Online Service on Reason and Passion 7th June 2020


Prelude Roots and Wings by Elizabeth Harley

Opening Words

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 space of 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,
At this one 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,
Or perhaps even, a kinder and more compassionate society.

Opening Prayer

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 difficult time,
Keeping in touch however we can,
And helping each other,
However we may.
We hold in our hearts all those
Whose lives have been touched,
In whatever way,
By the coronavirus and the fall-out from it.

Reading from The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran

And the priestess spoke again and said: Speak to us of Reason and Passion. And he answered, saying:
Your soul is oftentimes a battlefield, upon which your reason and your judgement wage war against your passion and your appetite.
Would that I could be the peacemaker in your soul, that I might turn the discord and the rivalry of your elements into oneness and melody.
But how shall I, unless you yourselves be also the peacemakers, nay, the lovers of all your elements?
Your reason and your passion are the rudder and the sails of your seafaring soul. If either your sails or your rudder be broken, you can but toss and drift, or else be held at a standstill in mid-seas.
For reason, ruling alone, is a force confining; and passion, unattended, is a flame that burns to its own destruction.
Therefore let your soul exalt your reason to the height of passion, that it may sing; and let it direct your passion with reason, that your passion may live through its own daily resurrection, and like the phoenix rise above its own ashes.
I would have you consider your judgement and your appetite even as you would two loved guests in your house. Surely you would not honour one guest above the other; for he who is more mindful of one loses the love and faith of both.
Among the hills, when you sit in the cool shade of the white poplars, sharing the peace and serenity of distant fields and meadows – then let your heart say in silence, “God rests in reason.”
And when the storm comes, and the mighty wind shakes the forest, and thunder and lightning proclaim the majesty of the sky, – then let your heart say in awe, “God moves in passion.”
And since you are a breath in God’s sphere, and a leaf in God’s forest, you too should rest in reason and move in passion.

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 Meditations by Marcus Aurelius

Begin each day by telling yourself: Today I shall be meeting with interference, ingratitude, insolence, disloyalty, ill-will and selfishness – all of them due to the offenders’ ignorance of what is good or evil. But for my part, I have long perceived that nature of good and its nobility, the nature of evil and its meanness, and also the nature of the culprit himself, who is my brother (not in the physical sense, but as a fellow-creature similarly endowed with reason and a share of the divine); therefore none of those things can injure me, for nobody can implicate me in what is degrading. Neither can I be angry with my brother or fall foul of him; for he and I were born to work together, like a man’s two hands, feet or eyelids, or like the upper and lower rows of his teeth. To obstruct each other is against Nature’s law – and what is irritation or aversion but a form of obstruction? A little flesh, a little breath, and a Reason to rule all – that is myself.

Prayer: A Stoic’s Prayer by Eusebius.

May I be no man’s enemy, and may I be the friend of that which is eternal and abides.
May I never quarrel with those nearest to me: and if I do, may I be reconciled quickly.
May I never devise evil against any man: and if any devise evil against me, may I escape uninjured and without the need of hurting him.
May I love, seek and attain only that which is good.
May I wish for all men’s happiness and envy none. May I never rejoice in the misfortune of one who has wronged me.
When I have done or said what is wrong, may I never wait for the rebuke of another, but always rebuke myself until I make amends.
May I win no victory that harms either me or my opponent.
May I reconcile friends that are angry with one another.
May I, to the extent of my power, give all needful help to my friends, and to all that are in want.
May I never fail a friend in danger.
When visiting those in grief, may I be able by gentle and healing words to soften their pain.
May I respect myself. May I always keep tame that which rages within me.
May I accustom myself to be gentle, and never to be angry with people because of circumstances.
May I never discuss who is wicked, and what wicked things he has done, but know good men and follow in their footsteps.

Reading Blessed Foolishness by Andy Pakula from With Heart and Mind 2

Unitarianism is the reasonable religion. We are justly proud that our faith is not based on fantastic stories and impossible happenings. We look to science as much as to scripture in our search for meaning and purpose in life. We reject reliance on supernatural salvation for us and our world, recognising that our own hands and minds are God’s potent tools upon the Earth…

Unitarians can easily be too reasonable. We can be too aware of what is impossible and impractical. We can be too clear about all that we can not do. Dreams are not always reasonable, but they draw us forward as no other force can do. Faith is not always in tune with probabilistic analysis; but we perish in its absence.

