Musical Prelude: I will play some gentle, reflective music to centre myself, before the start of the service. Roots and Wings by Elizabeth Hornby
In this time of insecurity and social upheaval,
When we are unable to meet in person,
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 time.
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)
We light our chalice today
Remembering with gratitude all the front-line staff
Of our hospitals, shops and public services,
Who are selflessly carrying on,
To meet the needs of the people they serve.
We light our chalice in the hope
That our loved ones may be safe,
That all people may be safe,
And in faith that normality will return,
And that we will return to normality
As kinder, more compassionate people.
Opening Prayer (words by Martin Whitell, shared with permission)
Spirit of God and Lord of the morning,
we come together and to you
in the coolness of the beginning day.
We thank you for the hope that is ours
in the community of faith and in the determination
of the best of humanity to make this world
and every situation one of kindness and care.
We think today of those who are very sick,
those who are worried and those who are bereaved.
May they find comfort in the presence of loved ones, carers,
and the unfathomable resources of the Divine.
Be with us and help us to be what we are called to be.
Reading from The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran
Then one of the judges of the city stood forth and said, Speak to us of Crime and Punishment.
And he answered, saying:
It is when your spirit goes wandering upon the wind,
That you, alone and unguarded, commit a wrong unto others, and therefore unto yourself…
Like the ocean is your god-self; it remains forever undefiled.
And like the ether it lifts but the winged.
Even like the sun is your god-self;
It knows not the ways of the mole nor seeks it the holes of the serpent.
But your god-self dwells not alone in your being.
Much in you is still man, and much in you is not yet man,
But a shapeless pigmy that walks asleep in the mist, searching for its own awakening.
And of the man in you would I now speak.
For it is he and not your god-self nor the pigmy in the mist
that knows crime and the punishment of crime.
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.
Reading from The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran
Oftentimes I have heard you speak of one who commits a wrong as though he were not one of you, but a stranger unto you and an intruder upon your world.
But I say that even as the holy and the righteous cannot rise beyond the highest which is in each one of you,
So the wicked and the weak cannot fall lower than the lowest which is in you also,
And as a single leaf turns not yellow but with the silent knowledge of the whole tree,
So the wrongdoer cannot do wrong without the hidden will of you all.
Like a procession you walk together towards your god-self.
You are the way and the wayfarers.
And when one of you falls down, he falls for those behind him, a caution against the stumbling stone.
Ay, and he falls for those ahead of him, who, though faster and surer of foot, yet removed not the stumbling stone.
God, our Father and Mother,
Great Spirit of Life and Love,
All of us need love and connection,
In order to thrive as human beings,
To grow into our best selves.
In this time of social isolation,
Help us to show our love in other ways.
May those of us who are well,
Give generously of our time and effort,
To help those around us who are in need,
And to make them feel less alone,
By keeping in regular touch.
May those of us who are vulnerable, or ill,
Receive the help we need, and accept it with grace.
Although e-mails and phone calls
Are no substitute for the warmth
Of closer human contact,
May we all share whatever love we can,
And grow together in virtual community.
Reading from The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran
If any of you would punish in the name of righteousness and lay the axe unto the evil tree, let him see to its roots;
And verily he will find the roots of the good and the bad, the fruitful and the fruitless, all entwined together in the silent heart of the earth.
And you judges who would be just.
What judgement pronounce you upon him who though honest in the flesh, yet is a thief in the spirit?
What penalty lay you upon him who slays in the flesh yet is himself slain in the spirit?
And how prosecute you him who in action is a deceiver and oppressor, yet who also is aggrieved and outraged?
And how shall you punish those whose remorse is already greater than their misdeeds?
Is not remorse the justice which is administered by that very law which you would fain serve?
Yet you cannot lay remorse upon the innocent nor lift it from the heart of the guilty.
Unbidden shall it call in the night, that men may wake and gaze upon themselves.
And you who would understand justice, how shall you, unless you look upon all deeds in the fullness of light?
Only then shall you know that the erect and the fallen are but one man standing in twilight between the night of his pigmy-self and the day of his god-self,
And that the cornerstone of the temple is not higher than the lowest stone in its foundation.
Time of Stillness and Reflection
Let us now join in a time of stillness and reflection. The Buddhist Mettabhavana, or Prayer of Loving Kindness, is often used in Unitarian services, or for personal meditation. This is my version of it. After each line, I invite you to close your eyes, and pray for the people concerned, using the words given, if you wish…
First of all, we pray for ourselves: May I be well, may I be happy, may I be free from harm, may I find peace.
Next, we pray for our loved ones, those people who are dear to us: May they be well, may they be happy, may they be free from harm, may they find peace.
Next, we pray for someone less well-known to us, about whom we have no strong feelings, but whom we might know better, if we made the effort: May they be well, may they be happy, may they be free from harm, may they find peace.
Next, we pray for people we don’t know, for all the people who are doing their best to make a positive difference in the world, and for those who are lost in places of scarcity, grief and fear: may they be well, may they be happy, may they be free from harm, may they find peace.
Next, we pray for someone we dislike, or find it difficult to get on with: may they be well, may they be happy, may they be free from harm, may they find peace.
Finally, we pray for the world: may all be well, may all be happy, may all be free from harm, may all find peace.
May all find peace, today and always, Amen
Musical Interlude Clouds by Elizabeth Hornby
Address On Crime and Punishment
Most of the readings in Kahlil Gibran’s wonderful book, The Prophet, are quite short, so I was surprised to see how much he had to say about the topic of crime and punishment. As you have seen and heard, all three of my readings this morning came from this one source… I had to read it through several times, firstly, to understand what the Prophet was saying, and secondly, to choose which parts of this very long section to use…Because the issues of crime, and the punishment for crime are very complex ones.
