ours to command.
Grace is the readiness to embrace, and to be embraced, by a loving providence that will always exceed our limited capacity for comprehension and control. Grace, even in the white heat of terrible waiting, is the peace that passes all understanding. Grace breathes patience, learns wisdom, spreads forgiveness. And grace, within and despite our unfathomable waiting, overflows with a deep and sincere gratitude.
(from The Grace of Waiting pp 97-8, copyright Margaret Whipp, 2017)

(pause)

As is my daily custom, I was sitting quietly in my garden the other morning, reflecting on the unprecedented events that are unfolding in our lives, realising that we don’t have experience or knowledge to draw upon for guidance – and how unsettling this can be. And then I noticed Spring springing – and so, I realised in that moment – of course! – there is hope – God’s creation will continue to show forth despite current events and however these events unfold over the next few weeks and months. And so, in that vein, I offer the story of The Survivor Tree:

Story: The Survivor Tree (Inspired by a True Story) by Cheryl Somers Aubin, 2011 (redux)
A month after the collapse of the Twin Towers on 9/11, recovery workers on the site discovered a few green leaves showing through the grey concrete and ash. Clearing the debris, they found a badly injured Callery Pear Tree. It was the last living thing to come out of the rubble — a charred stump that, to an untrained eye, looked dead. She was taken to a nursery outside the city, and put in the care of Richie Cabo, a City Parks Worker, who cared for her and helped her grow back to remarkable health. No one was sure if she would live. But the following spring, a dove built a nest in her branches and new green buds appeared.
After its recovery and rehabilitation, the tree became known as the “Survivor Tree” and was finally returned to the Memorial at Ground Zero in 2010. New, smooth limbs extended from the gnarled stumps, creating a visible demarcation between the tree’s past and its present.
Each year since 2013, seedlings grown from The Tree have been sent to communities throughout America that have experienced tragedies in recent times – and this has included 28 fire houses spread across Long Island. Last year for the first time, seedlings were donated internationally – to Madrid to mark the bombings there in 2004. Today, the Survivor Tree stands as a living reminder of resilience, survival and rebirth.

(pause)

I’m wondering if we are not all Survivor Trees – standing as living reminders of resilience, survival and rebirth. I’ve started referring to this time we’re in as The Great Pause. Because everything feels like it’s on hold. All the measures that climate change and ecology experts have been calling for, are now being enacted – but not from our human choice. And so, I take comfort from the belief that a greater plan is at work here – ‘…for there is a Force of love moving through the universe that holds us fast and will never let us go’ (Julian of Norwich). And I find this confirmed by the beautiful weather we’ve been having. It’s like this Force is saying ‘while you’re having to experience this terrible crisis, here’s a gift to help you through….’. Maybe this is what we could try and do over the coming weeks – open more to this truth and to God’s presence – draw closer – maybe use this time to reaffirm our trust and faith that all will be well if we rest in God’s love, knowing that…. “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.” (Julian of Norwich)

Words from Elias Amidon entitled World Worry:

I wonder if the extreme of world worry, when we become overwhelmed by the anxiety of knowing the earth’s life-support systems are collapsing, isn’t in itself a kind of defence, a way to defend our hearts from being present. Being overwhelmed, we curl into anticipatory grief and the certainty that everything’s hopeless.

I think here of the prayer-words of Etty Hillesum a year before she was murdered at Auschwitz: “These are times of terror, my God. Tonight for the first time I stayed awake in the dark, my eyes burning, images of human suffering parading endlessly before me. I am going to promise you one thing, my God, oh, a trifle: I will not let myself weigh down the present day with those fears that the future inspires in me…”

Those are the words of an undefended heart, open to the hurt of the world without letting that hurt crush her heart’s presence. An undefended heart is in this way the requisite condition for survival, maybe not physical survival but survival of the most noble aspect of the human spirit. If, in the end, the earth’s human experiment does fail, at least we will have succumbed with our hearts alive and loving.

(from Notes from the Open Path posted online Sun 01/03/2020)

(pause)

As we enter a time of Prayer and Quiet Reflection, let us join in prayerful stillness. You may want to direct the focus of your attention inwards, bringing it to your heart – penetrating its walls and spending a few moments breathing into it deeply.

O God, we pray, not to request your presence, but to call ourselves into it, for the sustaining peace, the wisdom, the silence are nearer than breath. You are the ground of our being – the mover, the fire, and the place of rest.