I was a very practical young man. I chose a career that made sense, had prestige, and would provide a good income. It suited my skills well, and more – it led me to measure the world in terms of possibilities, practicalities, and evidence. It was the logical thing to do. The only problem – I was dying inside. There was no gleaming vision ahead of me to reach for, drawing me forward step by step. I plodded. I fiddled. I tweaked. And finally, with an unfamiliar flush of faith, I left for a very uncertain future.

Now, I travel a path that makes little logical sense. It is in so many ways foolish, ill-advised, and irrational. I work within a movement that has suffered severe decline and shows little indication of dramatic recovery. But practicality has given over to something far more important – vision. I hold in my mind’s eye a vision of a Unitarianism that is thriving and that helps to create a world of greater peace, justice, and love. The vision is real, and I awake each morning with that vision before me, calling to me, energising me, and drawing me forward, ready to take the next step towards the realisation of the great dream.

Time of Stillness and Reflection (words by Andy Pakula, from With Heart and Mind 2, adapted)

We pray today that we may ever have the courage to be foolish.

Spirit, may we keep from being sensible;
Shelter us from a reliance on reason and probability;
Protect us from the things that are practical.

Nothing wonderful and new is done
without a great dream to draw us forward.
Nothing great is ever accomplished
without that vision.
And there can be no progress towards our goals
without a foolish, over-optimistic faith –

A faith that says it is possible,
that says we are powerful,
that says our brothers and sisters are good,
And says that together, we can make heaven real –
right here.

Let us ponder these things in the silence…


Let us strive to make heaven real, right here. Amen

Musical Interlude Clouds by Elizabeth Harley

Address On Reason and Passion

I love the words of Kahlil Gibran, when he writes: ” Your soul is oftentimes a battlefield, upon which your reason and your judgement wage war against your passion and your appetite.” I think that this is so true of all of us – at some times, we are cool and logical and reasonable, and at others we are fiery and illogical and passionate. And that is as it should be.

I don’t know whether you know, but one of the names that Unitarians used to be known by was “Rational Dissenters”. I looked Rational Dissenters up in Wikipedia, and was interested to find the following description: “Like moderate Anglicans, they desired an educated ministry and an orderly church, but they based their opinions on reason and the Bible rather than on appeals to tradition and authority. They rejected doctrines such as the Trinity and original sin, arguing that they were irrational. Rational Dissenters believed that Christianity and faith could be dissected and evaluated using the newly emerging discipline of science, and that a stronger belief in God would be the result.” And indeed, the founder of the first avowedly Unitarian congregation in 1774, Theophilus Lindsey, was formerly an Anglican minister.

In an article about Unitarianism in Cross’s Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, the author comments: “Originally their teaching was based on Scriptural authority, but J[ames] Martineau in England and T[heodore] Parker in [the] USA led the way from Biblical to rational Unitarianism. Hence reason and conscience have now become the criteria of belief and practice for Unitarians.”

And I absolutely agree with that – what we believe and how we behave should be subject to our reason and conscience. Yes. This logical approach to life was shared by the Stoics, a school of Hellenistic philosophy which flourished between the 3rd century BCE and the 3rd century CE. One of its most famous proponents was the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius, who was Emperor from 161 – 180 CE, whose Meditation I shared with you as our second reading. The Stoics believed that the road to wisdom was a life without passions, when one acted on the basis of reason. Stoics wanted human beings to be responsible for our actions, not driven by our passions.

Professor Philip Cary, lecturer on the Great Course, The History of Christian Theology, explains the difference between reason and passion in this way: “Passions are what we suffer – what happens to us. Passions are not activities. It is an action if I raise my arm, it is a passion when I get upset. I can choose to raise my arm; I cannot choose whether I get upset. So when I raise my arm, I am responsible for that; that’s my action, involving free will. Whereas getting upset or passionate is a passive thing – it is something that happens to us – we are affected by things outside us that move us.” As I said, the Stoics believed that the wise person acts because of reason, not through passion, and that the good and virtuous person lives freely, choosing responsibly according to reason, not driven by their emotions.

