Musical Prelude Clouds 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) Words by Joy Croft
As is our custom here, we light the chalice – and see!
The flame of truth burns bright,
fed by the vision of each of us,
rising from the heart of us all.
Let its light shine out as our lives shine out,
brightening the dark places of the world,
bringing wholeness and peace.
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 painful events, in their lives,
And in the wider world,
Of which we are all a part.
Reading from The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran
And a man said, Speak to us of Self-Knowledge.
And he answered, saying:
Your hearts know in silence the secrets of the days and the nights.
But your ears thirst for the sound of your heart’s knowledge.
You would know in words that which you have always known in thought.
You would touch with your fingers the naked body of your dreams.
And it is well you should.
The hidden well-spring of your soul must needs rise and run murmuring to the sea;
And the treasure of your infinite depths would be revealed to your eyes.
But let there be no scales to weigh your unknown treasure;
And seek not the depths of your knowledge with staff or sounding line.
For self is a sea boundless and measureless.
Say not, “I have found the truth,” but rather, “I have found a truth.”
Say not, “I have found the path of the soul.”
Say rather, “I have met the soul walking upon my path.”
For the soul walks upon all paths.
The soul walks not upon a line, neither does it grow like a reed.
The soul unfolds itself, like a lotus of countless petals.
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 Let it show by Michael Dadson, from With Heart and Mind
Meister Eckhart has been quoted as saying that there is ‘no such thing as a spiritual journey’… but if there was, it would be ‘only a quarter-inch long, though many miles deep.’
We know, don’t we, that weightless state of being in tune with the depths and the heights of whatever is our spiritual alignment? The momentary experience of truth and beauty lifts us out of time and space, transcending our perspectives and renewing our sense of being in the flow of life itself.
But is that it? Is that the point and purpose of our spiritual seeking; ever to increase the ability to notice, contrive, and perhaps extend, such moments of realisation, that we live ever more nearly with our spiritual truth?
Or is there an outward corollary to this inner process; an imperative not simply to know and feel something, but to show and share it?
Thank you: to the lorry driver who had pulled over, not to use his mobile or read his paper, simply to enjoy the view that had appeared in front… prompting others to notice and breathe in that same view.
Thank you: to the woman on the Underground train. Surrounded by those tight, hard faces, her hair wafting in the sooty breeze, she stood with her eyes defencelessly closed, and a look of calm delight on her face. She was obviously there, but clearly somewhere else as well – and not minding who saw it or knew it. The rattle-bang of the carriage became a softer and lighter place for the seeing.
Is your spiritual balance for your own benefit, or is it for the sake of leaking peacefulness into your surroundings, of shedding gentleness into your relationships, of witnessing depths into a shallow world?
Prayer by Michael Dadson, from With Heart and Mind.
Spirit of Life and Truth, of Depth and Beauty –
do I suffocate you with my spirituality?
Am I so busy opening myself in search of momentary glimpses,
amending my lifestyle to make them more likely,
Adopting practices and disciplines to help me hold on to them,
that I comprehensively lose sight of you in the process?
Trying so hard to have and to hold,
do I deny us the deepening relationship that comes
when my simple delight at being in tune overflows –
where it can be seen?
O, may I lighten me up,
loosen my grip, and
dare to be seen being true;
As I let it flow for others to feel,
as I let it show for others to know,
may I come to know all the more – this is real.
Reading Getting to know the stranger within by Danny Crosby from With Heart and Mind 2 (adapted)
In order to welcome the stranger knocking at our door, we must first of all get to know the stranger within us. But how do we get to know this character, who stares back at us each morning in the mirror? And how many of us really want to? Well, whether we want to or not, we must, if we truly want to welcome the stranger outside our walls.
So the question is, how do we welcome the stranger within? The first thing we have to do is to stop and let those headlights that follow closely behind us, on life’s motorway, finally catch us up. We have to start by listening to those voices that come and visit us from time to time, often in the still of the night. This might be likened to the ghost of Jacob Marley visiting Ebenezer Scrooge in Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. You will recall that the miserly and cold-hearted Scrooge is changed into a responsible citizen, a man of kindness and compassion, after being visited by the three spirits. This is not an easy process and can be both frightening and painful; but it must be done if we are going to heal those fears and desires that lead us to act out of shame. There is no more destructive force in the universe than shame.