(pause)

Prayer for a Pandemic by Cameron Bellm

May we who are merely inconvenienced
Remember those whose lives are at stake.
May we who have no risk factors
Remember those most vulnerable.
May we who have the luxury of working from home
Remember those who must choose between preserving their health or making their rent.
May we who have the flexibility to care for our children when their schools close
Remember those who have no options.
May we who have to cancel our trips
Remember those that have no safe place to go.
May we who are losing our margin money in the tumult of the economic market
Remember those who have no margin at all.
May we who settle in for a quarantine at home
Remember those who have no home.
As fear grips our country,
let us choose love.
During this time when we cannot physically wrap our arms around each other,
Let us yet find ways to be the loving embrace of God to our neighbours.
Amen.

(pause)

At this time, let us bring to our minds and hearts all those who are suffering with the coronavirus – with isolation – with fear – and as difficult as we may find it, we may include ourselves.

(pause)

While many of us are confined to our homes, let us bring to our minds and hearts all those having to work at this time. In particular, we think of the NHS front-line workers and key staff who are working relentlessly to bring healing and an end to this pandemic. Let us silently offer them our 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.

(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
Amen

Silence for aprox 5 minutes and/or some music

Music by Elizabeth Hornby

In this time of isolation and quarantine, it may feel as though we’re stuck in a tomb – like the one Mary found empty on Easter Sunday morning. But when our stones are rolled away and we can finally come out of hiding – will we be transformed? Resurrected? For, in one sense, the life we have known has died. In this time of great pausing, I believe we are being offered a chance to ‘take stock’ – to review our lives and to discern our priorities for living a whole and Godly life – in the Light. Because, if nothing else, we have discovered that life can no longer be taken for granted. We have the opportunity to be born again into new life – a new way of living.

Here, Elias Amidon speaks to these thoughts:

Reading: In the Shelter of Each Other by Elias Amidon

Pandemic spring. You’re told to go inside, close the door and wait. You do what you’re told. You wait.
The telephone rings. How are you? Are you okay? Do you need anything?

Days pass. People are hurting. The numbers rise.

You get quieter – or wish you could. When something gets you annoyed, you notice and back off. What’s the point?

At breakfast there’s talk of selfless people caring for others, countless millions of them in countries you’ve never been to. You want to applaud them like the Brits did from their doorsteps, a magical applause sounding like a sudden spring rain falling on all the roof tops and gardens.

It’s odd but you feel like taking care of someone or something, do some little kindness you haven’t done before. You clean the fridge.
You speak on the telephone to a friend and after you hang up you remember that you forgot to say the one thing you really wanted to. You call back.

One night, turning away from sleep, you get up before light. You make a cup of tea and sit by the window. An image comes unbidden of an old man struggling to breathe and a masked nurse entering the room. You wonder what it’s like to die like that, or to die in any way at all.

You try to imagine dying, letting go that last time, saying goodbye that last time, dissolving into God knows what, and you feel suddenly a tenderness flooding your heart, a tenderness for everyone and everything in this world, and the feeling keeps expanding, opening out from you, a beautiful, inexplicable radiance flowing into the air around you and into the sleeping house and into the space between the houses and between the budded twigs and out beyond to the approaching dawn. It’s as if the foreboding of death has turned into something so precious and dear you feel the whole world is wrapped in it and is sheltered in it, a warmth, a caring holy love and thankfulness, and you know it’s not just rising from you but that’s it’s trying to rise from everyone, and you don’t understand it and you know you don’t need to.

Dawn comes, and another day, and another. You feel different. You feel bigger than you were. Kinder.

Then one day the all-clear sounds.

Doors open. Neighbours come out of their houses. They’re smiling. Something’s happened to them like something’s happened to you. We’re not what we were. We greet strangers and shake hands. We say, How are you? It’s so good to see you! You must come over for tea! The waitress comes to thank you for the cookies and all the other things you left on her doorstep. Up and down the street, people are chatting and laughing, kids are running around, the trees are waving.

It feels like the beginning of the world.

A robin on the lawn looks up and sees you, and now she’s just as happy as you are.
(Notes from the Open Path posted online Wed 01/04/2020)

(pause)

Closing words: some words that I return to again and again by Teilhard de Chardin, SJ:

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.
(excerpted from Hearts on Fire)

Blessing
May the wind of the Spirit blow through our world, giving the answer of God’s everlasting love. And so, as you re-enter your day, may you go with peace and joy in your heart.
Amen

You may want to close by playing reflective, quiet music.

