Prelude Clouds 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,
For this one hour.
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 (adapted)
Bubbles in the river we may seem to some –
transient, insubstantial, empty;
but we are here to effervesce with loving worship,
to reflect the divine rainbow in our fragile souls,
to treasure within us, for a moment, the breath of life.
Yes, it matters that we are here – virtually, together.
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 of lockdown,
keeping in touch however we can,
and helping each other,
however we may.
We hold in our hearts
the brave and dedicated staff of the NHS,
and other key workers,
who are carrying on in impossible conditions,
and 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 Moments to be experienced: blogpost, 2nd June 2011 (adapted)
“So the day became one of waiting, which was, he knew, a sin: moments were to be experienced; waiting was a sin against both the time that was still to come, and against the moments one was currently disregarding.” These words, from Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman, have always resonated with me.
Because I really don’t like waiting days. You know the kind of day I mean – when you’ve got things to do, but they’re not particularly urgent or interesting, when your motivation to do anything at all is at a low ebb, when you’ve had all the baths you can usefully have (thank you, Douglas Adams) and when you realise with a start that you’ve spent the last hour messing around on the computer, doing pointless quizzes and looking at other people’s lives on Facebook.
It is at times like these – like right now, to be honest – that I try to remember Neil Gaiman’s Abbot of Black Friars – and realise again that moments are to be experienced, not wasted. And to recall that I am so damn lucky to be me, and to have my life in all its Western luxury – boredom is something that most of the world’s population can only dream about – they are far too busy just surviving.
May I be thankful for my blessings and grateful for all the precious moments of now that I should fill with doing what I ought or what I like, but not frittering away.
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. Amen
Reading Moments of Joy by Lindy Latham, from With Heart and Mind
Perhaps one of the most difficult things that we have to do during our everyday lives in this troubled and demanding world is to discover how to embrace and experience moments of joy as they are offered to us. Is it possible for them not to be dimmed through our awareness of the pain and demands of others, which can also include a feeling of guilt at our good fortune in the face of their difficulties?
I believe that we can do this without denying the suffering of others, or turning our backs on their needs, or indeed by just leaving them temporarily on the back burner whilst we delight in our own joy.
For me it is about learning to hold them together, so that by being alive to our own wonders and delights, this feeling can flow out to individuals and the world in a way that is both healing and enriching.
Equally as important, during the times when we are feeling overwhelmed and crushed by our own personal situations, is to find a way amongst the chaos to let those glimpses of joy move in. This is not to remove the pain, but to remind us of who we really are, and give us the confidence that ‘this too will pass’.
In the words of Kahlil Gibran, talking about joy and sorrow, “But I say unto you, they are inseparable. Together they come, and when one sits alone with you at your board, remember that the other is asleep upon your bed.”
Prayer Life’s Good Gifts, adapted from Dorothy S. Wilson, from Songs for Living
For the glory of the sunshine and the clear air of the out-of-doors,
For these, and for health to enjoy them, we are thankful.
For the shapes of the hills and the trees, and for the colour of flowers and the sea,
For these, and for sight to enjoy them, we are thankful.
For the songs of the birds and the streams, for the music of human voices,
For these, and for hearing to enjoy them, we are thankful.
For the stories and books of all ages, for the arts and songs of all peoples,
For these, and for a mind to enjoy them, we are thankful.
For all who have loved us and cared for us, asking only our love in return,
For these, and a heart to love them, we are thankful.
For all who have made the world better, for their hope and courage,
For these, and the power to do good, we are thankful.
Reading A challenge for the new year: blogpost, 31st December 2017 (adapted)
I have subscribed to liberal Catholic theologian, Richard Rohr’s daily meditations for some years now. They usually give me a life-affirming, spiritual start to my day.
