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
Then a scholar said, Speak of Talking.
And he answered, saying:
You talk when you cease to be at peace with your thoughts;
And when you can no longer dwell in the solitude of your heart, you live on your lips, and sound is a diversion and a pastime.
And in much of your talking, thinking is half murdered.
For thought is a bird of space, that in a cage of words may indeed unfold its wings
but cannot fly.
There are those among you who seek the talkative through fear of being alone.
The silence of aloneness reveals to their eyes their naked selves and they would escape.
And there are those who talk, and without knowledge or forethought, reveal a truth which they themselves do not understand.
And there are those who have the truth within them, but they tell it not in words.
In the bosom of such as these the spirit dwells in rhythmic silence.
When you meet your friend on the roadside or in the market-place, let the spirit in you move your lips and direct your tongue.
Let the voice within your voice speak to the ear of his ear;
For his soul will keep the truth of your heart as the taste of the wine is remembered,
When the colour is forgotten and the vessel is no more.
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 Language by Phil Silk, from With Heart and Mind (adapted)
Isn’t language wonderful! Where would we be without it?
To me it seems a miracle that I can put marks on paper and expect, even be pretty sure, that other people will get a fairly clear idea of what I am saying, if they know English. They do not just ‘bark at print’, as someone once described reading. However perfect the message, however perfectly it is expressed, for communication to take place, there needs to be an able and willing receiver.
I wonder what life was like for our ancient ancestors before language developed beyond body language and varied noises? It would have been hard not only to convey information, but also to be aware of the complexity of inner and outer reality and to think, let alone imagine and plan.
We are not the only creatures to communicate, as we are becoming increasingly aware. Nature programmes on TV, for example, are helping us appreciate the importance of messages sent and received by other animals and the varieties of ways it is done. Amazing! Inspiring! Instructive! …
When we began to talk is hard to say, but writing itself seems little more than 5,000 years old. Indeed, many groups of people today do not have a written form of language. There have been thousands of different languages, many now extinct, many still untranslated. People can now talk to each other anywhere on earth. And now we can send messages to and from space vehicles in space and on other planets. (is anyone out there?) Fantastic!
Prayer by Phil Silk, from With Heart and Mind (adapted)
Spirit of Life and Love,
Let us rejoice in the history of human communication.
We are grateful for all the individuals who have shared their experiences and interpretations of life with us.
Let us also appreciate the efforts of those who continue to help us understand the multitude of tongues they use and have used.
Let us recognise the importance of being careful communicators ourselves,
Careful to think and feel clearly what we want to say,
Careful to convey messages in ways appropriate to the intended audience,
Careful to be honest but not hurtful,
Wise enough to know when to be silent and when to speak.
Let us learn to be good listeners: attentive, sensitive, patient, responsive.
There are many ways to explore life and to share the results.
May we be alive to the possibilities, recognising how connected we are
To all human beings, dead, alive and to be born.
May we also appreciate how connected we are to the rest of the universe, living or not.
Language is the medium, and the message. Long live language.
Reading from Dialogue as a form of spiritual practice by Peter Hawkins, in Being Together; Unitarians celebrate congregational life.
When we locate the divine in the connections between us, we need to have forms of being together that attend to this aspect of religion… The ability to dialogue starts with being able to listen, both to others and to oneself…. Listening is just the first step. Secondly, as Freire taught, we each must bring the qualities of humility, love, faith, hope, and critical thinking to a dialogical encounter. The third step is to learn to listen to our own responses, rather than react from them. [The fourth is] using your own intuition and feelings to play back to the other person a fuller version of what you have heard. In dialogue, we notice what thoughts and feelings stir within us when someone else speaks, and we try to suspend judgement and instead use our own responses in order to understand the other more deeply, and also to learn about our own reactions, prejudices and beliefs.
For dialogue to become a spiritual practice, there is a fifth level of listening that needs to be engaged, to create what Blake has called trialogue. Here the participants hold open the possibility of a third position. This position, not occupied by any single individual, can be seen as the place of collective witness; or the opening for grace to enter; or, if one is a Christian, the place where the Christ-energy enters. In trialogue we try not only to imagine the reality of the other within us, but also to create the space for grace. We try to be open to learning and meaning that neither of us could possibly have known before we came into disciplined relationship, one with another.
Time of Stillness and Reflection Let us be still and listen by Sydney H. Knight, from Songs for Living
Let us be still and listen… listen for all the sounds around us…
The noise of passing traffic, the steps of passers-by, a distant train or a barking dog, an aeroplane overhead or someone working…
The wind in the leaves, the rattle of branches, the singing of birds, the patter of rain, the rustle of autumn leaves or the quiet of winter snow…
The creak of a chair, the tick of a clock, the sound of our own breathing, the beating of our own hearts…
Let us listen to the sounds within us, sounds known only to ourselves…
The unspoken noisiness of our own tumbling thoughts, the silent shouting of our own feelings…
The cascading pictures in our minds’ eyes – all disturbing our quiet. Let us be still within…
Let us listen to a stillness deeper within us. Let us listen to the voice of inner silence…
Let us be still and know that God is here. Amen
Musical Interlude A Welsh Wedding by Elizabeth Hornby
Address On Talking and Listening
We Unitarians are an unusual lot. Most faith traditions offer some guidance as to what one must believe or do to attain salvation, or nirvana, or enlightenment or whatever the ultimate goal of our lives is called. But Unitarians believe that each one of us is a unique human being, and that each must find their own path on the spiritual journey.