Annual Meeting of the General Assembly

Here is a opportunity to listen to the Anniversary Service from last weeks annual meetings, which were held online and called “Being Together”. The Service is led Led by Rev Mike O’Sullivan, Minister of Cork Unitarians, and Rev Bridget Spain, Minister of Dublin Unitarians. https://www.ldpaunitarians.org/

This is the keynote talk, by Alistair Mackintosh, called ‘The Revolution Will Be Spiritual’ — given via Zoom.
http://bit.ly/34ytDQ5

Note: After the talk you skip from 1’00 to 1’20, as this is breakout time, and go to a question and answer session.

The Spirit of Hope

By Rev. Duncan Voice

Welcome

A very warm welcome to our Sunday Service. As it is Easter I look to a traditional theme of hope this morning. And I “hope” you will find something among the words and music here that sustains you and perhaps gives you something to reflect upon. If you wish to light a chalice or candle during the Service please have something available before you start.

A very Happy Easter to you all.

Opening words

Every blade of grass, each leaf, each floret and petal, is an inscription of hope. Consider the grasses and the oaks, the swallows, the sweet blue butterfly – they are one and all a sign and token showing before our eyes earth made into life…my hope becomes as broad as the horizon afar, reiterated by every leaf, sung on every bough, reflected in the gleam of every flower. There is so much for us yet to come, as much to be gathered, and enjoyed. Not just for you or me, now, but for humanity, who will ultimately use this magic secret for their happiness. by Richard Jeffries, from The Pageant of Summer (adapted)

Chalice Lighting

As you light your chalice or candle, at home, to begin this service, you may like to say the following words:

As I kindle this chalice, symbol of loving community,
let there be light.
As the flame of this chalice reminds us of our deepest values,
let there be light.
As the glow of this chalice encourages us to hope,
let there be light.
Let there be light.

Prayer

Spirit of Love and Life,
we gather this Easter time in isolation,
but in a spirit of goodwill and togetherness.

We pause to hold in our hearts,
those whose passing comes to our mind at this time,
and those who cannot be with us because of illness,
or because they care for another.
May peace be with them.

We think of those in our community
who maybe feeling lonely, afraid or suffering;
may we reach out to them in any way we can,
and may caring and kindness
always be the expression of our faith.

May this season of new life, warmth, and colour
inspire in us a spirit of hope:
Hope in our living,
Hope in our caring,
Hope in our being,
Hope in our sharing.

I invite those of you that may wish to, to join in saying the prayer that Jesus taught.

Our Father, who art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy Name.
Thy Kingdom come.
Thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
As we forgive those that trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
The power, and the glory,
For ever and ever.
Amen.

Please join in singing our first hymn, We Light the Flame

Words by David Andrew Usher, Music by David Dawson, from Sing Your Faith, published by The Lindsey Press, used by permission

We light the flame

We light the flame that kindles our devotions.
We lift our hearts in blessed community.
The mind has thoughts, the heart its true emotions,
we celebrate in worship, full and free.
Our faith transcends the boundaries of oceans.
All shall be granted worth and dignity.

So many ways to witness the wonder.
So many dreams by day for us to dare.
Yet, reaching out, each way is made the grander,
and love made bold for dreamers everywhere.
Diversity will never cast asunder
our common weal, our bonds of mutual care.

Infinite Spirit, dwell with us, we pray thee,
that we may share in life abundantly.
Forgive our sins, feed us with good bread daily,
with strength resist temptation steadfastly.
O God of life, sustain us now, and may we
with mindful hearts, be thankful constantly.

Reading: Mark 16: 1- 8

“When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

Reading: “Hope” is the thing with feathers
by Emily Dickinson

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –

And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –

I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.

I invite you now to enjoy a musical reflection provided by Elizabeth Hornby, who is currently training as a Unitarian Minister. After this you may like to enjoy a time of quietness before reading or listening to the address.

You are welcome to read or listen to this address.

Address

During the run up to Easter Sunday I had planned a special reading of the Gospel of Mark at The Old Meeting House. Sadly, restrictions put in place to control the coronavirus pandemic, put a stop to that; but we will do something later, when we can meet together once again. The idea of reading it aloud was to experience it as a whole, rather than in small bite sized pieces as we might do in a Service. Not that there is anything wrong with this, but listening to the whole story would be a different kind of experience. This was how it was originally communicated.