At the end of 2017, I came across this passage, from The Sacred Art of Lovingkindness: Preparing to Practice, by Rabbi Rami Shapiro, which Rohr quoted, and which really resonated with me, as a challenge for the coming year:
Shapiro wrote, “Will you engage this moment with kindness or with cruelty, with love or with fear, with generosity or scarcity, with a joyous heart or an embittered one? This is your choice, and no-one can make it for you. If you choose kindness, love, generosity, and joy, then you will discover in that choice the Kingdom of God, heaven, nirvana, this-worldly salvation. If you choose cruelty, fear, scarcity, and bitterness, then you will discover in that choice the hellish states of which so many religions speak. These are not ontological realities tucked away somewhere in space – these are existential realities playing out in your own mind. Heaven and hell are both inside of you. It is your choice that determines just where you will reside.”
“Heaven and hell are both inside you. It is your choice that determines just where you will reside.” Wow. For 2018, I resolve to try to engage with the world, with each moment, with kindness, love, generosity and joy.
Time of Stillness and Reflection by Kate McKenna (adapted)
Please join with me, now, in a time of prayer, and reflection. Call it what you feel the most comfortable to call it. This time is for drawing closer to the eternal. For communicating with that which you may call divine.
Be comfortable. Be calm. Be wholly within your own being.
Let us think, for a moment, of the glories of the ordinary.
Of the minute, invisible, unthinking miracles that take place a million times even on this most mundane of days.
Let us think of the birthing, and the growing, and the flourishing and the developing and the showing.
And let us think of the love, and the companionship, and the community and the caring, and the praying.
And let us think of the air, and the light, and the breeze and the rain and the warmth.
Let us think of the talking, and the laughing, and the hugging, and also of the weeping and the mourning.
Let us think of the seeing, and the touching, and the hearing and the tasting and the smelling.
Let us think of the reading, and the learning, and the debating and the meditating and the thinking.
Let us think of these ordinary, commonplace glories, and the blessing that comes to us from ‘normal’.
And let us, too, think of those for whom these days are not ordinary. For those who long for ordinary, as a break from heartache, and sickness, and misery, and imprisonment.
And let us think, now, our own thoughts, and pray our own prayers, together, in the quiet of this sacred space and in the company of our beloved community.
Let us count our blessings as we celebrate the glories of the ordinary.
Musical Interlude A Welsh Wedding by Elizabeth Harley
Address Every Moment is Special
The inspiration for this service was a quotation from Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens. It is included in the Unitarian anthology, Fragments of Holiness: For Daily Reflection, as the reading for today, because Dickens was born on 7th February 1812. It reads, “That was a memorable day for me, for it made great changes in me. But it is the same with any life. Imagine one selected day struck out of it, and think how different its course would have been. Pause, you who read this, and think for a moment of the long chain of iron or gold, of thorns or flowers, that would never have bound you, but for the formation of the first link on one memorable day.”
And it occurred to me that not only each day, but every moment of our lives, has the potential to be life-changing, special, memorable. This may seem hard to believe, as one grey February day succeeds the next, but it is true, nonetheless. Who knows which moment might add to the “long chain of iron or gold, of thorns or flowers” that makes up the life of each of us?
There is a quotation by the 18th century German poet and philosopher, Friedrich Schiller, which reads, “Do not lose yourself in the distant time. Take the moment that’s yours.” And my readings this morning have been about the importance of living in the moment, with attention and awareness, “being alive to our own wonders and delights”, as Unitarian minister Lindy Latham writes.
Over the past few years, I have come to believe that God’s presence is everywhere, in our ordinary, everyday lives, if we had but eyes to see and ears to hear. I believe that through sacred living – weaving moments of attention into those same everyday lives, and recognising the sacred there, we will discover that which gives our lives purpose and meaning. Sacred living is about living with a new level of awareness. It is about going through each normal day, paying attention to what is happening in each passing moment. Now. And now. And now. It is about noticing the presence of the divine, the numinous, everywhere: in the natural world, in other people, in ourselves, and in things that happen to us. Then, as Mary Jean Irion prays, “Normal day, let me be aware of the treasure you are. Let me learn from you, love you, savour you, before you depart. Let me not pass you by in quest of some rare and perfect tomorrow.”
