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 Marnie Singer.
The chalice is the container—
the space where the musicians and the listeners gather.
The oil is the fuel—
the hours of practice and the life experiences of everyone in the room.
The wick is the instruments and vocal chords
through which the music will flow.
And the flame—the flame!—
is the music which is created, as if by magic,
when the instruments are lifted,
the breath is inhaled,
and the downbeat is nodded.
May this flame ignite the music within us all!
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 from Opening Doors Within by Eileen Caddy
Get into tune, find your own note, and sound it loud and clear, for you are part of the vast orchestra of life. You have your own specific part to play, so do not try to play anyone else’s part. Seek and find your own and stick to it. When you learn to do it, all will be very, very well with you. It is those souls who seek to play someone else’s note who will find themselves out of harmony with the whole. Never try to be like anyone else or do what someone else is doing. I do not want you all to be identical, like peas in a pod. I need you all different with your own individual gifts and qualities. Any orchestra made up of all the same instruments would be very dull. The more instruments there are blended together in perfect harmony in the orchestra, the richer and more wonderful the sound which comes forth.
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 Genuine Gifts by Vernon Marshall, from With Heart and Mind 2
A gift is something we have that marks us out as an individual. It is a natural part of our being. It is a sacred characteristic. It is also a mysterious something. It is something we have that comes to us without an obvious reason. Sometimes it is unknown to us, but has benefits for others. I believe it is something to do with the human soul. We are far more gifted than we realise. We are mirrors of the divine and thus have divine qualities…
To live fruitful lives on earth, we need to be reminded over and again just how remarkable we are. There is no need for a communal act of humility. Of course, we feel humble in the face of the mystery of life; we are, however, part of that mystery. … When we hear beautiful music, remember that it is from human hands like ours, and human feelings like ours, that that music came. …
We all have a gift, and it is a sign from the divine that we are also divine. Like all gifts, we need to accept with a pure heart. We accept with the recognition, not of deserving, not of a quid pro quo, but that it is a free exchange, without expectations. The greatest gift is the gift of life itself. When we reflect on the glory of life, the mystery of life, the perplexity of life, then we can only stand back in praise at the wonder of something beyond us that is so spectacular.
Prayer For Ourselves from Sacred Earth by Cliff Reed
We pause to be conscious of that which
makes each one of us unique –
the colour of our eyes and hair and skin,
our height and build, the face that is ours
alone, the inner self that no-one knows;
our heritage of genes and family, of culture
and of faith, with which we build
our own special lives;
the abilities and disabilities that give us our
potential to grow and create as no-one else can;
the place where we live – the town or city,
the village, coast or countryside – that helps
to make us who we are;
our interests and hobbies, our taste in music,
books or fashion, our likes and dislikes – all
the things that make us distinct.
Let us give thanks for who we are:
as individuals, each one unique,
as humankind, in which our individuality
contributes to the whole.
Let us respect and celebrate our own uniqueness,
and each other’s too.
May it be so, Amen
Reading Listening for Our Song by David Blanchard
On sabbatical in East Africa, I heard a story of a people who believe that we are each created with our own song. Their tradition as a community is to honour that song by singing it as welcome when a child is born, as comfort when the child is ill, in celebration when the child marries, and in affirmation and love when death comes. Most of us were not welcomed into the world in that way. Few of us seem to know our song.
It takes a while for many of us to figure out which is our song, and which is the song that others would like us to sing. Some of us are slow learners. I heard my song not necessarily from doing extraordinary things in exotic places, but also from doing some pretty ordinary things in some routine places. For every phrase I heard climbing Kilimanjaro, I learned another in a chair in a therapist’s office. For every measure I heard in the silence of a retreat, I heard another laughing with my girls. For every note I heard in the wind on the beach at Lamu, I gleaned more from spending time with a dying friend as her children sang her song back to her. What came to astound me was not that the song appeared, but that it was always there.
… Our songs sing back to us something of our essence, something of our truth, something of our uniqueness. When our songs are sung back to us, it is not about approval, but about recognizing our being and our belonging in the human family.
It is good to know our songs by heart for those lonely times when the world is not singing them back to us. That’s usually a good time to start humming to yourself, that song that is most your own.
