Online service for 23rd August: On Beauty


Prelude Clouds by Elizabeth Harley


Opening Words


In this time of continuing 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) (words by Cliff Reed)


May our flame of worship be to us

as the burning bush in which God speaks.

May it remind us of the Breath of God

that fills us and all the myriad creatures.

May we see its reflection in the water of life

that flows through Paradise.

May it bear witness to the beautiful diversity

to which this sacred Earth gives rise.


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 painful events, in their lives,

And in the wider world,

Of which we are all a part. Amen

Reading from The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran


And a poet said, Speak to us of Beauty.

And he answered:

Where shall you seek beauty, and how shall you find her unless she herself be your way and your guide?

And how shall you speak of her except she be the weaver of your speech?


The aggrieved and injured say, “Beauty is kind and gentle. Like a young mother half-shy of her own glory, she walks among us.”

And the passionate say, “Nay, beauty is a thing of might and dread. Like the tempest she shakes the earth beneath us and the sky above us.”


The tired and weary say, “Beauty is of soft whisperings. She speaks in our spirit. Her voice yields to our silences like a faint light that quivers in fear of the shadow.”

But the restless say, “We have heard her shouting among the mountains, and with her cries came the sound of hoofs, and the beating of wings and the roaring of lions.


At night, the watchmen of the city say, “Beauty shall rise with the dawn from the east.”

And at noontide the toilers and the wayfarers say, “We have seen her leaning over the earth from the windows of the sunset.”


In winter say the snow-bound, “She shall come with the spring leaping upon the hills.”

And in the summer heat the reapers say, “We have seen her dancing with the autumn leaves, and we saw a drift of snow in her hair.”


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


All these things have you said of beauty, yet in truth you spoke not of her but of needs unsatisfied, and beauty is not a need but an ecstasy.

It is not a mouth thirsting, nor an empty hand stretched forth, but rather a heart inflamed, and a soul enchanted.

It is not the image you would see, nor the song you would hear, but rather an image you see, though you close your eyes, and a song you hear, though you shut your ears.

It is not the sap within the furrowed bark, nor a wing attached to a claw, but rather a garden for ever in bloom and a flock of angels for ever in flight.


People of Orphalese, beauty is life when life unveils her holy face.

But you are life and you are the veil.

Beauty is eternity gazing at itself in a mirror.

But you are eternity and you are the mirror.


Prayer For the beauty of the world from Gathering in Prayer by Roger Courtney (adapted)

On this day, we celebrate and give thanks for beauty.


When we look at the smile on the face of a young child, or at flowers in full bloom,

We give thanks for the beauty of the world.


When we look at an ancient tree in all its glory, or at a stream effortlessly flowing down a mountainside,

We give thanks for the beauty of the world.


When we watch the waves rolling onto the beach, or look at an inspiring painting or sculpture,

We give thanks for the beauty of the world.


When we listen to a moving piece of music, or see an inspirational play or dance,

We give thanks for the beauty of the world.


When we allow our own natural creativity to find expression and when we allow ourselves to feel at one with creation,

We give thanks for the beauty of the world.


When we realise the importance of beauty in living life in all its fullness,

We give thanks for the beauty of the world.


Today, we commit ourselves to promote and protect beauty and creativity in all aspects of life for everyone.


May it be so,


Reading Nature’s hidden beauty by Sheena Gabriel, from With Heart and Mind 2


A week before Christmas, I wake to snow. There has been a light sprinkling for several days, but today the ground is carpeted in white. I resist the urge to launch straight into tasks and reflect on the scene unfolding in my garden. Snow has a stilling effect on me, so at odds with the demands of the season; and from the sanctuary of a warm room, I am drawn to its mesmerising beauty. And what makes the sight more marvellous is the knowledge that, invisible to the naked eye, millions of intricately formed ice-crystals are falling and landing like so many heaped jewels.


I reach for a book on snowflakes and feast my eyes on the symmetry of nature’s designs – each flake a work of filigree, as through crafted by hand. I ponder. For how many centuries has this miracle remained hidden from human eyes – exquisite beauty unnoticed and unappreciated? Such jewels have fallen from the sky for millennia, but before the invention of the microscope, they lay unrevealed. The first snowflake was captured on camera in 1885, by 19-year-old Wilson A. Bentley, of Vermont. Bentley, who photographed more than 5,000 snowflakes during his lifetime, and found no two alike, would change forever the way we see snow.


Snowflakes remind me of the prodigious bounty of nature, which does not wait for an audience. The fleeting existence of each flake adds to the beauty of the world, even though it leaves no record. And I reflect on how much else in this amazing universe goes unnoticed, because we have insufficient vision to see things as they really are. How much still waits to be discovered about our planet, our cosmos? Who knows what secrets now hidden, will reveal themselves centuries hence, if humankind can develop the necessary technology? But must we wait for technology?


Perhaps if we honed our eyes to look with a mystic’s vision, we would always see, as William Blake did, “a World in a grain of sand and a Heaven in a wild flower.”


Time of Stillness and Reflection by Sheena Gabriel, from With Heart and Mind 2 (adapted)


Spirit of all that is,

we give thanks for beauty unnoticed,

for the many miracles of nature,

which lie like un-opened love letters,

strewn about our feet,

awaiting a response.


May we not be blind or indifferent

to the prodigious gifts that come our way.

Grant us the vision to see

the world with fresh eyes;

to look beneath the surface of things

and be open to hidden wonders.


