Prelude Roots and Wings by Elizabeth Harley
In this time of continuing insecurity and social upheaval,
When most of us 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)
We light this chalice
to bring light to our minds,
wisdom to our souls, and
warmth to our hearts:
light to show us the Way,
wisdom to walk it truly,
warmth to enfold our fellow
pilgrims with compassion.
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 A Life of Being, Having, and Doing Enough by Wayne Muller
We make only one choice. Throughout our lives, we do only one thing – again and again, moment by moment, year after year. It is how we live our days, and it is how we shape our lives.
The choice is this: What is the next right thing for us to do? Where in this moment, shall we choose to place our time and attention? Do we stay or move, speak or keep silent, attend to this person, that task, move in this or that direction?
With each succeeding moment, we make a new choice. After each decision, there is another. And another. These are not enormous choices, decisions about whether to change careers, get married, or move to a new city. Our choices are small, quiet, intimate things that flow from us as water from a mountain spring, simple, endless, each thimble of water tumbling into the next, creating a small stream that somehow, with neither a map nor a plan, through surprising twists and curving around unforeseen obstacles, somehow inevitably finds its way down the mountain to the sea.
If we follow our tiny stream, we will see that at every turn it makes a choice, to go right or left, over or around, or to pool up for a while, waiting to spill over. The stream knows nothing of what is ahead, is not conscious of planning for the future. It simply follows the path of least resistance, motivated by gravity. … So it is with our lives. The only choice we make – what is the next right thing to do – responds to a similarly vital inner gravity, an invisible thread that shapes our life, as our life meets the world.
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 Changing our Minds by Pat Womersley from With Heart and Mind 2
Countless times every day we make choices: in an emergency, urgent action may be called for, and occasionally we find ourselves struggling to make decisions in agonisingly difficult and testing circumstances.
Whilst we may seek advice and support from others, we probably assume that we should be competent to rely on our own judgement. After all, as Unitarians we claim and cherish the right to make up our own minds in matters of religious belief and practice.
Is it always desirable or appropriate, though, to reach a firm conclusion? What are minds for? Maybe they’re not intended so much to be made up, as to be kept open and receptive to change as we encounter new truths, listening to the differing views of others, achieve deeper insights, and inevitably experience potent reminders that human life is far more unpredictable, complex and mysterious than our limited and often reductionist explanations have ever envisaged…
If we make up our minds too firmly and conclusively about ourselves and others, the nature of the world we live in, and what it might mean to be fully human, we risk imprisoning ourselves within increasingly narrow boundaries. Here we may feel safer and more in control, but at the cost of denying the inescapable truth that we are part of a reality which is always in process, offering us new opportunities for developing and growing and discovering previously unimagined dimensions of being.
Prayer by Pat Womersley from With Heart and Mind 2
Creative and Loving Spirit –
You are incomprehensible in your otherness,
yet accessible to us in our everyday
experiences of living and relating,
and revealed in treasured moments of disclosure.
You are recognisable in gifts of grace that bring
blessings even in the darkest times.
Help us to be more responsive to your untiring invitations
to open our hearts and change our minds.
May we venture more courageously into unknown territory,
allow ourselves to feel both joy and sorrow more sensitively,
and acknowledge how little we know and appreciate
the inner reality of others.
May we honour the uniqueness and value
of their experience and hard-won wisdom,
respect their vulnerability, and never allow
our caring and concern to limit their freedom to change and grow.
Above all, may we be thankful
not only for your precious gift of being,
but even more for continuing possibilities of further becoming. Amen
Reading: Before the action, the pause by Jopie Boeke, from With Heart and Mind
Some years ago, I came across the above saying. It has stayed with me ever since and has helped me in times of difficult decision-making.
Waiting is difficult for many people, including me. I get impatient in long queues. I groan when I just miss the green traffic signal and I sigh when my husband does not answer my question immediately. Zen teachers say, ‘When you are most tempted to do something, don’t.’ This is probably good advice.
