Prelude Clouds by Elizabeth Harley
In this period of gradual unfolding,
when we are slowly coming out of our year-long lockdown,
I invite you into this time of online worship.
For this short 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 short 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
Kindler of the stars
and of the fire at Earth’s heart,
be with us now as we kindle this flame,
symbol of our own flickering spirits
as they reach out to you and to each other,
in reverence and love.
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,
as we come out of lockdown,
keeping in touch however we can,
and helping each other,
however we may.
May we be content with what we have,
rather than always chasing new desires.
We hold in our hearts
all those who have helped us
to come through this difficult time,
and all 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
Readings creeds by William Ellery Channing and Ralph Waldo Emerson, from Creeds to Love and Live By, edited by SandPiper Studios
First, by William Ellery Channing:
To live content with small means; to seek elegance rather than luxury, and refinement rather than fashion; to be worthy, not respectable, and wealthy, not rich; to study hard, think quietly, talk gently, act frankly; to listen to stars and birds, to babies and sages, with open heart; to bear all cheerfully, do all bravely, await occasions, hurry never. In a word, to let the spiritual, unbidden and unconscious, grow up through the common. This is to be my symphony.
Second, by Ralph Waldo Emerson:
Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year. No man has learned anything rightly until he knows that every day is doomsday. Today is a king in disguise. Today always looks mean to the thoughtless, in the face of a uniform experience that all good and great and happy actions are made up precisely of these blank todays. Let us not be so deceived; let us unmask the king as he passes! He only is rich who owns the day, and no-one owns the day who allows it to be invaded with worry, fret and anxiety.
Finish every day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; begin it well and serenely and with too high a spirit to be cumbered with your old nonsense. This day is all that is good and fair. It is too dear, with its hopes and invitations, to waste a moment on the yesterdays.
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 Living Simply by Geoffrey R. Usher, from With Heart and Mind 2
Even when we try to live simply, without extravagance and waste, most of us have much more than we shall ever need. Our wardrobes, cupboards and shelves are full of surplus stuff that we have not worn or used for a long time, but which we keep ‘just in case…’ Often it seems easier to squeeze new things into already full storage spaces than to get rid of what we do not use.
What is true in material terms is also true in the spiritual, mental and emotional aspects of our lives. In our modern world, we can suffer from ‘information over-load’ when we are bombarded with great quantities of information which other people want to give us but which we, in fact, neither need nor want. We carry with us emotional baggage from the past: memories of hurtful comments, disappointments, failures, unhappy experiences, frustrations, damaged relationships. Our religious life is befuddled with childhood images, half-formed and confused concepts which do not square with our adult knowledge and experience of the world.
How much might we reduce our stress levels if we reduced the clutter in our lives? Can we resolve to dispose of the things we no longer need – which serve no useful purpose – and be happy to make more satisfying use of what remains? Can we make more use of recycling facilities; can we give more of our unused or surplus possessions to charity shops, thereby helping them as well as ourselves? Can we apply to our daily lives the old slogan, ‘Live simply, that others may simply live’?
And can we dispose of the unhelpful muddle in our religious lives? We can acknowledge the wonder and the mystery of the world, but concentrate on the simple message of love and goodwill that lies at the heart of our spiritual life.
Prayer by Geoffrey R. Usher, from With Heart and Mind 2
God of the simple life, we withdraw
from the noise and the confusion of the world around us,
and seek the stillness at the heart of life.
Help us to put aside the many distractions
that clamour for our attention:
the concern with getting and spending,
rather than listening and reflecting;
the accumulation of material goods,
rather than spiritual insight;
the assumption that wealth of possessions
will satisfy all our needs.
Help us to clear away the confusion of our daily lives,
and to focus on what is truly important,
not only for our physical needs but also for our spiritual welfare.
Help us to be satisfied with enough,
and not always to crave for more.
May we be grateful for the abundance of good gifts
that are available to us,
but may we not be wasteful.
May we build right relationships with our families,
with our neighbours and friends,
and with ourselves.
Reading creed by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, from Creeds to Love and Live By, edited by SandPiper Studios
There are nine requisites for contented living:
Health enough to make work a pleasure.
Wealth enough to support your needs.
Strength enough to battle with difficulties and overcome them.
Grace enough to confess your sins and forsake them.
Patience enough to toil until some good is accomplished.
Charity enough to see some good in your neighbour.
Love enough to move you to be useful and helpful to others.
