Prelude Clouds by Elizabeth Harley
Opening Words by Kenneth L. Patton (adapted)
Let us worship with our eyes and ears and fingertips.
Let us feast our eyes upon the mystery
and the revelation in the faces of our
brothers and sisters (even if we have to imagine them just now).
Let us know that all lives flow into
a great common life, if we will only open ourselves
to our companions.
Let us worship, not in bowing down,
not with closed eyes and stopped ears,
but with the opening of all the windows
of our beings,
with the full outstretching of our spirits.
Let us worship and let us learn to love.
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
We light our chalice
to celebrate our heritage of light:
the light of science and of art,
the light of story and of poem,
the light of nature and of reason,
the inner light of spirit and of truth.
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,
in this not quite yet post-Covid world,
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.
Reading from The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown
The older I got, the less value I put on creativity and the less time I spent creating. When people asked me about crafting or art or creating, I relied on the standard, “I’m not the creative type.” On the inside, I was really thinking, Who has time for painting and scrapbooking and photography when the real work of achieving and accomplishing needs to be done?… It came to the point where I thought of creating for the sake of creating as self-indulgent at best and flaky at worst…
Let me sum up what I’ve learned about creativity from the world of Wholehearted living and loving:
1 “I’m not very creative” doesn’t work. There’s no such thing as creative people and non-creative people. There are only people who use their creativity and those who don’t.
2 The only unique contribution that we will ever make in this world will be born of our creativity.
3 If we want to make meaning, we need to make art. Cook, write, draw, doodle, paint, scrapbook, take pictures, collage, knit, rebuild an engine, sculpt, dance, decorate, act, sing – it doesn’t matter. As long as we’re creating, we’re cultivating meaning.
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 from Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert
Are you considering becoming a creative person? Too late, you already are one. To even call somebody “a creative person” is almost laughably redundant; creativity is the hallmark of our species. We have the senses for it; we have the curiosity for it; we have the opposable thumbs for it; we have the rhythm for it; we have the language and the excitement and the innate connection to divinity for it.
If you’re alive, you are a creative person. You and I and everyone you know are descended from tens of thousands of years of makers. Decorators, tinkerers, story tellers, dancers, explorers, fiddlers, drummers, builders, growers, problem-solvers and embelllishers – these are our common ancestors.
The guardians of high culture will try to convince you that the arts belong only to a chosen few, but they are wrong and they are also annoying…. Your creativity is way older than you are, way older than any of us. Your very body and your very being are perfectly designed to live in collaboration with inspiration, and inspiration is still trying to find you – the same way it hunted down your ancestors.
Prayer We lift our voice in praise by Reginald W. Wilde, from Songs for Living (adapted)
Spirit of Life and Love,
We lift our voice in praise –
For the benediction of great poetry,
with its healing touch upon human spirits,
For the inspiration of noble music,
which can breed harmony within the soul,
For the great and wise books of the ages,
that can lift up the mind as to the mountain tops,
For artists and creators of all kinds,
who help us to perceive the world anew.
For all fine personalities,
who carry about with them a secret music in the heart.
For all these and for the gift of creativity,
which is given to all of us,
we lift up our voice in praise.
Reading from Eyes of the Heart: Photography as a Christian contemplative practice by Christine Valters-Paintner
Contemplative practice is a receptive practice. We make ourselves available for grace to break in; we open ourselves to listen and ponder….
We often use the word “take” to describe our relationship with photography. Our culture emphasizes taking time, taking what’s mine, and taking a break. What we are endeavouring to do in this process, however, is to receive (rather than take) the gifts around us, to be present enough so that, when the photographic moment arrives, we are able to receive it fully, with our whole hearts.
“Taking photos” is a common phrase and changing that perception and process (especially if you use a smartphone, or other disposable camera) may be hard to break, but I gently invite you to consider what reframing this process might be like for you and what it evokes in you. I invite you to bring a new awareness to how words and phrases can shape our experience and practices.
