Prelude Clouds by Elizabeth Harley
Opening Words from the Hebrew Bible, Psalm 100: A Psalm of Thanksgiving
Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth. Worship the Lord with gladness; come into his presence with singing.
Know that the Lord is God. It is he that made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise. Give thanks to him, bless his name.
For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.
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, based on words from William Blake’s America.
We renew the fiery joy
for everything that lives is holy
and life delights in life,
because the soul of sweet delight
can never be defiled.
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 difficult 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 from Spiritual Literacy: Reading the Sacred in Everyday Life by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat.
Look around and you’ll see how the flowers, trees, squirrels, and stars all emanate delight in their being. The flowers give off a fragrance, the trees dance a samba for the breeze, the squirrels perform acrobatics, and the stars twinkle with glee.
Whenever you see an image of Buddha, Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh reminds us, he is always smiling. That smile reflects inner peace and joy.
… Why is it so hard for us to be joyful? Is it the pressures of life which give us no relief, or the suffering of the innocents, or the rampant injustice in the world? Is it perhaps the fact that we don’t like ourselves very much and always feel guilty? Or is it the fear that seizes us when we think of tomorrow?
Julian of Norwich, a 14th century English mystic, speaks across the ages: “The fullness of joy is to behold God in everything.” That is the secret in a nutshell. Behold the Divine Joy in the good and the bad, the just and the unjust, the past and the future, the magnificent moment and the tawdry one.
… Give yourself permission to be dizzy with joy and thankful for all the blessings which abound in your days. Give yourself permission to rejoice with others. As French Catholic novelist George Bernanos writes, “To find joy in another’s joy, that is the secret of happiness.”
Give yourself permission to feel good about helping others. As Mother Teresa of Calcutta knew: “She gives most who gives with joy.”
Rejoice and be exceedingly glad.
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 from Pollyanna by Eleanor H. Porter
Some of you may have read Pollyanna when you were young, or else seen one of the many television or film adaptations of it. Set in the early 20th century, it is the tale of a young American orphan, who goes to live with her stern Aunt Polly after the death of her father. Pollyanna plays a remarkable Game with everyone she meets – it consists of trying to find something to be glad about in any situation. Here is one example:
“Dr Chilton, I should think being a doctor would be the very gladdest kind of business there was.” The doctor turned in surprise. “Gladdest! – when I see so much suffering always, everywhere I go?” he cried.
She nodded. “I know; but you’re helping it – don’t you see – and of course you’re glad to help it! And so that makes you the gladdest of any of us, all the time.”
The doctor’s eyes filled with sudden hot tears. [His] life was a singularly lonely one. He had no wife and no home save his two-room office in a boarding-house. His profession was very dear to him. Looking now into Pollyanna’s shining eyes, he felt as if a loving hand had been suddenly laid on his head in blessing. He knew, too, that never again would a long day’s work or a long night’s weariness be quite without that new-found exaltation that had come to him through Pollyanna’s eyes.
On another occasion, she is talking to the local minister, and telling him about her father, another minister:
“I used to ask him just as I did you if he was glad he was a minister … he always said he was, of course, but ‘most always he said too that he wouldn’t stay a minister a minute if ‘twasn’t for the rejoicing texts. … Well, that’s what father used to call ‘em” she laughed. “Of course the Bible didn’t name ‘em that. But it’s all those that begin ‘Be glad in the Lord’, or ‘Rejoice greatly’, or ‘Shout for joy’, and all that, you know – such a lot of ‘em. Once, when Father felt specially bad, he counted ‘em. There were eight hundred. … He said he felt better right away, that first day he thought to count ‘em. He said if God took the trouble to tell us eight hundred times to be glad and rejoice, He must want us to do it –some. And Father felt ashamed that he hadn’t done it more. … it was those texts too that made him think of the Game.”
Prayer Strength to Love, based on words by Rabindranath Tagore by Cliff Reed
O giver of thyself!
at the vision of you as joy,
let our souls flame up to you
as the fire,
flow on to you as the river,
pervade your being as the
fragrance of a flower.
Give us strength to love,
strength to fully see and
hear your universe,
fully to live the life
that you have given us,
and to do your work therein. Amen
Reading Desiderata by Max Ehrmann
Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. ê As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons. Speak your truth quietly and clearly, and listen to others, even to the dull and ignorant; they too have their story.ê Avoid loud and aggressive persons; they are vexatious to the spirit. ê If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain or bitter, for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself. ê Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time. ê Exercise caution in your business affairs, for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals, and everywhere life is full of heroism. ê Be yourself. Especially do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment, it is as perennial as the grass. ê Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth. Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness. êBeyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. ê You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. ê And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive him to be. ê And whatever your labours and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul. ê With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.
Time of Stillness and Reflection Live Fully by Sydney H. Knight, from Songs for Living (adapted)
Let smiles brim to our lips –
not just because our hearts are brave,
but because happiness overflows from us.
Let us enjoy beauty –
not only where other people see it,
but in the unexpected things of everyday.
Let us be truthful –
not merely because life is better that way,
but because we are true to ourselves.
Let us help others –
not solely from a sense of duty,
but out of eager sympathy.
Let us always show goodwill –
not just because we feel we ought,
but because we really want to.
Let us love –
not only because love is good,
but because we cannot help it.
Let us ponder these things in the silence…[silence]
Let us live –
fully and wholeheartedly from the depths of our beings.
Musical Interlude A Welsh Wedding by Elizabeth Harley
Address Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff
When things in your life seem almost too much to handle, when 24 hours in a day are not enough, remember the glass vase and the golf balls!
One morning a professor of philosophy stood in front of his class and wordlessly began to fill a very large empty vase with golf balls. He then asked the students if the vase was full. They agreed that it was.