As well as being the shortest of the gospels, the Gospel of Mark is generally considered somewhat abrupt in its style, perhaps even crude in comparison to the more eloquent and flowing prose in Matthew. However, as the oldest of the gospels, it is generally agreed to be part of the source material used by Matthew and Luke. It conveys a very human image of Jesus, which I must say I like. At times he loses his temper, more than once he expresses despair and at one point his family and friends think he must have lost his mind. But he continues his journey and his ministry until he is cruelly crucified at a place called Golgotha. We, the reader or listener, accompany him on his journey with Mark as our narrator. As we do so perhaps we undertake a spiritual journey of our own, as the questions posed are as much for us as for Mark’s original audience.

Unitarians, and those that attend Unitarian meeting houses or churches but don’t identify in this way, will have a variety of thoughts and feelings about the Biblical resurrection story. Indeed, all the Biblical narratives. Even those who would call themselves Unitarian Christians, tend to interpret scripture liberally, not very literally, and have a universalist outlook. That is to say, they value sources of truth and wisdom from different faith traditions, or other sources as well. But our Unitarian tradition has Christian roots and so I feel, whatever our outlook, it is worth reflecting on this source material to see if we can gain fresh perspective. Although we don’t all think alike, we are perhaps all trying to live spiritually in some sense of the word and therefore trying to be open minded, aware and reflective.

Last Wednesday I listened to the keynote speaker at the General Assembly Meetings (our annual national meeting), Alistair Mackintosh. Alistair is honorary senior research fellow (professor) in the College of Social Sciences at the University of Glasgow, and a Quaker by faith. The meeting didn’t take place in Birmingham as usual however, but was conducted online. So I joined him, along with about 150 other people via the now ubiquitous meeting app called Zoom. I’m glad I did, as he delivered a very interesting talk entitled, “The Revolution will be Spiritual.”

I was very taken by his approach to spirituality, which he calls, “life as love made manifest”, and also his accessible interpretation and use of scripture during his talk. Early on he quoted the Gospel of John (1: 38) when Jesus gathered his first two disciples,
“When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?”
Or “What seek ye?” if you prefer the King James version. It’s near the beginning of the gospel and it’s a fundamental question for us all isn’t it, what are we seeking?

As spiritual seekers, if that’s how we think of ourselves, then we do need to have these kinds of questions posed to us. Although we need words, ideas that inspire us and comfort us at times, we do, I think, need to visit or even re-visit these types of questions. How would we answer? It might take us some time to contemplate this, and perhaps that’s part of the point. After listening to Alistair’s talk I certainly felt I would like to re-evaluate my approach to reading Bible scripture from being less analytical and critical to a more spiritual relationship, and in fact to extend that further into my life – working with the idea of “love made manifest.”

In our first reading, the closing verses of Mark’s Gospel, the story comes to an abrupt end. There are two supplements to the ending that scholars believe may have been added later because scribes translating it might have thought the original seemed incomplete. Indeed, some still wonder this. However, I prefer the idea that some commentators put forward that it was deliberately left like this. In my Oxford Bible Commentary, C.M Tuckett says,

“There is no happy ending to the gospel. There is certainly no objective account of the reality that informs Christian existence for Mark, namely the presence of the risen Jesus with his people: such would be inappropriate for Mark. Maybe Mark’s gospel is indeed unfinished. But perhaps that is deliberate. It is up to the reader to supply the ending – and that is the perennial challenge of this gospel for all readers today.”

The sense of “where do we go from here” that the ending of Mark gives us, is one that we are perhaps familiar with this Easter Sunday, as we think about the pain and suffering of the pandemic and uncertainties about the future. What will happen in the coming weeks, months, years? What is our spiritual response? In the closing verses of Mark we are told, “he [Jesus] is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him”. Galilee is where Jesus’ ministry started, so perhaps this gives a clue as to where we might start. Back at the beginning, to walk the Way humbly once more, despite any previous failings.

Our current predicament is both serious and tragic, many people have and will lose their lives to coronavirus. But with our consumer society put on hold for a time it does seem to offer us a unique opportunity for contemplation. To reflect on our spiritual relationship with our God, or whatever we consider to be of highest worth; as well as ourselves, others and our planet. Can a spiritual revolution take place? I don’t know, but we can try to ensure some kind of renewal within ourselves in the context of our own lives.

