Prelude Roots and Wings 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 (adapted)
We gather in this virtual space of peace
where violence of hand or tongue
are unwelcome strangers.
The Spirit is among us as we breathe and sing and pray,
speaking gentle, kind, and friendly words.
Within us and through us may Divine Love reach out,
cooling hearts in which resentment burns,
warming hearts made deathly cold by hatred,
reviving hearts grown lukewarm with unconcern.
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 Be Gentle by Anon.
Be gentle with one another
The cry comes out of the hurting heart of humanity.
It comes from the lives of those battered
With thoughtless words and brutal deeds;
It comes from the lips of those who speak them,
And the lives of those who do them.
Be gentle with one another. . .
Who of us can look inside another and know
What is there of hope and hurt, or promise and pain?
Who can know from what far places each has come
Or to what far places each may hope to go?
Our lives are like fragile eggs. . .
They are brittle. . .
They crack and the substance escapes. . .
Handle with Care!
Handle with exceeding, tender care, for there are
Human beings, there within.
Human beings, vulnerable as we are vulnerable;
Who feel as we feel,
Who hurt as we hurt.
Life is too transient to be cruel with one another.
It is too short for thoughtlessness.
Too brief for hurting.
Life is long enough for caring,
It is lasting enough for sharing,
Precious enough for Love.
Be gentle with one another.
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 Called to Care by Celia Midgley, from With Heart and Mind
How often do we hear the words, ‘I don’t care’ – uttered with a shrug of indifference, or even anger? I heard them again this morning. ‘I don’t care about…’ the man began, and I half stopped listening as he launched into his own concerns, the things he did care about. His vehemence silenced his hearers. It was not that he did not have a point. It was his lack of caring for another’s.
It is easy to say that we do not care. It is a way of not engaging with others. It is the way of the bully, of the demagogue. It wins the plaudits of the crowd. But it succeeds by sweeping aside others’ viewpoints and sensitivities.
We are called to care. Care about everything, the small and the great. Care about tiny plants and creatures, about large trees and rivers, about buildings and cities. Care about people you pass on the street; make way for them. Care about those you may never meet but who, like you, inhabit this world.
Caring is the more difficult path. It compels us to review constantly all that we say and do. It slows us down. But it helps us to balance our lives, and to take tentative steps towards peace.
Prayer by Celia Midgley, from With Heart and Mind
Loving God, help us to love
our neighbours as ourselves.
Create in us a tender heart for all that lives,
for all that may grow.
Make us aware of the fragility
and potential of human beings.
Let our passion ever be tempered with kindness,
our lives with humility,
and however hard the path
may caring be our calling.
Reading Getting Along by Cliff Reed, from Carnival of Lamps
Why can’t we all just get along, God?
You don’t care a hoot about our conflicting creeds, dogmas, and theologies,
so why do we argue and fight about them?
Why can’t we just be a bit more loving to each other?
Is it really so hard?
Why can’t we give each other a bit more respect?
Why can’t we be kinder and more forgiving?
Why can’t we all live by a few simple rules
about honesty, consideration for others, and treating them as we’d like to be treated ourselves?
Why can’t we accept that it’s enough to be part of the one human family,
regardless of the labels we stick on ourselves?
Why can’t we live together peacefully on this beautiful earth without wrecking it?
Why can’t we be content to have enough, and only be
discontent when others don’t?
Why do we persist in judging other people
instead of paying attention to our own mistakes?
Why do we have to be rude, nasty, and violent to each other
when it’s so much better – and easier – to be nice?
God, why can’t we all just get along?
Show us the right path!
Time of Stillness and Reflection
Let us now join in a time of stillness and reflection. The Buddhist Mettabhavna, or Prayer of Loving Kindness, is often used in Unitarian services, or for personal meditation. This is my version of it. After each line, I invite you to close your eyes, and pray for the people concerned, using the words given, if you wish…
First of all, we pray for ourselves: May I be well, may I be happy, may I be free from harm, may I find peace.
Next, we pray for our loved ones, those people who are dear to us: May they be well, may they be happy, may they be free from harm, may they find peace.
Next, we pray for someone less well-known to us, about whom we have no strong feelings, but whom we might know better, if we made the effort: May they be well, may they be happy, may they be free from harm, may they find peace.
Next, we pray for people we don’t know, for all the people who are doing their best to make a positive difference in the world, and for those who are lost in places of scarcity and fear: may they be well, may they be happy, may they be free from harm, may they find peace.
Next, we pray for someone we dislike, or find it difficult to get on with: may they be well, may they be happy, may they be free from harm, may they find peace.
Finally, we pray for the world: may all be well, may all be happy, may all be free from harm, may all find peace.
May all find peace, today and always, Amen
Musical Interlude A Welsh Wedding by Elizabeth Harley
Address Be Gentle
I know that I did a service about being kind to each other as recently as April, but today I feel the need to reinforce that message (for myself as much as for all of us), after the defeat of England in the UEFA Cup on Sunday evening. Even the least football conscious of us must have caught a sense of the high hopes riding on that game. A lot of people will be feeling bitterly disappointed, because the England football team didn’t win… again.
And when people feel bitterly disappointed, it is often the automatic reaction to lash out at anyone they may feel is to blame. Sadly, as I expected, our social media feeds and newspapers were filled with quick and judgemental reactions. The England team, who have been their darlings over the last few weeks, were now their scapegoats. So fickle. So very, very unfair. But there have been messages of support too, which is good.
I love the reminder given by the anonymous poet, whose words I shared as our first reading. “Be gentle with one another… / Who of us can look inside another and know / What is there of hope and hurt, or promise and pain? / Who can know from what far places each has come / Or to what far places each may hope to go?”