BUT, and it is a very big but, I strongly believe that we all need support along the way. Which is why being a member of a spiritual or religious community is vital, if we want to grow into our own best spiritual selves. It is possible to learn a lot by reading or searching on the Internet, but if we do not have other people to bounce our ideas and conclusions off, we might be led up the garden path by our own imperfect understanding.
Which is not to say that we must blindly follow the paths of others. If we rely on their directions alone, and do not have our own thoughts and ideas, come to our own conclusions, we will not grow, as spiritual beings. But for me, the spiritual journey is a combination of individual thoughts and insights and sharing in community. The insights of others can lead to revelations which we would not have encountered in any other way.
Which is why both talking and listening are so important. The Prophet seems to have a low opinion of talking for its own sake, as we heard earlier. He says, “And in much of your talking, thinking is half murdered. For thought is a bird of space, that in a cage of words may indeed unfold its wings but cannot fly.”
And it is true that idle chatter will not help us to grow, and may indeed drown out the wisdom that the spirit, through the voices of others, is trying to impart. I very much liked Peter Hawkins’ reflection on what makes meaningful dialogue, which I shared as my third reading. He emphasises that listening is just as important than talking, and that to listen well, to truly be “in dialogue” with another, we need to bring “the qualities of humility, love, faith, hope, and critical thinking to [the] encounter.” We have to learn to notice our own responses to what the other person is saying, rather than reacting to them, then reflect back what we have heard faithfully. He says, “In dialogue, we notice what thoughts and feelings stir within us when someone else speaks, and we try to suspend judgement and instead use our own responses in order to understand the other more deeply, and also to learn about our own reactions, prejudices and beliefs.”
My friend and colleague, Danny Crosby, calls this process “listening with the ears of your heart”. This comes from the first part of the Benedictine Rule, laid down by St. Benedict in the seventh century. He wrote, “Listen carefully, my child, to the master’s instructions and attend to them with the ear of your heart.”
I think it is a reminder that many of us need. Because all too often, when we are talking with someone, we are already rehearsing our response in our heads, and not paying full attention to what they are saying. Listening to another person with full attention means putting ourselves aside and concentrating purely on what they are saying. It means opening our minds and hearts to what they are saying and listening without judgement.
Being in dialogue is all about sharing our stories. Which means not only talking, but also listening. As Phil Silk wrote, “However perfect the message, however perfectly it is expressed, for communication to take place, there needs to be an able and willing receiver.” This will be a familiar concept to many teachers, I guess; if the students are not listening, whatever they are trying to teach will not go in.
Listening is important, but it can be a scary matter, this not talking business. The Prophet understood that there are many reasons why people find it hard to stop talking, hard to be in silence. He said, “You talk when you cease to be at peace with your thoughts; And when you can no longer dwell in the solitude of your heart, you live on your lips, and sound is a diversion and a pastime.” He understood that some people fear to be alone, because “The silence of aloneness reveals to their eyes their naked selves and they would escape.”
On the other hand, it can be difficult to quieten our talkative minds when we do want to be silent, do want to be at peace, do want to listen to another person without interruptions. As Sydney Knight wrote, there are many things that can disturb our inner peace, “The unspoken noisiness of our own tumbling thoughts, the silent shouting of our own feelings… The cascading pictures in our minds’ eyes – all disturbing our quiet.”
Unitarian communities at their best will provide opportunities for deep sharing of the type I have been talking about. Summer School engagement groups are one example, and the Heart and Soul sessions currently being run online by Jane Blackall and others. And most Unitarian discussion groups, if they are well facilitated. In such places and at such times, when the sharing is deep, and the listening is also deep, spiritual transformation can happen.
When I was training to be a spiritual director a few years ago, one of the handouts we were given was a poem called The Sharing by Edwina Gately, about the amazing things that can happen when we share our stories openly and vulnerably, to someone who is truly listening. I’d like to share it with you, now:
We told our stories – That’s all.
We sat and listened to each other
and heard the journeys of each soul.
We sat in silence
entering each one’s pain and
sharing each one’s joy.
We heard love’s longing
and the lonely reachings-out
for love and affirmation.
We heard of dreams
and visions fled.
Of hopes and laughter
turned stale and dark.
We felt the pain of isolation and
the bitterness of death.
But in each brave and lonely story
God’s gentle life broke through
and we heard music in the darkness
and smelt flowers in the void.
We felt the budding of creation
in the searching of each soul
and discerned the beauty of God’s hand
in each muddy, twisted path.
And God’s voice sang in each story.
God’s life sprang from each death.
Our sharing became one story
of a simple lonely search
for life and hope and oneness
in a world which sobs for love.
And we knew that in our sharing
God’s voice with mighty breath
was saying love each other and
take each other’s hand.
For you are one though many
and in each of you I live.
So listen to my story
and share my pain and death.
Oh, listen to my story
and rise and live with me.
Sometimes, our faith community will be the only place in which we can feel truly heard. This is a great responsibility – offering a safe and sacred space in which people can share the deepest hopes and fears of their minds and hearts. So let us strive to follow Phil Silk’s advice and “recognise the importance of being careful communicators ourselves, careful to think and feel clearly what we want to say, careful to convey messages in ways appropriate to the intended audience, careful to be honest but not hurtful, wise enough to know when to be silent and when to speak. Let us learn to be good listeners: attentive, sensitive, patient, responsive.”
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,
May we look out for each other,
And listen well to each other.
May we keep up our hearts,
Now and in the days to come,
Musical Postlude Still We Rise by Elizabeth Hornby