Prelude Clouds by Elizabeth Harley
In this period of gradual unfolding,
when we are slowly coming out of our year-long lockdown,
I invite you into this time of online worship.
For this short time,
let us put our worldly cares aside,
close our eyes and imagine ourselves
to be in our places of worship,
surrounded by members of our beloved community,
and be together, if only virtually,
for this short hour.
Chalice Lighting (you may wish to light a candle in your own home at this point. I will be lighting my chalice for worship at 11.00 am on Sunday morning) words by Cliff Reed
May our flame of worship be to us
as the burning bush in which God speaks.
May it remind us of the Breath of God
that fills us and all the myriad creatures.
May we see its reflection in the water of life
that flows through Paradise.
May it bear witness to the beautiful diversity
to which this sacred Earth gives rise.
Spirit of Life and Love,
Be with us as we gather for worship,
each in their own place.
Help us to feel a sense of community,
even though we are physically apart.
Help us to care for each other,
as we begin to come out of lockdown,
keeping in touch however we can,
and helping each other,
however we may.
We hold in our hearts
all those who have helped us
to come through this difficult time,
and all whose lives have been touched,
in whatever way,
by painful events, in their lives,
and in the wider world,
of which we are all a part. Amen
Reading from National Parks England website
In 2010 we developed a twenty year Vision for England’s National Parks and the Broads. This was adopted by Government and published in the current National Parks Circular. The work of National Parks England and the individual National Park Authorities contributes to the achievement of this Vision:
By 2030 English National Parks and the Broads will be places where:
- There are thriving, living, working landscapes notable for their natural beauty and cultural heritage. They inspire visitors and local communities to live within environmental limits and to tackle climate change. The wide range of services they provide (from clean water to sustainable food) are in good condition and valued by society.
- Sustainable development can be seen in action. The communities of the Parks take an active part in decisions about their future. They are known for having been pivotal in the transformation to a low carbon society and sustainable living. Renewable energy, sustainable agriculture, low carbon transport and travel and healthy, prosperous communities have long been the norm.
- Wildlife flourishes and habitats are maintained, restored and expanded and linked effectively to other ecological networks. Woodland cover has increased and all woodlands are sustainably managed, with the right trees in the right places. Landscapes and habitats are managed to create resilience and enable adaptation.
- Everyone can discover the rich variety of England’s natural and historic environment; and have the chance to value them as places for escape, adventure, enjoyment, inspiration and reflection, and a source of national pride and identity. They will be recognised as fundamental to our prosperity and well-being.
Alternative Lord’s Prayer
Spirit of Life and Love, here and everywhere,
May we be aware of your presence in our lives.
May our world be blessed.
May our daily needs be met,
And may our shortcomings be forgiven,
As we forgive those of others.
Give us the strength to resist wrong-doing,
The inspiration and guidance to do right,
And the wisdom to know the difference.
We are your hands in the world; help us to grow.
May we have compassion for all living beings,
And receive whatever life brings,
With courage and trust. Amen
Reading What Happens When…? from Sacred Earth by Cliff Reed
What happens when the oil runs out, O God?
When we have extracted every last drop from every
dead, polluted ocean; every devastated wilderness?
When our cars and trucks stand rusting in the acid rain?
When our tractors and combines lie idle on silent farms,
when there are no petro-chemical fertilisers, no pesticides,
to flog the last blighted harvest out of the long-dead earth?
What happens when our swollen billions can no longer
depend on the plundered riches of the garden Earth,
which you entrusted to our care?
Of course, we know the answer,
if we only had the humility to see it.
But you won’t save us from our own stupidity, even if you could.
You’ve warned us often enough, shown us the way of wisdom –
but we scorned it.
So, what happens when the glaciers melt and the rivers run dry?
When the forests are deserts and the seas have risen in revolt?
When war and meltdown have laid waste our cities?
If there is hope, it lies within us,
but time is running out.
Maybe it already has. Miserere.
Prayer Lighten our steps from Sacred Earth by Cliff Reed
God of our hearts,
lighten our steps as we walk upon the earth.
Help us to read your book of life in the lilies
of the field, as Jesus did.
Teach us new ways to live,
that our cities may be safe and beautiful;
our countryside bountiful and green to
nourish our bodies and our souls.
In the tragedies and disasters we blame on nature,
show us how often it is our folly and injustice that
cause them or make them worse.
Give us the wisdom and compassion for which
our struggling world hungers and thirsts.
Remind us that we all need them – not just our rulers and
other people, but each one of us.