Unitarians too value reason. It is one of the three Unitarian values: Freedom, Reason and Tolerance. It is strongly and fundamentally linked to freedom of religious belief – freedom requires responsibility, and responsibility requires reason. Humankind must accept responsibility for their choices and their acts. Every time we come across a new person, or a new situation, or a new way of thinking, we find that some things are better and others worse, by trial and error, by measurements of happiness and welfare, by comparison and reflection. This is how we cultivate responsible behaviour – by using reason as our guide.

The process is like this: find out what commends itself to your reason as truth and then accept that as your authority. If you work at it faithfully, your whole life long, with help from fellow pilgrims, you might become a better, wiser and more loving human being. If enough of us do the same, and put our beliefs into action, it might even lead to a better, wiser and more loving world.

But I also believe that there is more to life than being perfectly reasonable and logical. I agree absolutely and completely that the final authority for an individual’s faith should be their own conscience. But I think that this involves our hearts as well as our heads. When I first became a Unitarian, over 40 years ago, I was “converted” if you like, by reading the first section of Alfred Hall’s book Beliefs of a Unitarian, when he wrote: “But above all, it must be known and understood that Unitarianism is not a system of creeds or beliefs. It is more than anything else an attitude of mind. It is a fresh way of looking at life and religion. … It lays the stress on the reliability of the human mind to judge for itself. … Its method is that of appeal to reason, conscience and experience generally, and above all to elemental principles of truth and right which are implanted in the human heart at its noblest and embedded in the universe.”

So Hall was saying that what is in our hearts is as important as what is in our heads. Yes. I also believe that there are some things in life that are beyond reason – how we love, how we feel compassion for others, and also, to some extent, what we believe, what gives our lives meaning. I think that both reason and passion are important – I am increasingly finding that while I can reject beliefs on the grounds of reason (for example, I cannot believe in the Christian doctrine of atonement, because first, I don’t believe that a loving God would have made us all “rotten with the sin of Adam” as St. Paul puts it; second, that we are responsible for our own actions and third, that I simply cannot believe that Jesus’s crucifixion two thousand years ago can have made any difference to my relationship with God), I also believe that there are some aspects of “doing religion” or having faith that are beyond reason. For example, I have a growing awareness of God or the Spirit at work in everyday life. This is on the basis of intuition, not reason, but I believe it is real.

So I also commend to you the idea of being inspired by your own life experience, as Andy Pakula advised in my third reading; of letting our passions and emotions open us up to the work of the Spirit in the world. Let us follow the advice of Kahlil Gibran, and find a balance between reason and passion: “consider your judgement and your appetite even as you would two loved guests in your house. Surely you would not honour one guest above the other; for he who is more mindful of one loses the love and faith of both. Among the hills, when you sit in the cool shade of the white poplars, sharing the peace and serenity of distant fields and meadows – then let your heart say in silence, “God rests in reason. And when the storm comes, and the mighty wind shakes the forest, and thunder and lightning proclaim the majesty of the sky, – then let your heart say in awe, ‘God moves in passion.’ And since you are a breath in God’s sphere, and a leaf in God’s forest, you too should rest in reason and move in passion.”

I would like to finish by quoting Miles Howarth, from a speech he gave to the FOY Society in 1997. “I suggest that we Unitarians need to have the courage of our convictions, developing characteristics and practices which reflect and explore the spiritual dimension but make a clear distinction between ourselves and the traditional Christianity. Equally we should make the distinction between ourselves and the rising tide of pseudo-religious superstition and sentimentality. And should not religious liberals be trying harder to develop the emotional side of their religion? ‘Where is the passion?’ ‘A faith which fails to recognise anything beyond reason and logic will never change the world for the better, just as a faith based solely on intuition, instinct and emotion, lumped together as “spirituality” may change it for the worse. We need head and heart together: reason and imagination.”

Head and heart together, reason and imagination. May we use all our faculties to find wholeness and completion and meaning in our lives.

Closing Words

Our time together is drawing to a close.
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 The Secret Garden (excerpt) by Elizabeth Harley