In the first reading, the Prophet explains that each of us is made up of three parts: the god-self, which “remains forever undefiled”; the pigmy, that “walks asleep in the mist, searching for its own awakening”; and the man [person] in each of us, “that knows crime and the punishment of crime.” Even in this first reading, there is a lot of food for thought.
I too believe that there is “that of God” in everyone, as the Quakers say. Richard Rohr, my favourite Catholic theologian, calls this part of us, the True Self, after the teachings of Thomas Merton. This “god-self” is the divine spark within each one of us, which is there when we are born, and is always deep within us, what some call the Holy Spirit. No matter what life throws at us, no matter how we respond to what life throws at us, there is always that part of us which “remains forever undefiled”.
I have found this concept hard to grasp, difficult to grapple with. Rohr’s book, Falling Upward, and the generous and gentle guidance of my spiritual director have helped me to get my head around it, at least a little. A few years ago, I came to realise that something was missing from my life. I felt a sense of longing, for some kind of deeper connection with Something. But I did not have a clue how to get there. Which made me feel sadly inadequate. I did not know it, but I was like the Prophet’s “pigmy in the mist”.
I had been brought up in what Rohr considers to be the right way, experiencing “a combination of unconditional love along with very conditional and demanding love.” I love both my parents very much, and am grateful for the boundaries and values they taught me. I had learned the lessons of Rohr’s “loyal soldier” “to look both ways before we cross the street, to have enough impulse control to avoid addictions and compulsive emotions, to learn the sacred ‘no’ to ourselves that gives us dignity, identity, direction, significance and boundaries.” But it was no longer enough.
I recognised that what I was groping for, longing for, but completely struggling to find, was wholeness, integrity. I was uneasily aware that there were too many times in my life when I failed to ‘walk the talk’ and act as I knew I should. I also knew that I needed a guide, a soul friend, to help me. I was afraid of being judged for I was, rather than by what I did. I began to understand that it was necessary to be happy with who I am, and honest about it to myself and others.
I had the “stirring of longing and dissatisfaction” that Rohr talks about, but was unsure what to do with it. He writes: “The self-same moment that we find God in ourselves, we also find ourselves inside God, and this is the full homecoming. Until then we are homesick, although today most would probably just call it loneliness, isolation, longing, sadness, restlessness.” I could recognise all those feelings in myself. But it was not until I had worked through it all with my director, that I have come to recognise my own god-self, and start to come home.
It seemed that I needed to forgive myself for being imperfect and falling, so that I could forgive everyone else. Which brings us to my second reading, in which the Prophet explains that we are all responsible for the wrong-doings of our fellow human beings, not just for ourselves. Because as he says, “the wrongdoer cannot do wrong without the hidden will of you all.” I loved his explanation of the journey through life which we are all on, “You are the way and the wayfarers. And when one of you falls down, he falls for those behind him, a caution against the stumbling stone. Ay, and he falls for those ahead of him, who, though faster and surer of foot, yet removed not the stumbling stone.”
So it is up to each of us to help everyone else on the way – to warn our fellow travellers of stumbling stones on the road ahead, and to act as examples, even through our mistakes, to those who follow us. Which is a huge responsibility, even a daunting one. But I do believe that we are all inter-connected – what one of us does effects many other people, both known to us and unknown. This corona virus has demonstrated this all too clearly. Unless we go nowhere (admittedly easier at the moment!), see no-one, do and communicate nothing, our very presence on the earth, in our society, will have effects on other people and on the earth we live in. It is up to us to try to make our lives more of a blessing than a bane, to ourselves and to others. To leave the world better than we found it.
In my final reading, the Prophet speaks of the responsibility of standing in judgement over others. He asks how we can punish others “in the name of righteousness”, when “the roots of the good and the bad, the fruitful and the fruitless [are] all entwined together in the silent heart of the earth”.
It is a good question. He says, “And you who would understand justice, how shall you, unless you look upon all deeds in the fullness of light? Only then shall you know that the erect and the fallen are but one man standing in twilight between the night of his pigmy-self and the day of his god-self, and that the cornerstone of the temple is not higher than the lowest stone in its foundation.”
“The erect and the fallen are but one man standing in twilight between the night of his pigmy-self and the day of his god-self.” This is a broad and compassionate understanding of every member of humankind, which is often hard for us to remember. It is so easy for us to judge people and to weigh them in the balance and find them wanting. We conveniently forget that there have been times when we have fallen short of being our best selves, and condemn others, for being less than their best selves.
Jesus said, in Chapter 7 of the Gospel of Matthew, “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgement you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck in your neighbour’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbour, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbour’s eye.”
This advice may sound impossibly idealistic in today’s world. But we can at least try to aspire to it. I guess that all we can do is to be awake to the possibilities of doing wrong, try to avoid them if we can, and, if we do wrong, admit it, be accountable and make amends (if possible). And try to put ourselves in the shoes of others, before we judge them for their actions. And try to be aware of the “still, small voice” inside us, which will always nudge us in the right direction.
May it be so, Amen
Our time together is drawing to a close.
May we return to our everyday world refreshed,
May we share the love we feel,
And do the work that is ours to do.
May we look out for each other,
And may we keep up our hearts,
Now and in the days to come,
Musical Postlude For My Beloved by Elizabeth Hornby