Prelude Roots and Wings by Elizabeth Harley
In this period of gradual unfolding,
when we have finally come 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 Sarah Lammert (adapted)
The element of fire represents passion,
veracity, authenticity, and vitality.
If the chalice is the supporting structure of Unitarianism,
then we are the flame.
We are the flame, fanned strong by our passion for freedom,
our yearning for truth-telling,
our daring to be authentic with one another,
and the vitality we sustain in our meeting together.
In all of this there is love.
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 come out of lockdown,
keeping in touch however we can,
and helping each other,
however we may.
May we remember that
caution is still needed,
that close contact is still unwise.
Help us to be grateful for the freedoms we have
and to respect the wishes of others.
May we hold in our hearts all those
Who are grieving, lost, alone,
Suffering in any way.
Hymn no. 62 Here we have gathered (CD4, track 9)
Reading from The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams
“Real isn’t how you are made”, said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”
“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” the Rabbit asked, “or bit by bit?”
“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out, and you get loose in the joints and very shabby.
But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real, you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”
Once you are Real, you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.
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 extract from a sermon Be Who You Are by Peter Friedrichs
Peter Friedrichs delivered a series of three sermons, based on the mantra by Unitarian Universalist minister Forrest Church: “Do what you can, want what you have, be who you are.”
And now we find ourselves face to face with Church’s third admonition: “Be who you are.” This is, he admits, the hardest task of all. Simply put, he tells us, to be who you are is not to “fake your existence.” He writes that “each of us is unique, with unique flaws and gifts. The world doesn’t owe us a living; we owe the world a living, our very own.” In his book, Love and Death, Forrest Church tells of the opportunity he had, as the son of the US Senator Frank Church, to enter politics while he was still working on his doctorate in theology. After running his father’s presidential primary campaign in Nebraska, the son was ready to jump into the father’s footsteps and run for public office himself. Fortunately, he listened to his father’s advice to live his own life, not the life his father had led. And in doing so, writes the younger Church, “I found my calling. I answered a call that was mine, and not someone else’s.” He goes on to tell us, “To envy another’s skills, looks, or gifts rather than embracing your own nature and call is to fail in two respects. In trying unsuccessfully to be who we aren’t, we fail to become who we are.”
Prayer by Lucy Harris
Creative Spirit, who gives us the power
to set our own meaning to our lives:
Help us to look afresh at our fears and failings
in such a way that we can instead
take the bold step of trusting.
Trusting ourselves to be true to our uniqueness
in a way that is good for us,
and fulfilling of our role in the universe.
Trusting others that there will be that of good and security
that will give our lives clarity and meaning.
Trusting You that there is form and pattern
within which we can move and learn according to our nature.
And all of this, so that we add into the sum
of all inclusion, connection, and love, and hence
oneness in the world. Amen
Reading True Religion by Cliff Reed, from Spirit of Time and Place
If a religion is true,
it sets you free to be your true self;
it nurtures loving-kindness in your heart;
it humbles you before the Ultimate – and your neighbour.
If a religion is true,
it challenges your conscience and opens your mind;
it makes you responsible for yourself and your world;
it stirs you to seek the liberty and well-being of others.
If a religion is true,
it deepens your awareness and nourishes your spirit;
it brings you comfort and strength in grief and trial;
it connects you to other people and to the life of the universe.
If a religion is true,
it will care less for dogma and doctrine than it will for love;
it will care less for rules and customs than it will for compassion;
it will care less for the gods we make than for the people we are.
May ours be a true religion!
Time of Stillness and Reflection For Ourselves by Cliff Reed, from Sacred Earth (adapted)
We pause to be conscious of that which
makes each of us unique –
the colour of our eyes and hair and skin;
our height and build; the face that is ours
alone; the inner self that no one knows;
our heritage of genes and family, of culture
and of faith, with which we build
our own special lives;
the abilities and disabilities that give us our
potential to grow and create as no-one else can;
the place where we live – the town or city,
the village, coast or countryside – that helps
to make us who we are;
our interests and hobbies; our taste in music,
books, or fashion; our likes and dislikes – all
the things that make us distinct.