Faith enough to make real the things of God.
Hope enough to remove all anxious fears concerning the future.
Time of Stillness and Reflection by Celia Cartwright, from With Heart and Mind 2 (adapted)
Spirit of sacredness, be with us now.
Let us reach out to gather your strength about us and within us.
In the humdrum and the hurly-burly of our lives
we need strength for our journey,
strength to hold us when we falter,
strength to share with those who walk alongside us,
strength to keep going when the road is long and difficult.
Spirit of sacredness, be with us now.
Let us reach out and gather your calmness about us and within us.
In the midst of the clamour that fills our days
we need a quiet place in which to stop and rest,
a quiet place where our racing thoughts can slow
to a pace that we can begin to manage them, to sort them,
to act upon them, or dismiss them.
Spirit of sacredness, be with us now.
Let us reach out and gather your joyfulness about us and within us.
In the midst of the routine that fills our days
let us be reminded that life is far from ordinary,
that joy lies waiting in each bright shaft of sunlight,
in the singing of birds and the form of the hills and valleys,
and in the presence of those who share this life with us.
Spirit of sacredness, be with us now.
We open our hearts and minds,
and we receive your gifts with gladness.
Musical Interlude A Welsh Wedding by Elizabeth Harley
Address Cultivating Contentment
|The starting point for this week’s service was an e-mail I received from Thought for Today on 31st May, which read, “First of all, understand discontentment. Discontent is caused by a constant multiplication of desires. One desire leads to another until there’s never a moment when you feel fulfilled. Desires are like traps. Because of endless desires, relationships have become very fragile. There is a lot of irritability and anger due to:|
- Selfish attachments (to possessions and people)
- Pride (attachment to a particular image of the self)
|When there is discontentment, the heart can never be still because wasteful, negative thoughts destroy peace. Contentment is the result of spiritual awareness which allows you to recognise negativity. It changes your pattern of thinking. As you tap your huge inner potential, all desires are fulfilled and you regain your peace.”
“When there is discontentment, the heart can never be still because wasteful, negative thoughts destroy peace.” So how may we cultivate contentment? How can we break free from our negativity and false desires and attachments, which keep us discontented, not only with ourselves, but also with our possessions and our friends and family? How can we let go of what Geoffrey Usher calls our “emotional baggage from the past: memories of hurtful comments, disappointments, failures, unhappy experiences, frustrations, damaged relationships.”?
The readings and prayers I have chosen today give us some ideas. Two 19th century Transcendentalists and Unitarian ministers have some good advice. William Ellery Channing, suggests we should “let the spiritual, unbidden and unconscious, grow up through the common,” by which I think he means allowing spiritual values to influence our life choices. Ralph Waldo Emerson suggests that we should be present to what is happening today, advising us that, “He only is rich who owns the day, and no-one owns the day who allows it to be invaded with worry, fret and anxiety.” He says that at the end of each day, we should let go of what has happened to us, advising, “Finish every day and be done with it. You have done what you could… This day is all that is good and fair. It is too dear, with its hopes and invitations, to waste a moment on the yesterdays.”
But my favourite advice came from the German poet and playwright, Goethe. He suggests cultivating nine requisites for contented living: “Health enough to make work a pleasure. Wealth enough to support your needs. Strength enough to battle with difficulties and overcome them. Grace enough to confess your sins and forsake them. Patience enough to toil until some good is accomplished. Charity enough to see some good in your neighbour. Love enough to move you to be useful and helpful to others. Faith enough to make real the things of God. Hope enough to remove all anxious fears concerning the future.”
Have you noticed the one word that is common to all nine requisites? It is “enough”. He is not suggesting that we need to be perfect, in order to find contentment. Indeed, I would argue that perfectionism is the enemy of contentment. If we are always striving for perfection (which can take many forms – the latest and best material goods, the perfect relationships, pride in ourselves and our achievements) – we will never be content. Instead, we will always believe we are falling short, and be discontented as a consequence. We have to learn to let go of what Emerson calls the “blunders and absurdities” which are inevitable parts of each day, and to concentrate instead on the enoughness of what we have and do and are.
I ask again, how may we cultivate contentment? I believe that Goethe’s recipe for contented living is a good one. In order to have “health enough to make work a pleasure”, we need to look after our bodies, eating mainly healthy food and not drinking too much alcohol, nor abusing them with drugs. I’m a great fan of the 80:20 rule – that if we are sensible about what we ingest 80% of the time, we can afford to indulge ourselves (but judiciously) for the other 20%. It’s about finding a balance – very restrictive diets don’t work and research has shown that most dieters put the weight they have lost back on, almost as soon as they finish dieting.
