Prelude Roots and Wings by Elizabeth Harley
Opening Words from the Sanskrit
Look to this day –
For it is life, the very life of life.
In its brief course lie all the verities
And realities of your existence:
The bliss of growth,
The glory of action, the splendour of beauty.
For yesterday is but a dream,
And tomorrow is only a vision,
But today well lived makes every yesterday a dream of happiness
And every tomorrow a vision of hope.
Look well, therefore, to this day.
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 11.05 am on Sunday morning)
May this chalice flame
bring warmth into our hearts,
light to our minds
and a sense of community
to our souls.
Spirit of Life and Love,
Be with us as we gather for worship,
each in our 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 not quite yet post-Covid world,
keeping in touch however we can,
and helping each other,
however we may.
May we remember that
caution is still needed,
that close contact is still unwise.
Help us to be grateful for the freedoms we have
and to respect the wishes of others.
May we hold in our hearts all those
Who are grieving, lost, alone,
Suffering in any way.
Reading What it really means to seize the day by Kathryn Sandford
“Carpe Diem – seize the day” is one of the oldest philosophical mottos in western history. This motto was said by the Roman poet Horace 2,000 years ago and it still resonates with us today—though, how we go about seizing the day is very different from how it was done in Horace’s time.
I was bought up on this mantra of seizing the day, and I still have this approach to my life. However, after reading Roman Krznaric’s book Carpe Diem Regained: The Vanishing Art of Seizing the Day, I was shocked to discover that meaning of Carpe Diem had been hijacked.
According to Krznaric, the advertising giants have turned Carpe Diem into a belief where life is short, time is running out, and we are living in the here and now so grab everything you can before it is too late. The overlying message we are consistently bombarded with is, “you don’t want to regret that you didn’t take action because you will lose out! You have not seized the moment and that’s bad!”
Seizing the day now brings up images of people taking what they can get, people who get things done, and people who just do it. Guess where Nike got their slogan from?
People are encouraged today to take charge and pursue their happiness right now, and this results in the consumption of products and services that reflect an instant gratification consumer culture that does not stop to smell the roses.
We hit the ground running to make the most of every minute because we may miss the opportunity of happiness if we don’t grab it now. What an exhausting way to live life!
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.
Reading Before the Action, the Pause by Jopie Boeke, from With Heart and Mind
Some years ago, I came across the above saying. It has stayed with me ever since and has helped me in times of difficult decision-making.
Waiting is difficult for many people, including me. I get impatient in long queues, I groan when I just miss the green traffic signal and I sigh when my husband does not answer my question immediately. Zen teachers say, ‘When you are most tempted to do something, don’t.’ This is probably good advice.
We are tempted to work constantly on things. Home improvement centres give us an opportunity to work on weekends and evenings as well. Many times people tell me they cannot go to church because they have too much to do on Sundays. My usual answer to them is, ‘I understand.’ And I do, I truly do!
But what would happen if instead I reminded them, and myself, of the value of sitting down quietly sometime each day (and if not each day, then at least once a week at church!) to let distractions go, to refuse busy thoughts and to listen for the ‘still, small voice’ that speaks below the noisy world? We just might find the real foundation for action, at the same time discovering solace and direction in the quiet centre within each of us. In the words of Reinhold Niebuhr, ‘Just because we do nothing, does not mean nothing is being done.’
Prayer by Jopie Boeke, adapted)
Spirit of life, we confess that too much of our lives
consists of responding to questions:
why and how?
We yearn for times when the wheels of
will temporarily stop
and no-one interrupts the quiet.
Spirit of silence,
shut the door of the busy world,
let peace surround us.
Lead us to an open plain
so that our souls can expand –
one with the earth and the universe –
as far as the infinite horizon.
Only then shall the fertile field of our hearts
receive the seeds of calmness.
Please, spirit of stillness, give us times of such solitude.
Reading from Time Out by Brian Anderson, from With Heart and Mind 2 (adapted)
One of the things that people in ministry, whether formal or informal, so often feel is guilt if they are not constantly busy, or seen to be busy, as others then might see it as laziness.
Whether in ministry or not, we should learn to take time out at least twice a day and give ourselves a mini retreat – to make spaces in time to sit alone and just be. We all know the expression, ‘Don’t just sit there; do something.’ Well, the sort of mini retreat that I am recommending is, ‘Don’t just do something; sit there.’ Yes, we should watch our personal ‘traffic lights.’
We are all busy these days, and so we all need to learn the art and habit of taking time out. Getting thronged (overcrowded with busyness), thrutched (worn out) and then powfagged (exhausted) does not make us either saints or martyrs. Let me end with a quote from Blaise Pascal, ‘Most of humankind’s troubles come from not being able to sit quietly and alone in a room.’ Think about it. There’s so much wisdom there.
Time of Stillness and Reflection (words by Brian Anderson, from With Heart and Mind 2 (adapted)
Sit still –
Give yourself spiritual space,
Away from rush and bustle.
Be a Mary rather than a Martha,
Make this space your retreat,
A holiday for the spirit.
Pray… think… meditate… reflect…
And so these in your own way.
St Teresa of Avila said,
‘Pray as you can, and not as you can’t.’
St Anthony the Great said that,
‘the best prayer of all is
When you are quite unaware that you are praying.’
Let us consider these things in the silence…
May we learn to value our time out, away from the rush and bustle. Amen
Musical Interlude A Welsh Wedding by Elizabeth Harley
Address Seize the Day (or Not)
It was the Roman poet Horace who wrote, “carpe diem quam minimum credula postero”, which means, “pluck the day, trusting as little as possible in the next one.”
