Prelude Roots and Wings by Elizabeth Harley
Opening Words Summer Solstice by Cliff Reed
Long, long days that fade
imperceptibly into short nights;
the hush descending on countryside and garden
as springtime songbirds fall silent;
ripening fields of wheat and barley,
whispering of harvest-time to come;
It is midsummer, and our thoughts turn to
Holidays and re-creation.
And so we gather to celebrate the solstice,
The summertime – its warmth, its light, its mysteries, its joys.
Let us join in worship.
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 greet the solstice:
our light mirrors the greater light from which it comes,
and this we celebrate today.
We light this chalice to affirm our faith:
the faith that, in our diversity, we are one,
and this we celebrate today.
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.
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
Reading Summer by Max Ehrmann (author of Desiderata)
O World of green and shafts of golden sun:
Of nightly, silent silver moonlight;
And the strange songs of gentle winds!
O time of dreams, and trysts, and
Olden memories come to life! Sweet summer,
May I sing as thou, for every leaf
Of thine is pregnant with music in the soft
Winds, and every rose inspires the
Tenderness of song. I yield myself to the
Thousand enchantments of sky and
Field and wood, and play again like a child
On the soft green of the earth.
And as the God of the universe has
Made thee to bloom in tenderness, so also
May my heart be made to bloom again.
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 by Rabindranath Tagore
I ask for a moment’s indulgence to sit by Thy side.
The works that I have in hand
I will finish afterwards.
Away from the sight of Thy face
My heart knows no rest or respite,
And my work becomes an endless toil
In a shoreless sea of toil.
Today the summer has come at my window
With its sighs and murmurs;
And the bees are plying their minstrelsy
At the court of the flowering grove.
Now it is time to sit quiet
Face to face with Thee,
And to sing dedication of life
In this silent and overflowing leisure.
Prayer by Ishpriya R.S.C.J.
O Holy One, I ran through the fields and gathered flowers of a thousand colours –
And now I pour them out at Your feet.
Their beauty and their brightness shout for joy in Your Presence.
You created the flowers of the fields and made each one far more lovely
Than all the skill of man could design.
Accept my joy along with theirs,
This field of blossoms at Your feet.
As the wind blows through these flowers
Till they dance in the ecstasy of creation,
Send Your Spirit to blow through my being
Till I too bloom and dance with the fullness of Your life. Amen
Reading Shells by Mary Bewley, from People Within
I have a private memory of shells,
Held in a trinket box through all the years
Since in the summer sun of long ago
I found a ridge along the Cornish sand,
Embroidered by the tide,
A clear divide
Between the smooth wet surface and the dry.
And there spread out in intricate display
Each one a miracle of form and hue,
Fan shape and snail shape, pyramid and curve,
Mother of pearl and pink and gold and white,
Even a touch of iridescent blue –
A lovely sight!
What tiny soft sea molluscs slid away
Leaving their shells behind
For me to find
I cannot say,
But after all these years, I have them still.
I have a private memory of shells,
Saved from the pounding of the restless sea
Held in a trinket box, as perfect now
As when I found them all those years ago.
Time of Stillness and Reflection Midsummer from Beyond Darkness by Cliff Reed (adapted)
We greet midsummer –
the dream of endless days and short warm nights,
when our ancestors danced in honour of the sun
and the season’s triumph.
There was gladness then beneath blue skies,
hope of plenty as crops grew and ripened in the fields,
food for people and their animals; when there were
feasting and festival to mark the sacred time.
We live too far apart from the turning seasons,
the earth’s rhythm and nature’s lessons.
We forget our dependence on the plenty
that we take for granted – few of us plant the seeds,
watch growth and ripening, reap the harvest.
At midsummer may we open our eyes
to the same life-giving beauty
that our ancestors knew,
our spirits to the call to cherish it,
our minds to the knowledge
of our reliance on earth’s bounty.
At midsummer let’s celebrate! Amen
Musical Interlude A Welsh Wedding by Elizabeth Harley
Address A Celebration of Summer
Tomorrow, many Pagans will be celebrating the Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year. In her booklet The Wheel of the Year, Rev Celia Cartwight explains, “It is known as the Festival of Joy. It is perhaps the most exuberant celebration of the year, and as the countryside revels in its colour and fragrant splendour, so this festival is a celebration of the strength and power of the sun and the richness of the earth.”
The old name of the Summer Solstice is Alban Hefin. It falls midway between Beltane and Lughnasadh (or Lammas) in the Pagan calendar and marks the peak of the sun’s influence on the earth. Celia goes on to explain that “the solstice was an important time of the year for the proto-Druids of the New Stone Age (Neolithic) who built the magnificent megaliths aligned to the Solstices – Stonehenge, Avebury, the Ring of Brogda and many more. And not all in stone, for traces of wooden henges have been found too. Henges were built in abundance from the far north, in Shetland, in Orkney, through Britain to its southern fringes. In Southwestern England, an unbroken thread of tradition connects the 5,000 year old temple at Stonehenge with ritual activities throughout the Bronze Age, the Iron Age (the time period when Jesus walked the earth) and into modern times.”
Perhaps it is difficult for us to understand how important this time was to our ancient ancestors, living as we do in a world in which we can buy any vegetable, any fruit, throughout the year, as Cliff Reed pointed out in our Time of Stillness and Reflection:
“We live too far apart from the turning seasons, / the earth’s rhythm and nature’s lessons. / We forget our dependence on the plenty / that we take for granted – few of us plant the seeds, / watch growth and ripening, reap the harvest.”