They can be heard as songs of love or of longing, songs of encouragement or of comfort, songs of struggle or of security. But most of all, they are the songs of life, giving testimony to what has been, giving praise for all we’re given, giving hope for all we strive for, giving voice to the great mystery that carries each of us in and out of this world.
Time of Stillness and Reflection words by Steve Dick, adapted)
We take a few precious moments to turn inwards.
Tune out the sounds and bustle of the noise that surrounds us.
Listen to the melody of freedom within the music of our hearts.
It can be heard when we can be quiet and peaceful enough to hear the song of our soul … the still small voice within that warbles our story as a ballad still being composed.
Knowing that sustaining faith and inspiring vision can only be in harmony when the inner voice is free …
Hear the rhythm, sing the rhythm, be the rhythm …
The rhythm that flows through the verses of our internal bible.
The beginning verse of liberation, freedom from that which wounds the spirit of life in us and in our companions in this world.
The middle verse of continuing revelation, freedom to grow and develop as stories are told and shared and change our worlds.
And the third verse that embodies the melody necessary to complete the rhythm.
And when the heart song has been sung and the percussion added
Our soul has completed tapping out the rhythm of freedom …
The refrain of our prayer is to take our voice wherever to share the melody of our hearts – to sing it, to hear it and to live it.
So may it be.
Musical Interlude A Welsh Wedding by Elizabeth Harley
Address The Orchestra of Life
Lizzie Harley is so talented – I could listen to her piano music all day. Music can affect us in many ways, some obvious, some not so obvious. For example, when I am driving, and get stuck in a traffic jam, I automatically switch the radio on to Classic fm, which I find soothing; it helps me to keep my patience and not get wound up about the delay. And when I am on the M45, which is a short stretch of generally empty motorway, I like to put on something fast-paced and exciting like Highway Star by Deep Purple and put my foot down. In fact, I am very careful not to listen to music like that when I am on a busy road, because it subconsciously makes me drive faster.
Music has the power to move us, to change our mood. I have a ‘Happy’ playlist on my iPod, which I play to cheer myself up when I’m feeling down. Music can also be used more subtly to stir people’s emotions. For example, who remembers that marvellous moment in the Humphrey Bogart movie Casablanca, when the singer in Rick’s Bar begins to sing the Marseillaise to drown out the Nazi singing on the other side of the bar? I am getting tingles down my spine just thinking about it. And I am sure that all of you could name particular instants in films where the music – often a song – has a profound effect on the mood of not only the people in the film, but also on the cinema audience. Another example might be the singing at football matches, which unites fans in a bond of partisanship. And of course, it can also be used less harmlessly, to control the hearts and minds of those who hear it.
What is it about music that has the power to thrill us, to move us to tears or laughter, to calm us? I have often wondered what it is about music that elicits such emotions. Philosophers and biologists have asked the question for centuries, noting that humans are universally drawn to music. It consoles us when we are sad, pumps us up in happier times and bonds us to others, even though listening to an iPod or singing “Happy Birthday” does not seem necessary for survival or reproduction.
Music has always played an important role in worship. For me, the ideal start to a worship service (when I’m not leading it) is to take my seat in silence and listen to the prelude. It quietens my thoughts and puts me into a worshipful frame of mind. I would much rather save the talking until after the service. And the interlude in the middle of the service is also an interval of peace between the prayers and readings and the address. Finally, the postlude brings me gently back into the mundane world.
One of the most powerful parts of our worship services are the hymns – that combination of words and music can get a message across far more deeply than the spoken word alone. And they are memorable and speak to our senses – some make us joyful, some make us sad, some make us think, some uplift us. A clever worship leader will choose their hymns with care. Not being able to sing together is one of the things so many of us have missed in the past year.
You might have guessed by now that I love listening to music, so the short reading by Eileen Caddy, co-founder of the Findhorn Foundation in Scotland, which I shared with you as the first reading, really spoke to me. The idea that each of us needs to learn how to “get into tune, find your own note, and sound it loud and clear, for you are part of the vast orchestra of life.”
I love the notion that each of us has a particular note or song to play in the orchestra of life. This is coupled with the belief that each of us is, as the Quakers say, “unique, precious, a child of God.” So each of us has a contribution to make to Life with a capital L.
