Prelude Clouds by Elizabeth Harley
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 Benjamin Downing (adapted)
Friends, draw close (in your hearts).
Listen together. Pray together.
Share the mysteries which never die, and the
silences that never cease. And as we share
and celebrate and worship, one in all, and all in each,
may we feel and know that we are being understood better
than we know and understand ourselves.
May we give to the winds our fears.
May we give to the world our faith.
May we give to Life our thanks and our service,
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 hermit, who visited the city once a year, came forth and said, Speak to us of Pleasure.
And he answered, saying:
Pleasure is a freedom-song,
But it is not freedom.
It is the blossoming of your desires,
But it is not their fruit.
It is a depth calling unto a height,
But it is not the deep nor the high.
It is the caged bird taking wing,
But it is not space encompassed.
Ay, in very truth, pleasure is a freedom-song.
And I fain would have you sing it with fullness of heart; yet I would not have you lose your hearts in the singing….
And now you ask in your heart, “How shall we distinguish that which is good in pleasure from that which is not good?”
Go to your fields and your gardens, and you shall learn that it is the pleasure of the bee to gather the honey of the flower,
But it is also the pleasure of the flower to yield its honey to the bee.
For to the bee a flower is a fountain of life,
And to the flower a bee is a messenger of love,
And to both, bee and flower, the giving and the receiving of pleasure is a need and an ecstasy.
People of Orphalese, be in your pleasures like the flowers and the bees.
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 Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis
In these wonderful letters from a senior to a junior devil, “the Enemy” referred to is God.
Never forget that when we are dealing with any pleasure in its healthy and normal and satisfying form, we are, in a sense, on the Enemy’s ground. I know we have won many a soul through pleasure. All the same, it is His invention, not ours. He made the pleasures: all our research so far has not enabled us to produce one. All we can do is to encourage humans to take the pleasures which our Enemy has produced, at times, or in ways, or in degrees, which He has forbidden. Hence we always try to work away from the natural condition of any pleasure to that in which it is least natural, least redolent of its Maker, and least pleasurable. An ever-increasing craving for an ever- diminishing pleasure is the formula. It is more certain; and it’s better style. To get the man’s soul and give him nothing in return – that is what really gladdens our Father’s heart.
Prayer In one direction from Carnival of Lamps by Cliff Reed (adapted)
Spirit of Life and Love,
Our lives move in one direction, but we need not fear the destination. There are worse things than journey’s end, if end it be…
Worse things, like living without purpose, living without love, living without ever having seen the gossamer in autumn.
Spirit of Life, we are grateful for the things we need for our existence – our food and drink, our shelter from the storm, the clothes on our backs; the basics that everyone on earth should have.
But, as Jesus said, ‘life is more than food’. Help us to receive with gratitude the things we need to live: the loving touch, the word of comfort, the vision of earth’s glory, the sense of your presence in all Creation…..
Our lives move in one direction, there is no going back.
May joy be ours on the journey; joy in sharing it with those who share the Way. However long the road, however hard, help us, amid the tears, always to find reasons for laughter, song, and praise as we travel together.
May it be so, Amen
Reading from The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis
The long and the short of it is that you have let the man slip through your fingers…. On your own showing you first of all allowed the patient to read a book he really enjoyed, because he enjoyed it and not in order to make clever remarks about it to his new friends. In the second place, you allowed him to walk down to the old mill and have tea there – a walk through country he really likes and taken alone. In other words, you allowed him two real positive Pleasures. Were you so ignorant as not to see the danger of this? …The deepest likings and impulses of any man are the raw material, the starting point, with which the Enemy has furnished him. To get him away from those is therefore always a point gained; even in things indifferent it is always desirable to substitute the standards of the World, or convention, or fashion, for a human’s own real likings and dislikings. … You should always try to make the patient abandon the people or food or books he really likes in favour of the “best” people, the “right” food, the “important” books. I have known a human defended from strong temptations to social ambition by a still stronger taste for tripe and onions.
Time of Stillness and Reflection Silence from Gathering in Prayer by Roger Courtney (adapted)
Today it is hard to find silence
We are bombarded by noise from all sides
And when we might be able to find silence,
We destroy it by turning on some noise
In order to find distraction from ourselves,
Because we are restless
Uncomfortable in our own skins.
If we experience the stillness of silence,
We might have to look deep inside ourselves,
And we are not sure if we would like what we would find.
Mother Teresa said, “God is the friend of silence.”
The trees, plants and flowers all grow in silence,
The sun, moon and stars all move in silence.
Let us take a few moments to enjoy silence…
May we allow ourselves to be who we are,
May we comfortable with who we are,
May we allow the divine to flow through us.
Musical Interlude A Welsh Wedding by Elizabeth Harley
Address On Pleasure
My Concise Oxford Dictionary defines pleasure as “feeling of satisfaction or joy; sensuous enjoyment as an object of life.” Neither of which are bad things, right? And yet the Prophet warns us of its potential dangers. “Pleasure is a freedom-song, but it is not freedom. It is the blossoming of your desires, but it is not their fruit. It is a depth calling unto a height, but it is not the deep nor the high. It is the caged bird taking wing, but it is not space encompassed… I fain would have you sing it with fullness of heart; yet I would not have you lose your hearts in the singing.”
I guess that what he means is that feeling pleasure is lovely and yes, pleasurable, but it should not distract us from the deepest and highest things in our lives. And I guess he is right, up to a point. Yet I also believe that feeling pleasure in something can lead us into those depths and heights, to moments of awe and wonder. But I take his point – we should not “lose our hearts in the singing,” not view pleasure as “an object of life” and the Dictionary has it.