God of our hearts,
enlighten our spirits as we walk upon the earth.
We ask this in the name of all who have made
your Spirit theirs.
Reading Stewards of the Web from Carnival of Lamps by Cliff Reed
We are stewards, in our brief time, of life’s great web on this small planet,
Made so by the twists and turns of evolution.
We are not the masters of the Earth. It is in believing so that we have wreaked such havoc. Teach us humility, Great Spirit, lest we perish.
We are part of the natural order and its interdependence. We cannot float above its struggles, insulate ourselves from its cycles of life and death: they are ours too.
As stewards, we are gardeners and foresters, herdsmen and tillers of the soil. And sometimes, we must take the place of things that we destroy, like Nature’s hunters, the predators which keep the biosphere in balance, though ‘red in tooth and claw’; for ‘there is a time to kill’ as well as ‘a time to heal’.
Teach us, Great Spirit, to do both with reverence and compassion. But there is never a time to be cruel or to wantonly despoil. And neither is there a time to feel guilt at being who we are.
We belong here. We have a right to be here. We are children of the earth, with all its blood and beauty, all its sentience and insouciance, all its suffering and pain.
Like all creatures who breathe your breath of life – the lion, the wolf, the bear, the great whale, the scurrying ant – we are your vessels, Great Spirit, members of this good creation.
We are involved in it. We cannot live untouched or not touching. Save us from being pillagers and poisoners, inflictors of cruelty. And save us from the sentimentality that morphs into intolerance and hatred.
So may our brief tenure of the earth leave it rich in kindness, life and beauty.
Time of Stillness and Reflection Sacred Landscapes from Sacred Earth by Cliff Reed (adapted)
We give thanks
for our sacred landscapes,
where God and Nature and people
all belong and are at one.
We give thanks
for our sacred landscapes here in this land,
where ancient monuments to faith
rise from tranquil valleys, bustling towns,
and rolling fields towards the eternal sky.
We give thanks for the artists,
for Constable and Gainsborough and all the rest,
whose spirits have been stirred by our sacred landscape,
whose works bear witness to the soul’s response to nature
and help us to stir our own.
O God, clear our sight to see
the beauty of the world,
to reflect in it our lives, and
to be its good stewards in the face
of all that threatens it.
Musical Interlude A Welsh Wedding by Elizabeth Harley
Address Lighten Our Steps
Seventy years ago, on 17th April 1951, the Peak District was designated as the United Kingdom’s first National Park. There are now fifteen of them: the Broads, Dartmoor, Exmoor, the Lake District, the New Forest, the Peak District, Northumberland, the North York Moors, the Yorkshire Dales and the South Downs in England; the Brecon Beacons, the Pembrokeshire Coast and Snowdonia in Wales; and the Cairngorms and Loch Lomond and the Trossachs in Scotland. Each is an area of outstanding natural beauty.
According to Wikipedia, they are areas of relatively undeveloped and scenic landscape. It explains, “designation as a national park may include substantial settlements and human land uses which are often integral parts of the landscape, and land within a national park remains largely in private ownership. These parks are not truly national parks according to the internationally accepted standard of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, but they are areas of outstanding landscape where habitation and commercial activities are restricted.” Each is managed by its own national park authority.
I am sure that most of us will have visited one or more of the UK’s national parks during our lifetimes and been awed and uplifted by their grandeur and beauty. We value them, as our first reading showed, as “places for escape, adventure, enjoyment, inspiration and reflection.”
The national park authorities have a tough job: their dual role is first, to conserve and enhance the flora and fauna within each park, as we saw in the National Parks Authority’s vision statement, and second, to promote their use by visitors. As the Wikipedia article remarks, “These two objectives cause frequent conflicts between the needs of different groups of people. It is estimated that the national parks of England and Wales receive 110 million visitors each year. Most of the time it is possible to achieve both the original two purposes by good management. Occasionally a situation arises where access for the public is in direct conflict with conservation.” This might be through erosion, congestion of villages and beauty spots (I visited Ambleside in the Lake District last year with my best friend, on a hot July day, and it was one long nose-to-tail traffic jam), damage and disturbance to wildlife, litter, damage to farmland, and local community displacement (because local retailers cater for tourists rather than inhabitants and “second homes” drive up house prices).