But in those times, the ancients celebrated the time of the triumph of the light with great bonfires, when the whole community would gather on the hilltops to celebrate life through feasting, dance, ritual and song, rejoicing in the sun at the height of its power. And perhaps also to pray that it would not decline too soon, because a poor summer meant a poor harvest, which in turn could lead to starvation in the long cold winter months.
And yet, the urge to celebrate the middle of summer still lingers. When I was a small child at primary school, we learned that beautiful Middle English round, Sumer is icumen in. Walking through the woods this morning, I found myself singing the first few lines:
“Sumer is icumen in
Lhude sing cuccu
and bloweth mead
and spring the woods anew
Ewe now bleateth after lamb
Loweth after calf the cu”
Because it summed up how I was feeling. For the past few days, I have been entranced by the sound of a cuckoo in Salcey Forest. I walk in there most mornings of the year. We are so very blessed to live where we do, five minutes’ walk from the edge of the Forest. At the time I went out – at eight in the morning – I had the place pretty much to myself, apart from the birds, who were filling the air with their song, and I was filled with wonder at the beauties of God’s creation. The cow parsley still lines the path, its heady scent filling my nostrils, and there are dandelions and buttercups, pink and white clover as well as the ubiquitous nettles. Also some lovely wild roses. And of course, the trees themselves. Too many shades of green to name. I recalled the passage in JRR Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, when Merry and Pippin first meet the Ents: “The Ents were as different from one another as trees from trees: some as different as one tree is from another of the same name but quite different growth and history; and some as different as one tree-kind from another, as birch from beech, oak from fir.”
You may have noticed that all three of my readings this morning were poems, rather than prose. I think that at this time of the year, I am moved by the beauty of the world around me and my heart goes to poetry, to express the joy I feel. I try to be aware of the sacred beauty all around me, at all times of the year – the new green of Spring, the gold and copper and bronze of Autumn and the soft whites and greys of winter. But there is something about Summer which is extra specially vivid, extra specially alive.
A while ago, somebody asked me, “What makes you come alive?” and I have been thinking about the answers ever since. My first response was that it is interaction with the natural world – walking by the sea or in the mountains, making a garden, walking a regular route and noticing the day to day changes in the nature around me, being awed by natural beauty – all these play an important part in reconnecting me with the numinous presence of God, with making me “come alive”. To which I would add, interacting with family, friends and fellow Unitarians and f/Friendly Quakers – being in spiritual community. It is one of the things I have missed most in the past year…
An appreciation of our world in its beauty and diversity is definitely something that makes me come alive. When I go for a walk, it is wonderful to be out in the changing seasons – to see and savour and appreciate the blossom in Spring, the mass of wildflowers in Summer, the first conkers and the changing leaves in Autumn and the elegant spareness of the trees in Winter. This connectedness with the natural world is something I have learned to nurture and treasure. It so often gets lost in Western society – we are so busy doing the job in hand, rushing to the next appointment, the next Zoom meeting, that we don’t take time out to appreciate the world around us. My daily walk in Salcey Forest has been a boon and a blessing since lockdown began – a time of sacred awe and wonder. Each tree, each flower, that I notice is unique. No tree or flower quite like it has ever grown before, nor will ever grow again. Like each shell in Mary Bewley’s beautiful poem.
Of all the flowers, roses, for me, epitomise the essence of Summer. I was looking on the internet for a story about roses to share with you, and came across this lovely reflection by Connie Faust:
“One of my very favourite flowers is the rose, but I never had much practical knowledge about roses until I began to look for some “rosy” thoughts to share. I learned that Columbus discovered America because of a rose. On October 11, 1492, in the Sargasso Sea, one of Columbus’ crewmen picked a rose branch from the water. This sign of land renewed their hope for survival and gave them the courage to continue their journey.
According to one legend, the rose was born from a smile of Cupid, but we know it is one of God’s finest gifts to humanity. Its combination of beauty and fragrance are seldom surpassed by any other bloom. A rose has been fashioned by God, who was not content with making one kind of flower. No, God, in His amazing creativity, has made probably thousands of varieties of flowers, each one unique.”
Faust’s words made me stop and think about the qualities that roses have – their silken beauty – have you ever kissed a rose petal and felt how soft it is? Their heady fragrance – I love the old-fashioned roses, which smell so very sweet. My mother used to nurture a rose bed in the corner of our front garden, and when I was small I used to love to get in amongst the rose bushes, smelling my way round the different colours. Even now, when I walk around the village rather than up into the Forest, I go past one particular garden, in which there are a variety of roses spilling over the garden fence, and cannot resist the temptation of smelling my way along the line.
Faust continues, “I’m thinking of you as roses today, each one beautiful in your own way. Some are sweet and fresh little rosebuds; some in the full bloom of maturity; and some of you may even feel as though you are wilting today. Like the rose, you have been created by God, made to fulfil a special purpose. You are much more precious to your Creator than any rose. And He knows and understands each and every one He has made.”
“I’m thinking of you as roses today, each one beautiful in your own way.” May we nurture each other as God nurtures the roses and all the rest of creation and rejoice in each other’s company. Amen
Spirit of Life and Love,
open our hearts and minds
to the beauty around us.
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