On the other hand, should pleasure be viewed as an “extra”, as something we enjoy when it happens, but should not expect? For me, that is the difference between truly experiencing moments of wonder, when out in the natural world, for example, and dismissing the glories of nature as “scenery” – something we pass through without noticing it.
So I believe there is a balance to be struck between an all-encompassing pursuit of pleasure, which some call hedonism, which my Dictionary defines as “doctrine that pleasure is the chief good or proper aim”, and being so fixated on the serious matters of life that we see “pleasure” as a waste of time, because it does not forward our goals. A balance between “sing[ing] it with fullness of heart” and “not [losing our] hearts in the singing.”
I find it so interesting that people talk about activities such as eating chocolate or other forms of self-indulgence as “guilty pleasures.” Wikipedia defines a guilty pleasure as “something, such as a film, a television programme, or a piece of music, that one enjoys despite understanding that it is not generally held in high regard, or is seen as unusual or weird.”
Yet C.S. Lewis, in The Screwtape Letters, sees such honest pleasures as defences against temptation. As Screwtape points out to Wormwood in our third reading, “The deepest likings and impulses of any man are the raw material, the starting point, with which the Enemy has furnished him. To get him away from those is therefore always a point gained; even in things indifferent it is always desirable to substitute the standards of the World, or convention, or fashion, for a human’s own real likings and dislikings. … You should always try to make the patient abandon the people or food or books he really likes in favour of the “best” people, the “right” food, the “important” books.”
Once more, it is a matter of balance. I love chocolate. I adore chocolate, especially Cadbury’s Dairy Milk. But I often feel guilty for eating it. I feel it’s okay if I only eat a 50g bar, but if my son or my husband buy me a 200g bar, I find it very difficult not to eat it all at one sitting. I just love the taste so much. But if I have two or three 50g bars in a week, I am happy with that, it feels like a legitimate pleasure. I have found my personal balance.
Lewis (through Screwtape) warns us of the danger of over-indulgence, of becoming fixated on a particular pleasure: “All we can do is to encourage humans to take the pleasures which our Enemy has produced, at times, or in ways, or in degrees, which He has forbidden. Hence we always try to work away from the natural condition of any pleasure to that in which it is least natural, least redolent of its Maker, and least pleasurable. An ever-increasing craving for an ever-diminishing pleasure is the formula.”
This is the danger of hedonism, of losing our balance in the pursuit of a transitory pleasure. It comes out in the form of addiction. I was taking “the pleasures which our Enemy has produced, at times, or in ways, or in degrees, which He has forbidden.” I quit drinking nearly seven years ago for precisely that reason; I realised that the pleasure I got from drinking red wine was getting out of control, and that I was drinking far more than the recommended weekly guidelines. I could not be one of those people who “just has a glass or two at the weekend”. I realised that it was impossible for me to moderate. My only choice was to abstain. And so I have. But it was hard.
I believe that most people have some pleasure, whether it is an appetite for a particular drink or foodstuff, an addiction to smoking or gambling, that we have to be aware of, keep on top of, lest we lose that balance and drop into hedonism. Moderation is fine, but it is not always possible.
This is not to denigrate the importance of pleasure in our lives. I believe that being aware of pleasure, of feeling grateful for it when the joy of experiencing a particular pleasure washes over us, is an important part of a rich and meaningful life. If we deny ourselves anything which gives us pleasure, we are likely to be a) miserable and b) to snap and overindulge in whatever we were denying ourselves. Which is why diets don’t work. If we decide that a particular pleasure is becoming dangerous to our well-being, because we are indulging it in unwise ways, the only solution is to dig deep and change our lifestyle.
Johannes Kepler was a 17th century German astronomer and mathematician. When I was training to be a librarian, I spent a blissfully happy year at the Royal Greenwich Observatory, in Herstmonceux Castle, East Sussex, and I catalogued many of his books on planetary motion and other astronomical subjects. He had an influence on many of his peers and successors, including Isaac Newton.
Like many scientists of his day, he was also somewhat of a philosopher, and wrote, “A hundred little joys are worth a thousand times more than one big one.” And I believe he was right. If we are awake and aware enough to notice the small pleasures of every day, our underlying happiness will surely be greater than if we are only lifted out of our doldrums by one big happy event.
There used to be a blog called Three Beautiful Things, now sadly defunct, in which the author posted daily about three things which had attracted her attention as “beautiful”. I used to read it every morning and gained an appreciation of the practice of searching for small, everyday pleasures, which would lift my spirits.
Today, for example, I asked a friend a favour, and she has responded positively and enthusiastically. And I’m going to get round to clearing the desk in my study, which has been cluttered and distracting for too long. This afternoon I intend to spend crocheting some hexagons for my new project, always a pleasure.
If we learn to notice and appreciate the small pleasures in our lives, then, as Roger Courtney so beautifully put it, in our Time of Stillness and Reflection, we can “allow ourselves to be who we are, [be] comfortable with who we are, [and] allow the divine to flow through us.”
Three small pleasures, all in one day. Why not give it a try? If it worked for Kepler, and it works for me, maybe it will work for you…
Closing Words Life’s Sweetness from Spirit of Time and Place by Cliff Reed
Grant us freedom from the fear of the future
That blights the present.
Grant us freedom from the too-desperate hoping
That denies this moment, now.
Grant us the freedom to taste life’s sweetness
And to live it lovingly…
…to let go when the time comes,
And so be blessed.
Postlude Lady of Lewesdon Hill by Elizabeth Harley