The professor picked up a box of tiny pebbles and tipped them into the vase. He shook the vase lightly allowing the pebbles to roll into the open areas between the golf balls before asking the students if the vase was full. They agreed it was.
Next the professor poured a box of sand into the vase filling up all the remaining space and once more asked his class if the vase was full. The students responded with a unanimous “yes.”
The professor then produced two glasses of wine from under the table and poured the entire contents into the vase, the students laughed.
“Now,” said the professor, as the laughter subsided, “I want you to recognize that this vase represents your life. The ‘golf balls’ are the important things; your family, your children, your health, your friends and your passions. In other words, all those things that if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full. The ‘pebbles’ are the other things that matter like your job, your house, your car, holidays, etc. The sand is everything else, all the small stuff.
Now if you put the sand into the vase first,” he continued, “there is no room for the ‘pebbles’ or the ‘golf balls’. The same goes for life. If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff, you will never have room for the things that are truly important to you. So pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness, play with your children, take care of your health, make time for your friends and go out to dinner with your partner because there will always be time to clean the house and fix the car. Set your priorities and take care of the ‘golf balls’ first for they are the things that really matter; all the rest is just sand.”
One of the students raised her hand and asked, “What does the wine represent?” The professor smiled, “I’m glad you asked. I was also showing you that no matter how full your life may seem there’s always room for a couple of glasses of wine with a friend.”
This morning I’m going to talk about two things: finding the right balance in our lives and appreciating what we have.
This demonstration I have just done / told you about is all about finding the right balance in our lives. In the 21st century, this can seem to be an impossible task. Most adults have to be skilled multi-taskers, to use today’s jargon – they have to balance the myriad demands of career, family, spirituality, exercise, and perhaps even find time for some social life. So working out what is most important to us and our happiness is a crucial skill. As the professor explained to the students, these are our family, our children, our health, our friends and our passions, which for most of us here would include some spiritual / religious dimension in our lives.
Sorting out our priorities, our “golf balls”, can be a difficult task. As the professor said, they are “all those things that if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full.” But working out what it is we truly value can be hard, and people get it wrong. We’ve all heard of top business types who are so addicted to their work that they take their laptops and smart phones on holiday with them. To my mind, they are out of balance, and their health and family and social lives will suffer.
So how should we approach this most important task? Bill Adams, author of The Five Lessons of Life, passes on the following method from his teacher, Sangratan, the Amchi teacher from the Himalayas:
“Firstly, think of the things and people you value most. Give yourself plenty of time to do this, in an environment where you will not be disturbed.
Secondly, on a piece of paper, list all those things that you value most, and why you value them. Include such things as family, relationships, health, career, religion, hobbies.
Thirdly, try to number them in order of importance, beginning at 1.
Fourthly, examine your choices. Be honest with yourself. Consider the questions [that follow]:
- What do you spend most of your free time thinking about, or wishing for?
- What have you always wanted?
- What gives you most pleasure?
- What ways of behaving do you find most admirable?
- Are there things you enjoyed as a child which you were told to put away for the sake of a career or a relationship? If so, do you still value them?
- Whom do you admire most and why?
- What attributes do you most value?
When you have considered these questions, look again at the list of things you value. Is there a contradiction between your most important values and what you spend most of your life wishing, craving, wanting, or working for?”
The other four lessons of life show how we can begin to rearrange our lives so that what is important to us is what we pursue most vigorously. This isn’t a once-for-all process – we will need to do it periodically throughout our lives as our circumstances change. As many of us have had to do during this period of lockdown. And will have to do again, when we move into the ‘new normal’ – whatever that may prove to be.
I believe that appreciating what we have is the other great secret of a happy and fulfilled life. We may not all be as perennially optimistic as Pollyanna, but a generally positive approach to life can pay dividends. Many religious teachers talk of being in “right relationship” with the world, of living “mindfully” and in the present. What I think they mean is that we should concentrate on the day, the moment we are experiencing, and give our whole self to it, and not spend all our time either regretting the past or yearning for a hypothetical ideal future.
It is very easy to spend our lives chasing after the next thing that needs doing, the next goal that presents itself to us, the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. We move forwards through time, so it is natural to look to the future. But I am afraid that this is often at the expense of appreciating what we have in the present. This is what I mean by “sweating the small stuff”; becoming so bothered by the sand, we neglect the golf balls, and ignore the pebbles. I have certainly been guilty of this, many times.
This is why I find the words of Max Ehrmann’s poem, Desiderata, so moving and so insightful. The whole poem is full of good advice about living in the present and appreciating what you have: “Go placidly amid the noise and haste and remember what peace there may be in silence.” And “Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.” And “Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself.” And “Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.” Whenever I read it, I feel centred, as though someone has patted me on the shoulder and said, “There, it’s all right. Things are fine. You’re fine.”
So let us all try to discover what things we value the most and arrange our lives so that these have the highest priority. Let us try to appreciate the many good things in our lives – cultivating an awareness of our blessings and thanking God for them. Let us rejoice and be exceedingly glad.
I would like to close with some wise words from an anonymous Irish poet:
Take time to work – it is the price of success.
Take time to think – it is the source of power.
Take time to play – it is the secret of perpetual youth.
Take time to read – it is the foundation of wisdom.
Take time to be friendly – it is the road to happiness.
Take time to dream – it is hitching your wagon to a star.
Take time to love and be loved – it is the privilege of the Gods.
Take time to look around – the day is too short to be selfish.
Take time to laugh – it is the music of the soul.
In the days and months ahead, may we all follow our bliss and take time to appreciate what we have.
Spirit of Life and Love,
Open our hearts and minds
To new hope, to new appreciation
Of even the smallest joys in our lives.
Help us not to sweat the small stuff.
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