We are tempted to work constantly on things. Home improvement centres give us an opportunity to work on weekends and evenings as well. Many times people tell me they cannot go to church because they have too much to do on Sundays. My usual answer to them is, ‘I understand’. And I do, I truly do!
But what would happen if instead I reminded them, and myself, of the value of sitting down quietly sometime each day (and if not each day, then at least once a week at church!) to let distractions go, to refuse busy thoughts and to listen for the ‘still small voice’ that speaks below the noisy world? We just might find the real foundation for action, at the same time discovering solace and direction in the quiet centre within each of us. In the words of Reinhold Niebuhr, ‘Just because we do nothing does not mean that nothing is being done.’
Time of Stillness and Reflection words by Jopie Boeke, from With Heart and Mind (adapted)
Spirit of Life, I confess that too much of my life
consists of responding to questions;
why and how?
I yearn for times when the wheels of hurry! Hurry!
will temporarily stop
and no-one interrupts the quiet.
Spirit of silence,
shut the door of the busy world,
let peace surround me.
Lead me to an open plain
so that my soul can expand –
one with the earth and the universe –
as far as the infinite horizon.
Only then shall the fertile field of my heart
Receive the seeds of calmness.
Please, spirit of stillness, give us such times of solitude and peace.
Musical Interlude A Welsh Wedding by Elizabeth Harley
Address The Next Right Thing
It’s a funny old thing, life. Every morning we get up, wash, eat breakfast, and then face the day ahead. But how often do we actually appreciate each day, moment by moment? And how do the choices we make, moment by moment, affect how our days go? These are the things I want to reflect on, this morning/afternoon.
In her book, The Soul of Money, Lynne Twist writes: “For me, and for many of us, our first waking thought of the day is ‘I didn’t get enough sleep.’ The next one is ‘I don’t have enough time.’ Whether true or not, that thought of not enough occurs to us automatically before we even think to question or examine it. We spend most of the hours and days of our lives hearing, explaining, complaining, or worrying about what we don’t have enough of. … Before we even sit up in bed, before our feet touch the floor, we’re already inadequate, already behind, already losing, already lacking something. And by the time we go to bed at night, our minds are racing with a litany of what we didn’t get, or didn’t get done, that day. This internal condition of scarcity …lives at the very heart of our jealousies, our greed, our prejudice, and our arguments with life.”
The first time I read that, it made me laugh, and then it made me wince. There is so much more to life than trying to catch up with ourselves or berating ourselves for what we haven’t achieved … or there should be! My service today has been about taking an alternative approach to this sad litany of scarcity. I’d like to advocate living in the moment, only being concerned about the Next Right Thing.
Wayne Muller asks in the first reading: “What is the next right thing for us to do? Where in this moment, shall we choose to place our time and attention? Do we stay or move, speak or keep silent, attend to this person, that task, move in this or that direction?” I don’t know about you, but to me, this seems to be such a simple approach to life, much less stressful than being worried about a thousand possible alternatives. You just concentrate on the Next Right Thing – give that your time and attention, and then go on to the next one.
But I’m very conscious that “simple” does not mean the same thing as “easy”. This moment by moment approach to our lives *is* elegantly beautiful in its simplicity, but it is by no means easy to do. Because it means that we have to be conscious, awake, moment by moment, so that we make our many small choices with awareness, rather than blindly, depending on how we are feeling at the time. Actively considering each choice, moment by moment, actually sounds like quite hard work. But it is the most important work in the world.
If we look at our lives, really examine them, we can see that they *are* the result of all the choices we have made, in the past days and months and years. Like Wayne Muller’s mountain stream, it is a gradual, moment by moment, process. Like the stream, we “know nothing of what is ahead, [are] not conscious of planning for the future. [We] simply follow the path of least resistance, motivated by gravity. … The only choice we make – what is the next right thing to do – responds to a similarly vital inner gravity, an invisible thread that shapes our life, as our life meets the world.”
Yes, the results of this process have shaped our lives. All of us are where we are now, today, because of our past choices. And where we end up, tomorrow and the next day, will depend on the choices we make today.