Florence Nightingale, the social reformer and founder of modern nursing, after whom our Nightingale Centre at Great Hucklow is named, once wrote, “If you are born with wings, you should do all you can to use them for flying.” I think her point is that each of us is a unique human being, with our own unique gifts, which we should use, for our own good and for the good of humankind. As Vernon Marshall explained in our second reading, “A gift is something we have that marks us out as an individual. It is a natural part of our being. It is a sacred characteristic. It is also a mysterious something. It is something we have that comes to us without an obvious reason. Sometimes it is unknown to us but has benefits for others. I believe it is something to do with the human soul. We are far more gifted than we realise. We are mirrors of the divine and thus have divine qualities.”
“We are mirrors of the divine and thus have divine qualities.” And when we make use of these divine qualities, these unique gifts, that each and every one of us has, we can take our place in the orchestra of life and make our own contribution to it. A contribution that no-one else could make, because no-one else has our particular genes, heritage or life experiences. As Cliff Reed wrote, “Let us give thanks for who we are: as individuals, each one unique, as humankind, in which our individuality contributes to the whole.” It is the lovely combination of our individual and unique gifts and how we use them to contribute to Life, that enables the orchestra of life to sound out fully, with all the thrilling harmonies which make rich and wonderful music.
But how often do we stand in our own light, paralysed by comparing ourselves with others, unwilling to add our own note to the orchestra because we are afraid it is not good enough? I know I do.
US President Theodore Roosevelt once said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” I’ve also heard that quote as “the thief of happiness.” And it’s so true! We can be feeling great about ourselves, about our own, unique gifts, then compare what we are doing, who we are, with somebody else, and be instantly plunged into gloom. It’s a bad trick our heads play on us, to keep us small and not brave. It prevents us from using our wings, from doing what gives us joy. And as Eileen Caddy warns, “It is those souls who seek to play someone else’s note who will find themselves out of harmony with the whole. Never try to be like anyone else or do what someone else is doing.” It is our own note, our own unique gift, that matters.
My own particular Achilles’ heel of comparison is reading other people’s words, then believing that I couldn’t ever write so brilliantly, so vividly, so why bother? I have to tell myself quite sternly that they are them and I am me, that I am comparing their edited, finished words with my first draft, and that only I can write from my particular perspective. And that everyone has a particular gift, which we need to use as best we can, to make the world a happier place and ourselves happier, more fulfilled people.
After which, I pick myself up, dust myself down and take up my pen (or keyboard) again.
Unitarian Universalist Jay Abernathy wrote, “We are all blessings to this world. Our work of building bridges of connection by finding and naming and affirming those blessings we are is the work of nurturing our spirits and healing our world.” We all have a unique note to play, a contribution that only we can make. We all have a particular blessing to offer each other and the wider world – to the chance-met stranger, to the people in our town or village or city, to causes we care about. If you believe, as I do, that every human being has a spark of the divine in them, then we should try to respond to every person we meet as though we are encountering a possible new friend and share our gifts, our blessings, freely with them. I wonder how different our world would be, if we tried to bear that in mind as we go about our daily lives?
For me, the idea of being a note of music, being able to contribute to the divine harmony by using our gifts and blessings is a very attractive one. Abernathy also wrote, “Each of us has at least one blessing – I believe each of us offers MANY blessings – to this world, in who we are. But sometimes, we and our world might have a difficult time affirming and seeing those blessings. I invite you to look into yourself and discover again one of your blessings, one of your gifts to the world. Loving, peaceful, generous, compassionate – there are so many traits and blessings. What is yours?”
Each of us has a contribution to make to the orchestra of life. After the service is over, think about one blessing you can offer, write it down on a piece of paper, then greet yourself in the mirror of your soul with that name. Share that greeting with another person today.
If we all learn to “find [our] own note, and sound it loud and clear,” as Eileen Caddy advises, we will be able to take our places in the orchestra of life and make our own contribution to the richness and harmony of the world. May it be so.
Spirit of Life and Love,
open our hearts and minds
to the notion that each of us
has a unique note to play in
the orchestra of life,
and that it is our job to discover
our own particular note,
nurture it and share it with others.
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