“Wealth enough to support your needs.” Notice the last words, “your needs” not your desires. Most of us in the West have more than enough material wealth and possessions for contentment. As Geoffrey Usher says, “Even when we try to live simply, without extravagance and waste, most of us have much more than we shall ever need… What is true in material terms is also true in the spiritual, mental and emotional aspects of our lives.” And cultivating a sense of material enoughness will help our planet’s resources to go further too.
“Strength enough to battle with difficulties and overcome them.” Again, that word “enough”. Goethe is not suggesting that we should be superheroes, defeating the inevitable difficulties of our lives with a bound, but that we should be content with having enough strength to face up to any difficulties in our lives and to do something about them. And humility enough to ask for help when we need it too.
“Grace enough to confess your sins and forsake them.” Many of us find the second part of this difficult. We go over and over our mistakes, the times we have fallen short of our best selves, and spend endless time beating ourselves up. Both Goethe and Emerson advise us to recognise our “sins” – our mistakes, our shortcomings – and move on. If they have affected other people, we need to be accountable for them and to make amends, if we can. But not to wallow in endless guilt, which in the end, is self-defeating and negative.
“Patience enough to toil until some good is accomplished.” It is all too easy to yearn for quick fixes, for easy solutions, for our and other people’s problems. In his wonderful book, A Life of Being, Having, and Doing Enough, which I highly recommend, Wayne Muller writes, “We have forgotten what enough feels like. We live in a world seduced by its own unlimited potential. We are driven by a presumptive grandiosity that any economic, social or political limitations can seemingly be overcome with more speed or technology. But for us, as human beings, our limitations remain constant, eternal, fully intact… At worst, we feel powerless; no matter how strong our hearts, or how good or kind our intentions, each day the finish line seems farther away, the bar keeps rising, nothing is ever finished, nothing ever good enough.” We have forgotten that time is needed to accomplish any good thing and that we need to be patient enough to put the steady work in to achieve it.
“Charity enough to see some good in your neighbour.” When we are discontented, it is easy to cast round, looking for someone else to blame for our situation. Instead of recognising that there is good and bad in all of us and that we will be happier if we can see the good in our neighbours – friends, family, even politicians – rather than forever harping on about their shortcomings. This is the ‘glass half-full’ attitude to other people.
“Love enough to move you to be useful and helpful to others.” I believe there is a “divine discontent”, which means we cannot be content ourselves, if others are hungry, cold, lonely, in need. So we should have love enough to move us to do what good we can in the world, with the tools and gifts we have, starting from where we are.
“Faith enough to make real the things of God.” There is a spiritual dimension to our lives, which Celia Cartwright described beautifully in the words of our Time of Stillness and Reflection. We need to cultivate the spirit of sacredness in our lives, so that, in her words, we can “reach out and gather your joyfulness about us and within us.” And “in the midst of the routine that fills our days… be reminded that life is far from ordinary,
that joy lies waiting in each bright shaft of sunlight, in the singing of birds and the form of the hills and valleys, and in the presence of those who share this life with us.”
Goethe’s final requisite for contented living is “Hope enough to remove all anxious fears concerning the future.” I think this is similar to Emerson’s advice to begin each day “well and serenely and with too high a spirit to be cumbered with your old nonsense. This day is all that is good and fair. It is too dear, with its hopes and invitations, to waste a moment on the yesterdays.” Nor, I would add, to waste a moment on worrying about the future. As C.S. Lewis wrote in The Screwtape Letters, we do have to “think of the Future too – just so much as is necessary for now planning the acts of justice or charity which will probably be [our] duty tomorrow… He [God] does not want [people] to give the future their hearts, to place their treasure in it.”
So the secret of contented living is (I believe) to continue to strive for the highest and best we know, but simultaneously to recognise that moments of high achievement are always, always transitory, and to accept that most of our lives will be lived at a more ordinary level. And that the ordinary (by which I mean our daily lives) is okay. More than okay – recognising what is enough is where we can find contentment.
Spirit of Life and Love,
open our hearts and minds
to letting go of our desires,
and being content with what we have.
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, Amen
Postlude Lady of Lewesdon Hill by Elizabeth Harley