For some contemplation, prayer or meditation may be seen as waste of time but as Buddhist nun and teacher Christina Feldman says,
“All that we accomplish, achieve, and perform is truly meaningful only when it communicates the values we cherish in our hearts. Each day, remembering what brings a deep authenticity to our lives, we need to ask ourselves:

Did I love well?
Am I awake to my life?
Did I remember to care for all the moments I lived?” from “Heart of Wisdom, Mind of Calm” by Christina Feldman, published by Element

How we answer these sorts of questions and others will determine the ending we might give to Mark’s Gospel, and the only way to consider them is through some kind of contemplative practice.

If we look around us we can see many wonderful, caring activities going on in our communities. People supporting elderly or vulnerable neighbours, volunteering in various ways and of course expressing gratitude to those that work in our National Health Service. I am particularly enjoying the moment on Thursday evenings when we all come out to cheer and clap. We need to hold on to this spirit, and when the restrictions are gradually lifted to try to live in peace, with love and gratitude. Supporting one another and practising forgiveness. Perhaps like the disciples we may fail sometimes, but we can keep faith and try again; and in doing so resurrect hope for our present and our future.

May it be so.

You may like to pause for a moment, or two, of quiet reflection.

Please join in singing our final hymn, The Spirit Lives to Set Us Free

Anon., traditional melody arranged by David Dawson, from Sing Your Faith, published by The Lindsey Press, used by permission

The Spirit lives to set us free

The Spirit lives to set us free,
walk, walk in the light.
It binds us all in unity,
walk, walk in the light.
Walk in the light, walk in the light, walk in the light, walk in the light of love.

The light that shines is in us all,
walk, walk in the light.
We each must follow our own call,
walk, walk in the light.
Walk in the light, walk in the light, walk in the light, walk in the light of love.

Peace begins inside your heart,
walk, walk in the light.
We’ve got to live it from the start,
walk, walk in the light.
Walk in the light, walk in the light, walk in the light, walk in the light of love.

Seek the truth in what you see,
walk, walk in the light.
Then hold it firmly as can be,
walk, walk in the light.
Walk in the light, walk in the light, walk in the light, walk in the light of love.

The Spirit lives in you and me,
walk, walk in the light.
Its light will shine for all to see,
walk, walk in the light.
Walk in the light, walk in the light, walk in the light, walk in the light of love.

Closing words

Hope to the last…Always hope;…Never leave off hoping;…Don’t leave a stone unturned. It’s always something to know you’ve done the most you could. But don’t leave off hoping, or it’s no use doing anything. Hope, hope to the last!
Charles Dickens, Nicholas Nickleby adapted in “The Canterbury Book of Spiritual Quotations” complied by William Sykes, published by Canterbury Press

Blessing

“Peace I leave with you;
my peace I give to you.
I do not give to you as the world gives.
Do not let your hearts be troubled,
and do not let them be afraid.”
– John 14: 27

As we come to the end of our Service and go on our ways, may we do so in peace; and may the God of our understanding be with us now and always. Amen

Sunday 5th April, 2020 – Turning Towards Our Difficulties with Love

by Rev. Duncan Voice

A warm welcome to friends and visitors. Spring it seems is starting to breakthrough here in Sussex which I hope lifts your spirits as it does mine. As before, if you wish to join in with our customary chalice lighting to begin this Service, please have something to hand. As ever I welcome your comments.

Chalice Lighting

As you light a candle or chalice you may wish to say the following words:

I light this candle/chalice
as a symbol of community
and togetherness.
It’s light is the light of love.
May this always guide us,
helping us to share
hope, compassion and peace
in the lives we touch.

Prayer

Spirit of Life and Love
We gather this morning in separate places
but in oneness of spirit.
May we be fully present,
with open minds and hearts.

We pause to think of those
who face difficulties and pain
connected with the pandemic affecting our lives.
Those unwell, and those that care for them.
Those that have died, and those that grieve.
Those that face uncertainty, and those trying to help.
We bring them all into our circle of compassion

Ours is a tradition of religious freedom,
where we worship in accordance with
our own heartfelt feelings.
But we recognise that we need
one anther too.
To share in the spirit, to find inspiration,
to care for each other.

Help us to be an inclusive and welcoming community.
Help us to be a loving community.
Help us to be a peaceful community.
Help us to be – in community.

Amen

Please join in singing this morning’s hymn which is called True Simplicity.