Help us to remember that despite

The pain and suffering that haunts our world,

Somewhere in the universe

beauty is always unfolding –

silently, secretly, without fanfare,

waiting to be discovered…


Let us ponder these things in the silence…




May we be aware of the beauty all around us. Amen


Musical Interlude A Welsh Wedding by Elizabeth Harley


Address On Beauty


A while ago, somebody asked me this question: “What makes you come alive?” and I have been thinking about the answers ever since. My first response was that it is interaction with the beauty of the natural world – walking by the sea or in the mountains, making a garden, walking a regular route and noticing the day-to-day changes in the nature around me, being awed by natural beauty – all these play an important part in re-connecting me with the numinous presence of the Divine, with making me “come alive”. To which I would add, interacting with family, friends and fellow Unitarians and f/Friendly Quakers – being in spiritual community. Which is one of the things I have missed enormously during this time of social distancing and virtual community.


An appreciation of our world in its beauty and diversity is definitely something that makes me come alive. When I go for my daily walk, it is wonderful to be out in the changing seasons – to see and savour and appreciate the blossom in Spring, the mass of wildflowers in Summer, the first conkers and the myriad colours of the changing leaves in Autumn, and the elegant spare beauty of the trees in Winter. This connectedness with the natural world is something I have learned to nurture and treasure. Which is why Sheena Gabriel’s reflection, which I shared with you as our third reading, really spoke to me. Her words reminded me to appreciate the beauty of snowflakes once more, and that we should try to “hone our eyes to look with a mystic’s vision, [so that] we would always see, as William Blake did, “a World in a grain of sand and a Heaven in a wild flower.”


But this feeling of connection with the natural world so often gets lost in Western society – we are so busy doing the job in hand, rushing to the next appointment, that we don’t take time out (as Sheena did) to appreciate the world around us. Since the time of lockdown began, I have made a point of taking a daily walk in Salcey Forest, and it has been so lovely to watch it changing day by day, from the new green of Spring, to the bounty of Summer, and now to witness the first leaves and berries of Autumn.


And our appreciation of beauty need not be limited to the beauties of nature. I thoroughly agree with American architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, who wrote, “A good building is not something that hurts the landscape, but something that makes it more beautiful than it was before it was built.” When my husband and I go on holiday, we love to explore a new-to-us city on foot, and a big part of the pleasure is admiring the wonderful buildings, as they enhance the urban landscape we are walking through. And I can think of several examples of buildings that, for me, have that wow factor. The Winter Palace in St. Petersburg is one, any cathedral you like to name, gorgeous castles… they all enrich the landscape they are in.


Last year, we visited our favourite part of mid-Wales. The sight of Harlech Castle, brooding high over Cardigan Bay, was something to behold. And the wonderful Italianate village of Portmeirion, built by Sir Clough Williams-Ellis in the heart of the Welsh landscape, but somehow seeming to belong there. Both take the breath away, both enhance the natural beauty in which they are set. Stonehenge, on Salisbury Plain, is another example… whoever the ancient folk were, who built it all those millennia ago, they certainly knew how to pick their spot. And they knew a thing or two about the path of the sun through the sky too. Monument and landscape working together.


In the two readings from The Prophet I shared with you, he reminds us that beauty is very subjective, and ends by saying, “It is not the image you would see, nor the song you would hear, but rather an image you see, though you close your eyes, and a song you hear, though you shut your ears… Beauty is life when life unveils her holy face. But you are life and you are the veil. Beauty is eternity gazing at itself in a mirror. But you are eternity and you are the mirror.”


Beauty means different things to different people; it is “in the eye of the beholder,” as Margaret Wolfe Hungerford once wrote. What does this mean? I think that it is reminding us that there is no *one* standard of beauty, particularly human beauty, in the world, no matter what the celebrity press might tell us. For example, it is a truism that every new parent thinks that his or her baby is the most beautiful creature in the world, when an objective view might think otherwise. So maybe if we can believe that human beauty is in the eye of the beholder, we might be able to avoid making snap judgements about people, based on how “pleasing” their appearance is to us, because we will understand that our standard of human beauty may not be shared by others. And that there is far more to most people than their physical features – the colour of their skin, hair and eyes, the shape of their bodies.


The importance attributed by many in our society of having a particular type of body or set of features worries me. I am not immune to this pressure – sometimes I look at pictures of the great and the good (or even the merely famous) and compare myself unfavourably to them. This even though I *know* that the photos I am seeing are often airbrushed impossibilities. It has taken me far too many years to love myself, “just the way I am”.


Perhaps the real meaning of “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” is that when you look at someone with love in your heart, they are inevitably beautiful, because you are looking at the whole person, not just at their physical appearance. Perhaps we should train ourselves to look at all people in this way, so that we may, in the words of the Quakers, “refrain from making prejudiced judgements about the life journeys of others” and “remember that each of one us is precious, unique, a child of God.”


So there are all kinds of beauty – the beauty of the natural world, the beauty of human beings. the beauty of things we can neither touch nor see, like music, or the sound of wind in the trees, or of a loved voice, and the beauty of things made by human hands. I think it is a natural human instinct to make beautiful objects. Crafters and artists of all kinds, including architects and builders, pour their souls into their work, and this shows in the beauty of the finished products. All human beings have the potential to be creators, to add to the beauty in the world, whether they use pens, paints, needles and yarn or thread, wood, bricks, stone or any other material. 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 or read it or use it.


I have a wonderful quote about the creative life by Shauna Niequist, from her book Cold tangerines: Celebrating the extraordinary nature of everyday life,  taped above my desk. It reads, “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.”


How will you add to the beauty of the world today?


Closing Words


Our time together is drawing to a close.

May we return to our everyday world refreshed,

May we appreciate the beauty all around us,

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