Let us give thanks for who we are:
as individuals, each one unique;
as humankind, in which our individuality
contributes to the whole.
Let us respect and celebrate our own uniqueness
and each other’s too.
May it be so, Amen
Musical Interlude A Welsh Wedding by Elizabeth Harley
Address Being Who We Really Are
I have always loved the scene in the original Bridget Jones film when everything has gone wrong at her dinner party – her soup was contaminated by blue string, and her orange sauce turned into marmalade – but her friends toast her health “To Bridget, who we love, just the way you are.”
To be loved “just the way you are” is the most precious gift. And to live as your authentic self is the richest, most rewarding, and possibly most difficult, way to live.
Becoming who we really are is a long process, full of risk and danger. But also full of light and joy. It is something which tends to happen more as we approach middle-age, than earlier on in our lives, unless we are lucky. In the first half of life, we tend to be preoccupied with growing up, finding our place in the world, establishing a career and a family, or close group of friends, and then settling into that unique niche which we have carved out for ourselves.
And that is good. I’m not saying for a moment that this first half of life work is not necessary – it is vital. By the time we are approaching middle age, most of us will have a particular position in the world, a particular identity, particular roles, whether in the workplace or outside, and will be identified by particular labels. My principle labels and roles as I started this inward journey were “mother”, “wife”, “librarian”, “Unitarian” and “runner”.
This second half of life journey towards authenticity and wholeness is about the attempt to become whole, about being the same “you” wherever we are, and whoever we are with, rather than cutting our cloth according to our circumstances. And it’s about doing a lot of shadow work, about digging deep to discover the real self, the open and vulnerable person behind the façade we have spent so many years carefully building. And then working out how to integrate that authentic self into the real world out there.
It’s a tough call. And not for the faint-hearted. But it is so worthwhile.
I would like to share a quote by Elizabeth Kübler-Ross which was responsible for starting me on my journey towards authenticity:
“You must give up everything in order to gain everything.
What must you give up? All that is not truly you; all that you have chosen without choosing, and value without evaluating, accepting because of someone else’s extrinsic judgment, rather than your own; all your self-doubt that keeps you from trusting and loving yourself or other human beings.
What will you gain? Only your own, true self; a self who is at peace, who is able to truly love and be loved, and who understands who and what she is meant for.
But you can be yourself only if you are no one else. You must give up ‘their’ approval, whoever they are, and look to yourself for evaluation of success and failure, in terms of your own level of aspiration that is consistent with your values. Nothing is simpler and nothing is more difficult.”
So this journey of becoming who we really are is about waking up and becoming aware of what we are doing and where we are going; about taking responsibility for our own choices and values; and about working out what is important to us, and then living it. Like I said, it’s a tough call.
But luckily, there are many tools and wise ones to help us on our journeys. In the last decade, I have been blessed with two wonderful spiritual directors, who have gently pushed me into going deeper and deeper, into facing up to parts of me that I had hidden, and who have encouraged me and supported me through the whole process. If you are interested in doing this sort of deep work, I would definitely recommend hooking up with an empathic spiritual director.
I have always been one of those people who loved doing quizzes, in magazines, and, more recently, on Facebook. Most of them are just a bit of fun, but some can lead to new insights about your personality. There are specialised personality tests, and the description of the type you turn out to be can open doors. The most well-known of these is the Myers-Briggs test, which is widely used in both businesses and elsewhere. You can do the test for free, online.
But the one that has influenced me most is the Enneagram, which divides all of humankind into nine types. I first came across it in a workshop as part of my ministry training and was very resistant to it. The workshop leader had given each of us a sheet in advance with summary descriptions of each type on it, and had asked us to assess, as honestly as we could, which type we thought we were. I realised very quickly that I was an Enneagram Type 3, and I really didn’t like it one bit. Then I was told that the more I resisted identifying with the description, the more likely it was that it had important truths for me. And so it has proved.