Because today is all we have. Today is the only place in which time touches eternity. I love the Sanskrit affirmation, “Look to this day – For it is life, the very life of life. In its brief course lie all the verities and realities of your existence: the bliss of growth, the glory of action, the splendour of beauty. For yesterday is but a dream, and tomorrow is only a vision, but today well-lived makes every yesterday a dream of happiness and every tomorrow a vision of hope. Look well, therefore, to this day.”
Yet how often do we spend our days (or one day or even part of a day) totally present? Appreciating every moment, every interaction, every person or object or thing our senses come into contact with? Or are we more like the Abbot in Neil Gaiman’s book, Neverwhere, just waiting for something good to happen, which we know is “a sin against both the time that [is] still to come, and against the moments one [is] currently disregarding.” I think this is particularly difficult to avoid at this time, when so many of us are confined to our homes because of the Covid lockdown. It is natural for us to be longing for this time to be over, to be looking forward to the time when we will be able to interact with other people again – to hug family and friends, to walk around without wearing a face mask.
If the wisdom of Neil Gaiman, Lindy Latham and Rabbi Rami Shapiro are to be believed (and I think they should be), it is our duty to embrace each moment as it comes, to fully experience it, so that, as Lindy points out, we can be “alive to our own wonders and delights, [so that] this feeling can flow out to individuals and the world in a way that is both healing and enriching.” As Rabbi Shapiro says, it is our choice.
Yet how do we spend our days? Many of us, especially as we grow older, spend them living in the past, looking back with either pleasure or regret (or a mixture of both). I’m not saying that there is anything wrong with being nostalgic about our past lives (in my case for a time when my knees were strong and I could run), so long as the past is a place we visit, rather than the place we live. As the Sanskrit wise one said, “yesterday is but a dream.” It is no longer real. We cannot get it back, experience it again.
Others of us spend our days in the future, always heading towards the next goal, the next hill to climb. Our diaries are full for weeks to come (even if is only of Zoom meetings!) and there always seems to be a long to-do list on the go. I write a new one (to-do list, that is) every Monday morning, to make sure that all the things I need to get done in the forthcoming week, somehow get done. And even then, it will get added to during the week. Of course, forward planning is important, as we try to juggle home life, work life, looking after children, looking after parents, some sort of social life (or we used to). If we didn’t plan, everything would fall down crash.
Then there are the dull days. Flat days, when there is a smidgeon of “so-what-ery” about life, and it is then that we can find it difficult to motivate ourselves to live in the moment, to carry out the present task, or even to enjoy the present pleasure. Days when we feel a bit like the Christian described by C.S. Lewis in The Screwtape Letters, who, “no longer desiring, but still intending, to do [God’s] will, looks around upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.”
At such times, I try to remember the Quaker Advice, which reads, “Be aware of the spirit of God at work in the ordinary activities and experiences of your daily life. Spiritual learning continues through life, and often in unexpected ways. There is inspiration to be found all around us, in the natural world, in the sciences and arts, in our work and friendships, in our sorrows as well as in our joys.”
So we have a job to do – to recognise the working of the Spirit everywhere – in nature, in humankind, in the ups and downs of everyday life. We need to keep on being mindful, so that we won’t miss the shining moments when we experience them. We need to keep our eyes open and to “listen with the ears of our hearts” as my friend and colleague, Danny Crosby, recommends, so that we can hear them too. And to realise how very fortunate we are to have been given the faculties to recognise the sacred at work in our lives. As Dorothy Wilson wrote in her lovely prayer, “for these… we are thankful.”
There is a beautiful prayer, quoted by Rachel Naomi Remen, in her book, My Grandfather’s Blessings, which sums up what I have been trying to say beautifully, and which I will leave you with:
“Days pass, and the years vanish and we walk sightless among miracles.
Lord, fill our eyes with seeing, and our minds with knowing.
Let there be moments when your Presence,
Like lightning, illumines the darkness in which we walk.
Help us to see, wherever we gaze,
That the bush burns, unconsumed.
And we, clay touched by God,
Will reach out for holiness, and exclaim in wonder:
‘How filled with awe is this place, and we did not know it.’”
Spirit of Life and Love,
Open our hearts,
That we may appreciate all the moments
In our lives, and be thankful.
May we return to our everyday world refreshed,
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