It is of course important that we realise that the stranger within is not always the darker side of our personality. When we bury our guilt and shame, we can also hide our better selves, our assets. We hide our ‘beauty spots’ as well as our ‘warts’ beneath our public persona.
To live openly and honestly and to be truly welcoming, we need to know ourselves fully. It is only by getting down to the deeper parts of our personality that we discover the full reality of who we are. It is only by fully revealing ourselves and letting all those personality cats out of the bag, that we can even begin to welcome the stranger at our door. By allowing those beauty spots, those God-given gifts to blossom and flower, we can do as those delightful Tetley Tea bag men used to say: ‘Let the flavour flood out’.
Time of Stillness and Reflection (words by Danny Crosby from With Heart and Mind 2)
O Great Mystery, help us to experience you here in our lives.
Help us to see you as you blow
through the branches of the great trees.
Help us to feel you as you gust through our fields and streets.
Help us to taste you on the breath of those we hold most dear.
Be with us when we are afraid to delve within,
when we cannot face ourselves in the glass,
when we are paralysed by our guilt and our shame.
Sustain us as we open the windows to our hearts,
and stand before our world, exposed… but ready.
God of love, open our eyes.
Help us to discover that we are not
who we thought that we were –
that we need not fear our natures.
What lies at the centre of our being,
And all creation, is love.
Love… unconditional… everlasting… love.
Musical Interlude A Welsh Wedding by Elizabeth Hornby
Address On Self-Knowledge
I have always loved the bit 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. The theme of a recent Summer School was “The Authentic Self: Discovering the Real You” and it was a good, deep, stretching week.
This becoming who you really are is a long process, full of risk and danger. But also full of light and joy, as Danny Crosby explained in our third reading. 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 primary 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 you are, and whoever you are with, rather than cutting your cloth according to your circumstances. And it’s about doing a lot of shadow work, about digging deep to discover the real you, the open and vulnerable person behind the façade you have spent so many years carefully building. And then working out how to integrate that authentic self into the real world out there. As Danny Crosby wrote in my third reading, “To live openly and honestly and to be truly welcoming, we need to know ourselves fully. It is only by getting down to the deeper parts of our personality that we discover the full reality of who we are.”
It’s a tough call. And not for the faint-hearted. But it is so worthwhile.
I would like to share with you a quote by Elizabeth Kübler-Ross that 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 you really are, this process of gaining self-knowledge, is about waking up and becoming aware of what you are doing and where you are going; about taking responsibility for your own choices and values; and about working out what is important to you, 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 few years, I have been blessed with a wonderful spiritual director, who has gently pushed me into going deeper and deeper, into facing up to parts of me that I had hidden, and who has 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.
It is an uneasy process, this discovery of your authentic self, this journey of self-knowledge. And it needs chunks of time, if it is to be done thoroughly. In the last few years (again, 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.
The words that work for you, or the teachers that 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 UUA minister Forrest Church says, is something which is a deep yearning within us all. Kahlil Gibran’s Prophet described it beautifully in our first reading, “Your hearts know in silence the secrets of the days and the nights. But your ears thirst for the sound of your heart’s knowledge. You would know in words that which you have always known in thought. You would touch with your fingers the naked body of your dreams.”
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. Obviously, this is not as easy to do remotely, as it is face-to-face, but I think we should still try. Because doing this kind of deep spiritual work can be easier in the company of empathic, accepting others. And, as Michael Dadson wrote in our second reading, it is not only for our own benefit. Growing in self-knowledge, and letting our own authentic selves be seen, can have a significant impact on others, so that we can “leak peacefulness into our surroundings, shed gentleness into our relationships, [and] witness depths into a shallow world.”
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 Andy Pakula
Deep within you
There is a place of peace
A place of wisdom,
A place of love.
May this sacred centre be your guide
May it be your strength for the journey
May it fill you with hope when all seems hopeless
And may it lead you to know the sacredness in all.
Musical Postlude Lady of Lewesdon Hill by Elizabeth Hornby