Rather than “taking” photos or “shooting” them or even “making” photos, we will practice “receiving” images as gift. The traditional words for photography are possessive and aggressive. Yet the actual mechanism of photography is that light is reflected off a subject and received by the camera through the lens opening. We can create conditions for a “good” photo, but ultimately we must stand in a posture of receiving and see what actually shows up in the image.
Photographing in this way can become an act of revelation. One of the gifts of art in general, and photography in particular, is that the artist can offer others this vision of the graced ordinary moment.
Time of Stillness and Reflection We are called to behold by Richard Rohr, 16th August 2021 (adapted)
When we look at art, we are usually quick to judge its value according to our own preferences based on style, colour, size, location, and even country of origin! However, there is another invitation—one that goes beyond our likes and dislikes—and that is to simply “behold” it….
Once we decide to behold, we are available for awe and wonder, to be present to what is, without the filter of our preferences or the false ledger of judging things as important or not important. A much broader, much deeper, and much wider field of perception opens up, becoming an alternative way of knowing and enjoying….
I invite you to “behold” something today. In my experience, you will seldom be disappointed. Find a bit of ordinary beauty—a print, a sculpture, a photograph—in your home, online, or at a museum—and gaze at it until you see it as one instance of a manifestation of the eternal creativity of God. Allow your “beholding” to move the work of art beyond its mere “relative truth” and to reveal its inherent dignity, as it is, without your interference or your labels. It becomes an epiphany and the walls of your world begin to expand.
Let us try to do this in our mind’s eye, here, now…
May our eyes be opened to the glorious creativity all around us. Amen
Musical Interlude A Welsh Wedding by Elizabeth Harley
Address We are All Creative Beings
If I had been delivering this service in a church or chapel, I would have done a straw poll at the beginning, asking everyone who considered themselves to be creative to put up their hands. Then, having listened to the first half of this service, I would have asked the congregation again, “Do you believe you are creative?” I hope that more hands would have gone up.
But, if you are one of the people (which I was for far too long) who agrees with Brené Brown when she said, “I’m not the creative type,” I hope to be able to convince you that you are. That we are all creative people in one way or another. That it is in our DNA to be creative.
For the first third of my life, I was sure I was not creative. Not the slightest bit. My sister was “the artistic one”, I was “the clever one”. Then in my mid-twenties, a very artistic friend of ours, Elena, whose creative gifts I admired greatly, came to stay with us for the weekend and we visited a stately home which included the usual gift shop. Which sold small cross-stitch kits. And, with some encouragement from Elena, I bought a kit to make a card with a poppy. By the end of the weekend, hugely excited, I had finished it. I could do cross-stitch – who knew?
Yet, even though cross-stitch became an important part of my life, and I spent many happy hours stitching pictures and birth and wedding and anniversary samplers, which gave me a good deal of quiet pleasure, I still did not consider myself to be “creative” – after all, cross-stitch was just paint-by-numbers with a needle – you followed the chart and the picture happened.
One of my favourite quotes from The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran reads, “And what is it to work with love? It is to weave the cloth with threads drawn from your heart, even as if your beloved were to wear that cloth. It is to build a house with affection, even as if your beloved were to dwell in that house. It is to sow seeds with tenderness and reap the harvest with joy, even as if your beloved were to eat the fruit. It is to charge all things you fashion with a breath of your own spirit – Work is love made visible.”
“It is to charge all things you fashion with a breath of your own spirit – Work is love made visible.” In other words, being creative can be a spiritual practice.
In our complex 21st century society, we tend to buy most of our possessions from shops, which in turn have been supplied by factories, which mass-produce thousands of X and millions of Y. So it is always a treat to buy something that has been made by a pair of human hands, with care and affection. When I was on holiday on Orkney a few weeks ago, I bought a pottery tea-light holder, which had been hand-made by a local potter. And it is beautiful. And more precious, because it was made with that care and affection.
I’m currently in the process of crocheting a blanket for my son and am reminded of the quote from The Lord of the Rings, when the Lothlorien Elves say to Pippin (about the Elven cloaks) “We put the thought of all that we love into all that we make.” I have certainly been crocheting the blanket with love, thinking about my son a lot as I make it. And the same applies to all the crochet I do.