A couple of decades ago, I would have agreed wholeheartedly with Horace. I generally find it easier – more instinctive, if you like – to jump into a situation and do something, rather than sitting passively, waiting for something to happen to me. I have always had great sympathy for Martha, who Brian Anderson mentioned in our Time of Stillness and Reflection. Her story is in the tenth chapter of the Gospel of Luke: “Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”
Martha was “worried and distracted by many things.” And I guess that is true of most of us, in our complex modern society. We need to remember that living a full life is not the same as living a busy life. Living a busy life (like Martha) may be stressful and draining, as pressure piles upon pressure, and we wonder how on earth we are going to meet the next deadline. Living a full life is not the same (although a busy life well-lived may be full as well). I think that living a full life is about the quality rather than the quantity of our activities and about the perspectives we have on those activities.
Two Quaker advices speak to me about how to live a full life:
“Be aware of the spirit of God at work in the ordinary activities and experience of your daily life…. There is inspiration to be found all around us, in the natural world, in the sciences and arts, in our work and friendships, in our sorrows as well as in our joys. Are you open to new light, from whatever source it may come?”
For me, this Advice reminds us that the whole of life is sacred, and that if we can just try to live mindfully, with an awareness of the sacred and the numinous in our everyday lives, those same everyday lives will be much fuller and richer and more rewarding. Even if we feel we are not doing anything of particular importance.
The other Advice, which is perhaps more relevant to our “seize the day” theme, is, “Live adventurously. When choices arise, do you take the way that offers the fullest opportunity for the use of your gifts in the service of God and the community? Let your life speak.”
Live adventurously. Wow! There’s a challenge. With our busy lives, it is tempting just to look after our own, doing the bare minimum for other people. In these days of DVDs and home entertainment centres, and the Internet at our fingertips, it’s very easy to retreat to our own little castles and pull up the drawbridge (and admittedly, during the recent Covid times, this may have been the best course). But in ordinary times, using our gifts “in the service of God and the community”, although it takes more time and effort, can be very rewarding. This is not only about living our own lives to the full, but also (perhaps) enabling other people to lead fuller lives as well.
Perhaps the best way to find the balance between being and doing, between seizing the day or not, is to live with intention. In his wonderful book, Sabbath: Finding rest, renewal and delight in our busy lives, Wayne Muller writes, “What makes life fruitful? The attainment of wisdom? The establishment of a just and fair society? The creation of beauty? The practice of loving kindness? Thomas Jefferson suggested that human life and liberty were intimately entwined with the pursuit of happiness. Instead, life has become a maelstrom in which speed and accomplishment, consumption and productivity have become the most valued human commodities. In the trance of overwork, we take everything for granted. We consume things, people and information. We do not have time to savour this life, nor to care deeply and gently for ourselves, our loved ones, or for our world; rather, with increasingly dizzying haste, we use them all up, and throw them away.”
These words describe the frenetic, unfruitful seizing of the day that leads us nowhere, but which far too many of us are caught up in.
But Muller goes on to say although many of us have lost the rhythm of work and rest, it is not too late to choose to have a regular time of rest – a sabbath – which “honours the necessary wisdom of dormancy. … We, too, must have a period in which we lie fallow, and restore our souls. … Sabbath time… is a time to let our work, our lands, our animals, lie fallow, to be nourished and refreshed. Within this sanctuary, we become available to the insights and blessings of deep mindfulness that arise only in stillness and time. When we act from a place of deep rest, we are more capable of cultivating what the Buddhists would call right understanding, right action, and right effort.”
In recent years, I have come to understand that we are called human beings for a reason. We are not called human doings. Some years ago, a wise friend of mine posted this question on Facebook, which I have never forgotten: “How do you want your day to be? Ask yourself what’s the single more important outcome? It could be a way of doing or a way of being.”
Of course, there are times and places where action is imperative and we should be “up and doing” as the hymn writer says. Nevertheless, I have learned that simply being also has its place. Time to sit still, breathe, reflect, Simply Be.
Because it is when we give ourselves time to Simply Be, to be still, to wait on the time, that deeper insights come, those nudges from the Divine that we would otherwise not have noticed, being too busy rushing from one place to another, one task to another.
There is a fascinating article by Zindel Segal on the Mindfulness website. In it, he explains that the mind has two basic modes: Doing mode and Being mode. He says that the job of the Doing mode
“is to get things done—to achieve particular goals that the mind has set. These goals could relate to the external world—to make a meal, build a house, or travel to the moon—or to the internal world of self—to feel happy, not make mistakes, never be depressed again, or be a good person. The basic strategy to achieve such goals involves something we call the “discrepancy monitor”: a process that continually monitors and evaluates our current situation against a model or standard—an idea of what is desired, required, expected, or feared.”
The focus of the Being mode, on the other hand, “is ‘accepting’ and ‘allowing’ what is, without any immediate pressure to change it. ‘Allowing’ arises naturally when there is no goal or standard to be reached, and no need to evaluate experience in order to reduce discrepancies between actual and desired states. This also means that attention is no longer focused narrowly on only those aspects of the present that are directly related to goal achievement; in being mode, the experience of the moment can be processed in its full depth, width, and richness.”
I come closest to Being when I am out walking in Nature and can lose myself in the glories of creation. I have also found that simply being conscious of the Being mode has enabled me to stand back sometimes, breathe, and allow and accept what is happening in that moment. It’s hard, but so worthwhile. It is a richer, less stressful way to live.
And… breathe. I’d like to finish with a wonderful reminder from the author of Ecclesiastes, about finding a balance in our lives, about seizing the day (or not):
“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under the sun;
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to uproot;
A time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
A time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to speak, and a time to keep silent;
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under the sun.”
Spirit of Life and Love,
May we learn to find
Our own balance between seizing the day,
And getting done what needs to be done,
And resting, allowing our souls
The time they need to be nourished.
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