It’s all about finding a balance, so that we can enjoy visiting these beautiful places without damaging the environment, in its widest sense. Lord Sandford, who chaired the National Parks Policy Review Committee between 1971 and 1974, established what is now known as the ‘Sandford Principle’. He wrote, “National Park Authorities can do much to reconcile public enjoyment with the preservation of natural beauty by good planning and management and the main emphasis must continue to be on this approach wherever possible. But even so, there will be situations where the two purposes are irreconcilable… Where this happens, priority must be given to the conservation of natural beauty.”
As responsible people, we have a duty of care to the landscapes we visit – to “take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints, kill nothing but time,” to quote Aliyyah Eniath, author of The Yard. As the Seventh Principle of the Unitarian Universalist Association states, we need to have “respect for the interdependent web of all existence, of which we are a part.” But this is not just about being respectful when we are walking out in nature, it is also about having “a deep commitment to repair, restore and promote the web of life.”
In With Purpose and Principle, a collection of essays about the Seven Principles of the UUA, Barbara Merritt writes, “This commitment necessitates the development of our humility, compassion, respect and a heightened awareness of the consequences of our actions. … The cost of affirming our relationship with all of existence is high and demanding. We must sacrifice our self-centeredness if we want to give our attention to a creation that is much larger than our own individuality. This immense sacred relationship in which we find ourselves requires a lifetime of labour [and] hands-on involvement.”
Unitarian minister, Cliff Reed, warns us of the consequences of neglecting to do this, in What happens when?, our second reading. So how can we “lighten our steps”, so that our footprint on our sacred earth is as undamaging as possible, not only in our beautiful national parks, but also in our daily lives? Because, merely by existing, we have an impact on our world, through the choices we make, the actions we take (or don’t take). At the end of her essay, Barbara Merritt asks some searching questions, together with her own reflections on them, which I believe we all have a duty to address. I would like to share them with you, as a challenge, and to provoke reflection on how we live in the world. Because it’s not just about being respectful of our environment – walking in the world lightly is far more all-encompassing.
- “How do we greet the stranger in our midst? If every soul is part of the human family, if everyone is a child of God, then it can safely be assumed that we will welcome them with respect and dignity.
- Are we kind and compassionate to other living creatures? A reverence for life, a commitment to live as non-violently as possible, leads us into life-giving relationships.
- Do we attempt to promote and affirm the well-being of others, especially those who have fewer resources than we do? Those who are prosperous and strong have a moral obligation to work on behalf of life that is at greater risk; whether that life is an endangered species, or a neighbour in need.
- Are we aware and careful of our own impact on the natural environment? Environmentalists tell us that when we throw something away, it always shows up somewhere on earth; there is no place that we can call “away”. Luxurious high-consumption Western lifestyles are often produced at the expense of world resources, especially those of the developing world.
- Do we actively seek new ways to re-establish our connections with those people we might have previously dismissed, belittled, or disparaged? Even our enemy occupies a place in the interdependent web.
- Do we work not just the soil in our gardens, but also the ground of our hearts; paying attention to those circumstances which break us open, that call us to go deeper, that challenge us to be more responsive to our fellow [people]? Living in right-relationship, acknowledging our common humanity, will make us more compassionate, more empathetic, and more fully committed to protecting the interests of all generations; especially those yet to come.”
I appreciate that taking this on board is a big ask for all of us, and it may be tempting to shrug our shoulders, to feel overwhelmed by the size of the task, and to believe that if we can’t “do it all”, then there’s not point in trying to do any of it. But I believe that each time we consciously attempt to lighten our steps in the world, by recycling as much as we can, by making more ethical shopping decisions, by choosing to have reverence for all life, not just the pretty parts, or the parts we have natural sympathy with, we are choosing to respect the interdependent web of all life and to make our world a better place. So it is just as important to not litter our city streets, for example, as it is to not litter the countryside. It is just as important to have compassion and to *act* compassionately towards all people, all living beings, as it is to be kind to our families and immediate neighbours. Because all people, all living things, are part of that interdependent web of life.
It is the work of a lifetime to address all these matters. But each of us can start from where we are, with the lives we have, and do what we can to make our relationship with our sacred earth, with each other, life-affirming and life-enhancing. As Cliff Reed wrote, “May our brief tenure of the earth leave it rich in kindness, life and beauty.”
May it be so, Amen.
Spirit of Life and Love,
open our hearts and minds
to the understanding that we are all
part of the interdependent web of life,
and that we have a duty of respect
and compassion towards the other.
May we strive to live in right relationship
With all living beings.
May we return to our everyday world refreshed,
may we share the love we feel,
may we look out for each other,
and may we keep up our hearts,
now and in the days to come,
Postlude Lady of Lewesdon Hill by Elizabeth Harley