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 Cliff Reed)
The Divine within us reaches out
to the Divine around us,
and the fire that burns concealed
in the ark of the heart, burns too
as the broader universal flame
which makes our spirits one.
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 an old priest said, Speak to us of Religion.
And he said:
Have I spoken this day of aught else?
Is not religion all deeds and all reflection, and that which is neither deed nor reflection, but a wonder and a surprise ever springing in the soul, even while the hands hew the stone or tend the loom?
Who can separate his faith from his actions, or his belief from his occupations?
Who can spread his hours before him, saying, “This for God and this for myself; this for my soul and this other for my body”?
All your hours are wings that beat through space from self to self.
He who wears his morality but as his best garment were better naked. The sun and the wind will tear no holes in the skin.
And he who defines his conduct by ethics imprisons his song-bird in a cage.
The freest song comes not through bars and wires.
And he to whom worshipping is a window, to open, but also to shut, has not yet visited the house of his soul, whose windows are from dawn to dawn.
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
Your daily life is your temple and your religion.
Whenever you enter into it, take with you your all.
Take the plough and the forge and the mallet and the lute, the things you have fashioned in necessity or for delight.
For in reverie you cannot rise above your achievements,
nor fall lower than your failures.
And take with you all men: for in adoration you cannot fly higher than their hopes,
nor humble yourself lower than their despair.
And if you would know God, be not therefore a solver of riddles.
Rather look about you and you shall see Him playing with your children.
And look into space; you shall see Him walking in the cloud, outstretching His arms in the lightning and descending in rain.
You shall see Him smiling in flowers, then rising and waving His hands in trees.
Prayer At every moment by Cliff Reed
you are with us at every moment of our lives.
You are with us in the womb’s warm darkness,
you are with us in the rude shock of birth,
you are with us in childhood’s Eden.
In the turmoil of youth, you are with us,
in the transition to adulthood and its duties,
in the search for a life-companion to share the journey.
You are with us in the fearful responsibility of parenthood,
and in the letting-go of our children as they grow,
you are with us as we take our place among the elders
of family and community.
In the coming of the twilight, you are with us,
and in the return to the Great Mystery.
You are with us at every moment,
you are with us in our worship, here, now.
Help us to know it.
Reading Our religion – a reflection from Carnival of Lamps by Cliff Reed
Our religion welcomes diversity of thought and belief, recognising that this is in tune with the diversity of human nature and experience.
Our religion upholds the freedom of each of us to be true to our own insights and conscience in matters of faith.
Our religion allows for the possibility that other people’s beliefs are valid, in whole or in part, and we extend constructive tolerance to other faith traditions and communities.
Our religion makes no claim to hold a monopoly on truth and questions the right of anyone else to do so.
Our religion is more concerned to affirm what is positive in our own belief-system, than to be negative about what others hold to be true.
Our religion is more concerned with discerning the spirit of a faith tradition, including our own, than with focussing too narrowly on the letter of its creeds, ordinances, and scriptures.
Our religion offers welcoming and loving community to all who seek us out without conditions – save that they come in goodwill.
Our religion binds us together in a free association where we, its members, can explore and celebrate the things of the spirit, both individually and together.
Our religion provides worship which, at its best, stimulates, challenges, and comforts according to need; which respects the spiritual and intellectual integrity of each worshipper; and which recognises that reason, emotion, and the fostering of fellowship all have their part to play in the experience.
Our religion recognises that the Divine is made manifest in an infinity of ways and places, and we reflect this in the diverse nature of our life as a worshipping community.
Our religion affirms the full and equal humanity of all people, and it exists to serve human need, recognising that religion was made for people, not people for religion.
Time of Stillness and Reflection The Purpose of Religion by Cliff Reed (adapted)
The purpose of religion is
to create loving community,
to foster relationships of mutual caring and respect,
to nurture the human spirit,
and to comfort, challenge and inspire us, as the need arises.
The purpose of religion is
to seek and to find a moral compass for the soul,
to make responsible use of the mind’s powers,
to help us become good stewards of God’s green earth,
and to be humble explorers of the universe.
The purpose of religion is
to celebrate life in its fullness,
to follow in the footsteps of those who have taught and lived
the better way for humankind,
and to uphold the universal values that make for
peace, justice, and happiness the world over.
Let us ponder these purposes in the silence… [silence]
The purpose of religion is
to free itself from inhumanity, bigotry, and empty dogma,
and to serve the cause of human welfare in a global
commonwealth, with joy and compassion.
May it be ever so, Amen
Musical Interlude A Welsh Wedding by Elizabeth Harley
Address On Religion
When I saw that the next homily by Kahlil Gibran’s Prophet was on Religion, my first response was, “Oh, heck! How on earth do I encapsulate “religion” in the space of an address?” Theologians and scholars much cleverer than me tie themselves in knots trying to define what it is (and is not) – if you want to spend an entertaining few minutes, I suggest you check out Wikipedia’s entry, Definition of Religion. Of all the multifarious and conflicting definitions shared in that article, I was most drawn to that of William James, the 19th century American philosopher and psychologist, in his book, The Varieties of Religious Experience: “the feelings, acts, and experiences of individual [people] in their solitude, so far as they apprehend themselves to stand in relation to whatever they may consider the divine.”