It’s about learning to understand what is right for us on the deepest level – what will nourish our hearts and souls, as opposed to making us feel fearful, worried, or empty. Of course it is never possible to re-track, to un-do the choices we have already made; but we can try to be more aware of the choice-making process, so that we don’t compromise all the time, choosing the seemingly easy over the right. Because very often, a choice made in haste, just to get it over with, actually leads to more worry and heartache, rather than less.
So how can we cultivate this very sane approach to our lives? How can we follow the “breadcrumbs from God”, as Wayne Muller so beautifully expresses it, elsewhere in his book? Discerning what is the next right thing is something we need to practice every day. We also need good, honest friends, to whom we can go for advice when we are struggling, and who will tell us honestly and compassionately how we are doing; whether we seem grounded and centred, on the right track, or off-course and flailing. We also need to *be* such friends, to one another.
Living with uncertainty is not easy. In fact, most of us find it distinctly un-easy. But this is where faith comes in. We have to have faith that if we can live with the uncertainty of a particular choice, the next right thing will reveal itself to us. Brené Brown defines faith as “a place of mystery, where we find the courage to believe in what we cannot see and the strength to let go of our fear of uncertainty.” We have to believe that if we follow our intuition truly, it will not let us down.
How might a mindful day look, following only the next right thing? In his wonderful book, The Miracle of Mindfulness, Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh suggests dedicating a whole day to this practice, once a week. We might even call it a Sabbath day. Then he takes the reader through what such a day might look like. His description of it is fascinating – full of words like “slow”, “quiet”, “calm”, “mindful”, and “relaxing”. He suggests doing each thing with full attention, saying “Don’t do any task in order to get it over with. Resolve to do each job in a relaxed way, with all your attention. Enjoy and be at one with your work.”
He suggests having a drink of tea in the afternoon: “Allow yourself a good length of time to do this. Don’t drink your tea like someone who gulps down a cup of coffee during a workbreak. Drink your tea slowly and reverently, as if it is the axis on which the whole earth revolves – slowly, evenly, without rushing toward the future. Live the actual moment. Don’t be attached to the future. Don’t worry about things you have to do. Don’t think about getting up or taking off to do anything. Don’t think about departing.”
He recommends ending the day in quiet meditation, perhaps reading a passage of scripture, or a poem that means something to you, then taking a quiet walk in the night air, just following your breath.
Doesn’t that sound lovely? A whole day, spent in conscious awareness of your life and actions, just following the next right thing. No hurrying, no worrying, no thinking ahead. Just Being. Just. Being.
I wonder how different our lives would be, if we were able to do this on a regular basis? Because we’re not supposed to live like this. Every person needs to have some time to centre down, to be at peace, to recharge their emotional and spiritual batteries. I believe that one of the most important of God’s creations is the Sabbath – a time to rest, to re-group, and come back to our everyday lives refreshed. One reason why my faith is so important to me is that it has taught me that there is another way of living, even if I don’t always follow it. On my rest day, usually a Wednesday, I consciously try to live more slowly, more mindfully, more peacefully, following the next right thing.
As usual, the Quakers have got it spot on: number 3 of their Advices and Queries sums it up beautifully: “Do you try to set aside times of quiet for openness to the Holy Spirit? All of us need to find a way into silence which allows us to deepen our awareness of the divine and to find the inward source of our strength. Seek to know an inward stillness, even amid the activities of daily life. … Hold yourself and others in the Light, knowing that all are cherished by God.”
This is what following the next right thing should be like. If we can do this, as often as we remember, our lives will become more peaceful, less hurried, less stressed. May we all choose to trust our intuition, the deepest desires of our hearts, and follow the Next Right Thing.
Closing Words Connection by Cliff Reed
In the words, music and quiet of worship
We have found connection with each other,
With the Source of Hope at our own being’s core,
And with the Great Mystery whence all being flows.
We leave this sacred gathering with an inner light
to bless and guide us through the coming night
and through all the shadows that darken the days
of our lives.
Go in peace.
Postlude Lady of Lewesdon Hill by Elizabeth Harley