As Richard Rohr and Andreas Ebert explain in their book, Discovering the Enneagram, “The Enneagram is more than an entertaining game for learning about oneself. It is concerned with change and making a turn-around, with what the religious traditions call conversion or repentance. It confronts us with compulsions and laws under which we live – usually without being aware of it – and it aims to invite us to go beyond them, to take steps into the domain of freedom.”
It is an uneasy process, this discovery of your authentic self. And it needs chunks of time, if it is to be done thoroughly. In the last few years (following a wonderful engagement group experience at Summer School) I have consciously chosen to take a half-day Sabbath every week, during which I can do this inner work, read, journal, meditate, walk in nature, but detach myself from everyday life, and try to work out and work on who I really am. This dedicated time is very precious to me, and I really miss it when I can’t do it. And I commend it to you as a practice. Obviously if you are working full-time, it’s harder to carve out some constructive me-time. But give it a go – it is so worth it.
When I am learning something new, my first reaction is always to find a book about it. Must be my Inner Librarian coming out. But there have been several books that have been key reading on my journey towards becoming who I really am, which is still very much a work in progress. And the wonderful thing about them is that the way I have read them and what I have got out of them has changed over time, as I have advanced along the path, two steps forward, one step back. Some of the books are particular to my own unique journey towards authenticity, as I have worked at letting go of addictive behaviours and ineffective anger, but some are more universally applicable.
Four which I would recommend unreservedly are Richard Rohr’s book about the Enneagram, which I mentioned earlier, and also his book called Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life. This second one puzzled the heck out of me the first time I read it – I just didn’t “get” what he was talking about – I knew that it was important for me, and that it was work I needed to do, but I simply didn’t know how. It wasn’t until I read John O’Donohue’s book Eternal Echoes: Exploring Our Hunger to Belong (again for the third or fourth time) that the penny finally dropped and my journey could begin. The last is Brené Brown’s life-changing The Gifts of Imperfection.
The words that work for you, or the teachers who will influence you will probably not be the same as mine. This is not a journey for the faint-hearted … it can (and probably should be) quite painful and uncomfortable. But to discover who you really are, “with unique flaws and gifts” as Forrest Church says, is immensely rewarding. It is the work of a lifetime, but each step we take towards authenticity, and away from the masks and concealments of our old lives, enables us to make real connections with other people, and to be at peace with our whole selves. And that is precious.
As a Unitarian community, I believe with Jane Blackall that one of our most important roles should be to create a place of refuge and sanctuary, in which the authentic selves of the congregation can blossom and flourish. And that we need to be intentional about this, through our worship services, our engagement groups, and how we welcome people into our community, and how radically inclusive we are. Doing this kind of deep spiritual work can be easier in the company of empathic, accepting others.
I’d like to finish with a poem by May Sarton, which was sent to me, by wonderful synchronicity, on the morning I was planning to write this address, and which sums up what I have been trying to say beautifully.
Now I become myself. It’s taken
Time, many years and places,
I have been dissolved and shaken,
Worn other people’s faces,
Run madly, as if Time were there,
Terribly old, crying a warning,
“hurry, you will be dead before —–”
(What? Before you reach the morning?
or the end of the poem, is clear?
Or love safe in the walled city?)
Now to stand still, to be here,
Feel my own weight and density!…..
Now there is time and Time is young.
O, in this single hour I live
All of myself and do not move
I, the pursued, who madly ran,
Stand still, stand still, and stop the Sun!
Closing Words by St Teresa of Avila
Today may there be peace within.
May you trust that you are exactly where you are meant to be.
May you not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith in yourself and others.
May you use the gifts that you have received and pass on the love that has been given to you.
May you be content with yourself just the way you are.
Let this knowledge settle into your bones, and allow your soul the freedom to sing, dance, praise and love. It is there for each and every one of us Amen
Postlude Lady of Lewesdon Hill by Elizabeth Harley