True Simplicity, traditional Shaker song and traditional melody arranged by David Dawson, from Hymns for Living, published by the Lindsey Press, used by permission

‘Tis the gift to be simple, ‘tis the gift to be free;
‘Tis the gift to know just where we want to be;
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.

When true simplicity is gained,
To greet all as friend we shan’t be ashamed:
To turn, turn, will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning, we come round right.

‘Tis the gift to be simple, ‘tis the gift to be free;
‘Tis the gift to share our common destiny;
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.

When true simplicity is gained,
To greet all as friend we shan’t be ashamed:
To turn, turn, will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning, we come round right.

Story

There is a story told of a king who had three sons. The first was handsome and very popular. When he was twenty-one, his father built him a palace in the city in which to live. The second son was intelligent and also very popular. When he became twenty-one, his father built a second palace in the city for him. The third son, however, was neither handsome or intelligent, and was unfriendly and unpopular. When he was twenty-one, the king’s counsellors said: “There is no further room in the city. Have a palace built outside the city for your son. You can have it built so it will be strong. You can send some of your guards to prevent it from being attacked by the ruffians who live outside the city walls.” So, the king built such a palace and sent some of his soldiers to protect it.

A year later, the son sent a message to his father: “I cannot live here. The ruffians are too strong.” So, the counsellors said: “Build another palace, bigger, stronger and twenty miles away from the city and the ruffians. With more soldiers, it will easily withstand attacks from the nomadic tribes that way.” So, the king built such a palace, and sent one hundred of his soldiers to protect it.

A year later, a message came from the son: “I cannot live here. The tribes are too strong.” So, the counsellors said: Build a castle, a large castle, one hundred miles away. It will be big enough to house five hundred soldiers, and strong enough to withstand attacks from the peoples that live over the border.” So, the king built such a castle, and sent five hundred of his soldiers to protect it.
But a year later, the son sent another message to the king: “Father, the attacks of the neighbouring peoples are too strong. They have attacked twice, and if they attack a third time I fear for my life and those of your soldiers.

And the king said to his counsellors: “Let him come home and he can live in the palace with me. For it is better that I learn to love my son than I should spend all the energy and resources of the kingdom keeping him at a distance.”

The story of the king holds an important lesson: it’s often far easier and more effective in the long run to live with our difficulties than to pour resources into battling and suppressing them.

Meditation

I now invite you to spend a little time in quietness. If you wish, you may like to listen to this short meditation which is about dealing with difficulty.

Address

You can either read or listen to this address.

“When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethpage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden: untie it and bring it. If anyone says to you, “Why are you doing this?” just say this, “The Lord needs it and will send it back immediately.” They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, some bystanders said to them, “What are you doing untying the colt?” They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,
Hosanna!
Blessed is the one who comes in
the name of the Lord!
Blessed is the coming kingdom of
our ancestor David!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!

“Then he entered Jerusalem….”
Mark 11: 1-11

Today is Palm Sunday, which commemorates Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, and in Christian tradition marks the beginning of the Passion, the final period of his life. The story is told, in broadly similar form, in the three so-called synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke and is mentioned more briefly in John. Although, it is John that introduces the idea that the “leafy branches” laid on the road were palm branches, adding an additional layer of symbolism as the palm was associated with, among other things, victory and peace; as well as being the symbol of Judea in the Roman world.

The photograph above, taken by me on a visit to Israel in 2018, shows a view of the old city of Jerusalem viewed across the Kidron valley from the Mount of Olives. The view, of course, is much changed from the time of Jesus. The old city is surrounded by the new city today and the striking golden Dome of the Rock is now located on the temple mount, where the Jewish temple once stood; destroyed in 70 CE by the Romans. Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem is a significant event in the Gospels of the New Testament, and his brutal death shortly afterwards, another episode of violence meted out in the “holy” city, but it wasn’t the first or last shocking event to have happened there.

For a provincial town in the Judean hills, Jerusalem had experienced much violence up until the time of Jesus. Fought over by Jewish groups and caught up in the power struggles of empires such as the Egyptians, Persians and Macedonians, to name a few. The temple had also been catastrophically destroyed before, back in 587 BCE by the Babylonians. After which, much of the population had been led away into exile; causing Jewish scholars of the time to pour the despair of their people into books such as Lamentations.