In his fascinating book, The World’s Religions, religious studies scholar Ninian Smart states, “In thinking about religion, it is easy to be confused about what it is. Is there some essence which is common to all religions? And cannot a person be religious without belonging to any of the religions? The search for an essence ends up in vagueness… And in answer to the second question, why yes: there are plenty of people with deep spiritual concerns who do not ally themselves to any formal religious movement, and who may not themselves recognise anything as transcendent. They may see ultimate spiritual meaning in unity with nature or in relationships to other persons.”
Some Unitarians feel queasy about the word “religious”, preferring to describe themselves as “spiritual”. When I carried out my survey on the beliefs, values and practices of contemporary British Unitarians in 2017, one of the questions I asked was “Would you describe yourself as religious, spiritual, both, or neither?” And the answers I got were fascinating.
Being Unitarians, members of our wonderful questioning faith, some felt the need to clarify their choice. As I reported in my summary, “Six objected that it was difficult to decide without precise definitions of both terms. Some offered their own interpretations, several commenting on the root meaning of the word ‘religion’ as ‘that which binds’. One explained, ‘I describe myself as religious because I go to be part of a congregation every week, and I like the ritual of it; I occasionally think of myself as spiritual, but am quite uneasy about the term.’
Another wrote, ‘I would say I am more spiritual than religious, but I am a bit religious, as I believe in coming together with others for worship.’ One participant commented, ‘I think they are ultimately the same thing, but ‘religion’ can be misinterpreted when it becomes too authoritarian and judgemental. I feel ‘religious’ in the sense of to re-link, re-connect with God, which is then spiritual.’ Another wrote, ‘Not sure about either of those terms. Compassion and kindness, respecting all life, are what matters to me. Does that make me religious?’ Another was ‘suspicious of spiritual on its own, as it can mean selfish and otherworldly. I am more religious than spiritual, but recognise the life of the spirit as important.’
Some owned to being ‘both to varying degrees’. One wrote, ‘Not religious in the normal sense. I do not follow doctrines that are dictated to me or fixed rules to live by, but I have deep and demanding spiritual aims and I try to live up to them, although I do not manage it all the time, of course.’”
So, how can we, how should we, think about religion? I was delighted when I read the Prophet’s piece, and saw that he had given me the answer, or at least, an answer which spoke to my condition. “Is not religion all deeds and all reflection, and that which is neither deed nor reflection, but a wonder and a surprise ever springing in the soul, even while the hands hew the stone or tend the loom?” and “Your daily life is your temple and your religion. Whenever you enter into it, take with you your all.”
Because, to adapt an old cliché, religion, however we choose to define it, is not just for Sundays (or Saturdays or Fridays, depending on your particular faith tradition). It is much bigger than that – it is about how we live in the world, about our attitude to our lives and those of all the living beings around us, and so much more. All deeds, all reflections and “a wonder and surprise ever springing in the soul,” as the Prophet says.
Like the Prophet, I believe that an individual’s religion (or spirituality) should be that all-encompassing, something that pervades every aspect of our lives. Because if we do not have the “moral compass for the soul” that Cliff Reed wrote about, we will be lost, adrift in our world.
There is a brilliant section in Stephen Lingwood’s anthology, The Unitarian Life, entitled How to Live Unitarianly. How to live Unitarianly – wonderful! In his introduction to this section, Stephen wrote, “The purpose of religious faith is not merely belief. The Unitarian faith, the Unitarian Life, is a practical religious way of life. To be a Unitarian is… to live “Unitarianly”. What does this mean? It means that Unitarians live religious lives, always open to new knowledge, but guided by the wisdom of those who have gone before us.” And he summarises what this includes, “living fully, openly and honestly; living a life spiritually awake and aware; religious seeking and finding; spiritual growth; spiritual practice and prayer; facing all the challenges that life brings to our bodies and souls; dying; engaging in relationships; giving; and being committed to fighting evil and injustice in the world.”
Which you may think is quite a tall order. And yes, it is. And the vast majority of us (myself included) will not be able to live this way all, or even perhaps most, of the time. But it gives us something to aim for, something to strive towards. If we live Unitarianly, we accept a transcendent element into our lives, and try to recognise and work with it, each day, each moment. So that we can grow into becoming our best selves, and build relationships with each other and with our world, of which we are a part.
And it is much easier to at least attempt to do this, if we are supported by a religious and spiritual community of like-hearted people. Which is why belonging to a congregation, a loving community, which will “comfort, challenge and inspire us, as the need arises”, to use Cliff Reed’s words, is so important. Religion is about being in connection with others, and with that which is beyond, which some of us call God.
I honestly do not believe that it matters, whether we consider ourselves to be “religious”, “spiritual” or “both”. The important thing is that we have some foundational beliefs and values, and a supportive, loving community, so that we can try to make sure that “All our deeds, all our reflections” are the best and highest they can be.
I’d like to finish by sharing the words of Joe Hooper, a Facebook friend of mine, as he sums up what being a Unitarian, about living our religion, our spirituality, in community, is about:
we are the community of the welcoming smile
we are the community of the proffered hand
we are a household of religious belonging
we are a church of spiritual searchers
we are a church of friendly debaters
we are a church concerned with worship
our saints are Humility, Honest Good Faith,
Openness, Freedom, Compassion
and whatever we lack
may be in the backpack
of the next pilgrim willing to join us…
Our time together is drawing to a close.
May we return to our everyday world refreshed,
May we appreciate the people 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