The same attitude can be brought to any task undertaken by humankind. It can be done carelessly, hastily, in a slipshod fashion, with no care for the outcome. Or it can be done with love and attention, for the sake of the work itself, and for the pride of creation and the joy of creativity.
In the last ten years or so, I have come to understand that we are all creative, in one way or another. Reading Liz Gilbert’s book, Big Magic, which has the sub-title Creative Living Beyond Fear showed me that all of us have our own creative place in the universe and that writing, painting, crafting, creating in whatever way we choose is important for wholeness, because, as I said earlier, it is ours to do.
When I first read it, I had not dipped my toe into the (to me) dangerous waters of fiction writing. I had written a memoir, Gems for the Journey, and was about to start doing the research for my book about Unitarianism in the UK, Unitarians: Together in Diversity. And of course, I was writing an address each week, as part of my ministerial role. Which, although I did not realise it, was helping me to find my ‘voice’ as a writer.
The old barrier was still there, I was not “the creative one.” The idea of writing fiction was a scary one. Where would I get the ideas? What if they stopped coming? What if the ideas were stupid? How could I dream up something original? How would I be able to hold a reader’s attention?
Because to be creative is to be vulnerable. It is to craft something with your hands and heart, something unique, never before seen, and then to put it “out there” for other people to judge and comment on. And that is brave. But it is fatal to listen to the voices in our heads, which tell us that we’re not creative, that what we make will be no good. It is only by “feeling the fear and doing it anyway” that we can learn to fill the place in the creative universe that is ours alone to fill.
Liz Gilbert’s philosophy is that being creative should be fun and stimulating and inspirational. That the idea of the Suffering Artist is a toxic one. If writing (or painting or whatever) gives us so much grief, why do it? She taught me that writing, that creating anything can be a joyful process, something that would feed my heart and soul. Today, I cannot imagine not being creative – it brings me so much joy. Transcending the barrier of other people’s and our own misgivings about ourselves as creative people can be hard work, but it is so worth it.
I believe it is a natural human instinct to make beautiful objects. Crafters and artists of all kinds pour their souls into their work, as Kahlil Gibran suggests, and this shows in the finished products. All human beings have the potential to be creators, whether they use pens, paints, needle and yarn or thread, wood, metal or any other material. In her latest facet of creativity, my sister has become, over the past few years, a skilled woodcarver. She carved a beautiful wooden book and quill pen for my sixtieth birthday and every time I look at it (which is often, as it is on a shelf near my desk) it gives me inspiration.
The glory of being creative is to make something new that has never existed before and is somehow more than the sum of its parts. For our own pleasure and that of those who see it, read it or use it.
We can even do our creative craft as a spiritual practice. If we think of it in this way, it can enhance the enjoyment we get out of the act of creation. I loved Christine Valters-Paintner’s idea, which I shared as our final reading, that photography can be a spiritual practice. Because, as she explains, “Rather than “taking” photos or “shooting” them or even “making” photos, we will practice “receiving” images as gift. The traditional words for photography are possessive and aggressive. Yet the actual mechanism of photography is that light is reflected off a subject and received by the camera through the lens opening. We can create conditions for a “good” photo, but ultimately we must stand in a posture of receiving and see what actually shows up in the image.”
This rings so true for me – which is why I take (sorry, receive) so many photos in Salcey Forest. I’m receiving the beauty of God’s creation through the lens of my smart phone.
I have a wonderful quote about the creative life by Shauna Niequist, the author of Cold tangerines: celebrating the extraordinary nature of everyday life, taped above my desk, which I will finish with:
“To all the secret writers, late-night painters, would-be singers, lapsed and scared artists of every stripe, dig out your paintbrush, or your flute, or your dancing shoes. Pull out your camera or your computer or your pottery wheel. Today, tonight, after the kids are in bed or when your homework is done, or instead of one more video game or magazine, create something – anything. Pick up a needle and thread, and stitch together something particular and honest and beautiful, because we need it. I need it.”
What will you create today? I hope that whatever it is will bring you (and others) joy.
Spirit of Life and Love,
open our hearts and minds
to the reality that we are all creative,
and that being creative can nourish our souls.
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