We can’t… but it is so very easy to judge others by what we see and read on the surface. The poet tells us to “Handle with exceeding, tender care, for there are / Human beings, there within. / Human beings, vulnerable as we are vulnerable; / Who feel as we feel, / Who hurt as we hurt.”
Earlier on Sunday, I watched the Wimbledon Men’s Singles Final, between previous winner, the Serbian player, Novak Djokovic and the young Italian player, Matteo Berrettini. And it became very clear, early on in the match, that the Wimbledon crowd were rooting for Berrettini. There was chanting, “Matt-e-o, Matt-e-o” and each time the young Italian made a point, the applause was rapturous. Which was okay. But it was not okay that they applauded when Djokovic made an error. I wasn’t surprised to notice that it began to get to Djokovic. It must be so hard to play your best, knowing that the audience is rooting for the other guy. Even though off court, the two men are friends and often play together.
The Wimbledon crowd had evidently not heard the words I just quoted. “There are human beings there within. Human beings, vulnerable as we are vulnerable; who feel as we feel, who hurt as we hurt.” They were partisan and didn’t care who knew it. And it did feel unkind, not gentle or considerate at all.
Why do we do this to each other? Why can’t we all just get along, as Cliff Reed asked in my final reading? Each of us is a sentient human being, with the power of choice. And our choices have the power to dictate how we react to other human beings, to incidents in our lives and in the lives of others.
I love the old story about the starfish on the beach. Some of you may know it, but I’d like to share it again. A young man was walking along a beach, when he noticed that thousands of starfish had been washed up by the tide. The tide was going out, and the starfish were stranded. There was no way that they could get back to the water and he realised that within an hour or so, they would all be dead.
In the distance, he noticed an elderly woman, who was picking up the starfish from the beach, one by one, and throwing them back into the sea. The young man went up to her and asked, “What are you doing?” She replied, “The sun is up and the tide is going out, and I’m throwing these starfish back into the sea, so that they won’t die.”
“But why are you bothering?” he asked. “There are thousands of them and what you are doing won’t make any difference. And there will be thousands more on the next tide.”
The old lady stooped, picked up another starfish, and hurled it back into the receding tide. Then she turned to the young man and grinned, “Made a difference to that one!”
I love this story so much, because it proves that no matter how old or tired or busy we are, we can still make a positive difference in the world. We can still choose to be kind and gentle to others. It makes me so cross when people say, “Oh, I don’t bother with recycling (or picking up litter or whatever small task we are called to do), because my individual effort won’t make a difference.” The point being, that if everybody thought like that, nothing would get done!
At times like that, I remember the story of the old lady and the starfish, and make my small effort, knowing that it will make a difference, no matter how infinitesimal. I try to follow the advice of the Quaker missionary, Etienne de Grellet, who wrote, “I shall pass this way but once; any good that I can do, or any kindness I can show to any human being;” (and I would add, to any living creature) “let me do it now. Let me not defer nor neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.”
Our small acts of kindness to each other can make a huge difference to the person we have been kind to. Let me tell you a true story of a small act of kindness I have never forgotten. It was in early 2014. I had a minor operation at my GP practice, to remove a benign but occasionally painful fibroma from my left thigh. The operation went well, under local anaesthetic, and I was told to come back in a week, to have the stitches taken out.
When I went back, the kind nurse took the dressing off and I looked at the bruised but healing wound beneath. I’m a real wuss about these things – I don’t like blood and guts and icky stuff – and I was dismayed by how yukky it looked. But I could see that the doctor had made a good job of it, and that in time I would be left with a small, neat scar.
Then the nurse dropped a bombshell. “I don’t think it’s quite healed enough to have the stitches out. Let’s leave it for another few days. But leave the dressing off, if you can, and let it get some air, to speed the healing process.” I explained that I would be doing a lot of driving over the weekend, so please could I cover it then – yes, that would be fine. So I went home with the three dressings (one each for Friday, Saturday and Sunday), tucked in my bag. And intended to go about the rest of my daily business, as I had been doing for the previous few days.
And was slightly (okay, quite) shocked to realise how vulnerable I was feeling, now that the dressing had been removed. What if I knocked it? What if it split? After a couple of hours of futile and pointless worrying, I phoned the practice number and asked to speak to the nurse. Fortunately, she was still there. I explained how vulnerable and worried I felt with the wound exposed, and her compassion was warm and instantaneous. She told me not to worry, to put a dressing straight back on and that my leg would heal anyway.
I got off the phone bathed in relief and so grateful for her kindness and understanding. And then a strange thing happened: the very fact that my vulnerability and worry had been met with compassion and kindness seemed to give me permission to carry on being vulnerable, to take that risk. I did not reapply the dressing and the wound healed.
She was a wonderful example of what happens when we take the time and make the effort to be gentle and kind with each other. She healed me more surely with her kindness and compassion than if she had been matter of fact, had not met me where I was. I am sure that she had no idea of the effect of her kindness, but I have never forgotten it.
Celia Midgley, in our second reading, tells us, “We are called to care. Care about everything, the small and the great. Care about tiny plants and creatures, about large trees and rivers, about buildings and cities. Care about people you pass on the street; make way for them. Care about those you may never meet but who, like you, inhabit this world.”
So let us be gentle with one another in the coming days and weeks. May we remember that each person we meet is a vulnerable human being, each with their own preoccupations, hopes, dreams and fears, and try to respond with kindness and gentleness in each encounter that we have with others.
Spirit of Life and Love,
open our hearts and minds
to the importance of
small acts of kindness.
May we appreciate that each of us
Has their own vulnerabilities
And be gentle with each other.
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