“For these things I weep:
my eyes flow with tears;
for a comforter is far from me,
one to revive my courage;
my children are desolate,
for the enemy has prevailed.”
Lamentations 1: 16

After the time of Jesus, Jerusalem continued to be fought over and ruled by different empires, from the Byzantines to the British, an object of desire, and fervour, for adherents of the Abrahamic faiths. Destroyed and rebuilt, destroyed and rebuilt; so much pain, death and destruction. Perhaps this is what prompted Benjamin Disraeli to say, “The view of Jerusalem is the history of the world; it is more, it is the history of heaven and earth.”

Historian Simon Sebag Montefiore, says in his book “Jerusalem: The Biography” that,
“Jerusalem has a way of disappointing and tormenting both conquerors and visitors. The contrast between real and heavenly cities is so excruciating that a hundred patients a year are committed to the city’s asylum, suffering from Jerusalem Syndrome, a madness of anticipation, disappointment and delusion.” He continues, “No other place evokes such a desire for exclusive possession.”

During my visit I certainly experienced the strange tension that ongoing conflict has brought to Jerusalem. Streets inhabited by tourists, pilgrims, and different ethnic groups trying to live their everyday lives, existing alongside layers of history and religion. Places where the ancient meets the modern, sometimes in quietness and sometimes in chaos. Where there are holy shrines and tourist trinkets, and where the mood can change from area to area, and street to street. A metaphor perhaps for the turmoil of the human heart. The shades of light and darkness that we all experience. A representation of our potential, perhaps, for living in peace or violence, in holiness or profanity, in generosity or self-serving greed. A lesson, an object of reflection for us all.

In the midst of a global pandemic, however, we may ask of what help is reflection? But in times of greatest difficulty it is most important that we connect with, and live, the values that we espouse in “normal” times. We can start by considering how we feel and what our concerns are; to try and understand ourselves a little better. So, if we are scared and worried about, for example, health or financial issues, or even grieving over the loss of someone close, we can acknowledge that. We are human. Being positive can be helpful, but we need to leave room to acknowledge and accept our pain and suffering.

Palm Sunday and the Easter story will have varying degrees of meaning and significance for each of us. However, the beginning of the Christian holy week is another reminder to us, in our isolation, to take stock and remember that we are not the first people to face difficulties. How we respond to the challenges is what becomes important. Nurses, doctors and carers are working on the “front line” caring for the sick. Others are keeping our vital services and food supply chains working. We can play our small, but important part, by preventing the spread of the virus, by observing the social distancing rules. If we need help, we can receive it with gratitude; if we can provide help, we can do so with love and generosity.

Today in old Jerusalem there are still many disputes over the possession of certain areas, and places, between different faith groups and within faith groups. But the pandemic has shown us in a terrible way how connected we really are, however we identify or try to distinguish ourselves. Perhaps as we spend time in isolation we can think about the time when we can interact more closely once again. How we will do so? Can we discover a fresh perspective, a new way of being? Can we turn towards our difficulties with love?

May it be so.

Closing words: Jerusalem, Jerusalem by Rev. Cliff Reed

Jerusalem, Jerusalem,
if only you had known
the Way that leads to peace, to peace,
and peace the world has shown.

Jerusalem, Jerusalem,
where once the Temple stood,
where now a Dome of gleaming gold
marks where the prophet trod.

Jerusalem, Jerusalem,
where David’s line once ruled,
where still his people pray today
beneath their holy wall.

Jerusalem, Jerusalem,
where Jesus preached God’s word;
where he was praised, betrayed, reviled,
and nailed upon the rood.

Jerusalem, Jerusalem,
where Mary brought the news
that she had seen her risen Lord
amid the morning dew.

Jerusalem, Jerusalem,
if only you could know
the way that leads to peace today
and God’s true Spirit show.

Jerusalem, Jerusalem,
a city and a dream,
God grant us all a healing hope
and peace, your crystal stream.

  • From “Carnival of Lamps: Words for Prayer and Reflection” by Rev. Cliff Reed

Benediction

As we draw to the end of our time together in spirit, let us do so in hope and in peace. May the God of our hearts be with us as we face the difficulties and fears of the coming days, and may love always guide us. Amen

Please join in singing our closing blessing, “May the Road Rise With You”

Arranged by David Dawson, from Sing Your Faith, published by The Lindsey Press, used by permission

May the road rise with you,
may the wind be always at your back,
may the sun shine warm upon your face,
may rain fall soft upon your field,
and until we meet again,
may God hold you
in the hollow of his/her hand.